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William Charles Construction Goes Green With Komatsu Hybrid Excavator

Thu January 19, 2012 - Midwest Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

The Komatsu HB215-1 hybrid excavator is one of the key building blocks currently being used by William Charles Construction in Loves Park, Ill., to help the company achieve its goals.

“William Charles has had a sustainable approach for decades,” said Jeffrey Gregory, vice president. “Before it was even in vogue, we were into recycled paving and were reusing our methane gas from landfills. Our mission is to be environmentally conscious in everything that we do. To meet that objective, there is great value in working with a partner such as Komatsu because their development of hybrid puts us on the same page. Working with Komatsu is one more step in our efforts to be environmentally conscious. We’re pleased with their hybrid equipment and how it’s helping us achieve our goals.”

Gregory Kittle, William Charles’ vice president of purchasing, explained that William Charles is an opportunity-driven company with a long history of investing in challenging opportunity areas, whether they be in energy, construction, landfill development, or real estate.

“Whatever the high opportunity is, that’s really where we’re driven,” he said. “We look at opportunities, analyze them very well, then develop partnerships with those who have core skills.”

Kittle noted that fleet integration has been challenging for the company and the construction industry in general, depending on the area of the country. He stated that the company is driving toward finding the right solution for increasing the tier level of its portfolio.

“For example, if a typical tractor starts its fleet at a Tier II as an average, our goal is to increase that,” he said. “We don’t want to rebuild more [retrofit individual machines with newer cleaner engines to increase the tier level of the fleet], but we’d like to analyze the fleet and time machine acquisitions with regards to operating expense. Then, we can get down to the machine level and account for what the [machine’s] equity is in the market today [to better time the machine’s placement].”

He explained that by doing so, a couple of things are accomplished. One is that it minimizes the operating rate that’s required. It also increases the tier level and the fleet average.

“There are some areas of the country — New York or California in particular — where drive emission standards are more strict than EPA regulations,” he said. “As we all know, CARB [California Air Resources Board] is able to create its own rules, so a lot of cities in North America are adopting CARB’s rules rather than EPA’s. So if Tier III is acceptable to the EPA, that does not mean it’s acceptable with some of these other governmental standards. The hybrid allows us to increase our tier profile. It also provides a good message to our customers and to the cities that we’re interested in, so our hope is that the hybrid will provide a real life return in fuel savings, but it also provides an opportunity to increase what’s called our soft return in regards to our green image.”

William Charles learned of the hybrid through its affiliated company in New York, where one of the contractors on a joint venture job had one. They were able to operate the machine, see how it performed, and do some performance analysis as well.

“The reason we were interested in Komatsu’s technology is based on a relationship that we have with Komatsu,” Kittle said. “Komatsu is a preferred supplier for William Charles and its affiliates. We work with multiple Komatsu dealers, and Komatsu has found a means by which to bridge that challenge for us. We highly value our relationship with Komatsu. Jenkins Davis [director of major accounts, Komatsu America Corp.] has done an outstanding job for us, and he and the dealer network are the primary reason we’ve chosen Komatsu and included them in our purchasing program.”

Davis noted that Komatsu is very excited about that fact that William Charles is willing to take a step forward and put into their rental fleet the HB215-1 hybrid excavator that they are currently renting from Roland Machinery.

Komatsu is the first manufacturer in the world that developed and introduced a hybrid excavator and is the only manufacturer that has it in mass production and commercially available for customer purchase, according to Davis.

“The hybrid excavator has actually been in mass production since 2008,” said Armando Najera Jr., product manager of Komatsu America Corp., who is responsible for the machine. “Currently, we have over 1,000 machines in the field worldwide, and that puts us at about a million actual operating hours in the field with customers. The HB215-1 is actually the second-generation machine, and it is a green machine. It has a hybrid electric system based on an electric swing motor that provides not only fuel savings, but additional power. So, in essence, the hybrid is a green option for the customer, but it’s also a stronger machine as well. We can see anywhere from — on a typical operation on a mixed-use basis — an average of a 25 percent fuel savings based in comparison to our conventional PC 200LC-8.”

Davis explained that the 20-ton (18 t) size excavator was chosen for its strategic opportunity since it is the single largest machine population on the market.

“It’s Komatsu’s corporate initiative to get the technology into the customers’ hands so that it is understood and embraced, because there are future plans for expanding the hybrid lineup,” he said. “The technology is scalable. That is within the excavator and even potentially maybe even other product lines as well, so this is our first entry into that size class. It stands the best chance of getting as many machines out there as possible. We feel it’s a good turnkey solution for a customer who wants to have that green footprint image.”

Dan Johnson, William Charles’ vice president of equipment, noted that the machine is currently being utilized with the company’s underground pipe crews and has been used throughout the entire season. They acquired it around the middle of May.

“It’s been on numerous job sites, but it’s been basically with that division,” he said. “It’s been used for sanitary sewer work and underground work, we’ve used it for electrical conduit, and we try to utilize it for the swinging of the machine. We hope to roll it into the fleet with the rest of our equipment. It’s been a very good machine, and reliable. Up time is a huge part of our business, so it’s been a good machine.”

Kittle noted that the benefit of the HB215-1 is that it is a more productive machine, and the fuel efficiency is far superior.

“It would be one thing simply to have the machine, but if you lost productivity, that would be a non-starter for us,” he said. “Productivity still charges the decision-making, simply because, although we want to be a good environmental steward, we have to do it in a profitable way. With the initial cost of the investment, there are two return streams in the HB215-1, which is unique. In this case, we get two returns. We get substantial fuel savings as well as an increase in productivity, and that is ideal in our circumstance.”

Kittle offered his praise for Komatsu technology.

“It’s world class,” he said. “Some of the Tier IV Interim technology that I’ve seen is really world class, and we get the opportunity to incorporate that into our fleet. It has been very well received, and our hope going forward is that we continue to find those kinds of opportunities for simultaneously increasing our tier profile on our fleet. And so, our hope is that Komatsu would add this technology to the entire excavator product line, because we see a very solid return of the additional investment.”

Johnson noted that the operation of the machine isn’t very different from a normal excavator, so it doesn’t take a lot of time for operators to get used to it.

“The initial getting in the seat took a little bit of time, but once they got past that, they liked the machine,” he said. “They’ve mentioned that the cab is really comfortable, and the controls are well placed. When we first took it out, we had a couple of hours of training that was provided.”

One of the noticeable differences is that the hybrid is quieter.

“When you normally operate a machine, you use the sound as a subconscious input, so you don’t really think about it,” said Najera. “With the hybrid running at a lower engine RPM because of that additional electrical stored energy, it’s able to run at that lower RPM so the engine does not have the same sound profile. So initially, if an operator doesn’t put his finger on it, he can’t figure out what’s missing. That was part of the role in training — to point that out so they know they’re not going to hear it and they should try to adjust for it. The operator is expecting to hear certain engine sounds and he’s not, so he has to somehow get used to that — almost unlearn it.

“One thing that Komatsu was very conscious of in developing the hybrid was making the technology as seamless as possible. The worst thing we could have done was put in a new seat, a new cab, a new monitor panel, new joysticks … Right now, if you sit in the machine, there are times that you probably forget you’re in the hybrid. And that was our goal — to try to make it as transparent and seamless as possible so that any typical operator can get in, and with a little bit of instruction, can just take off on his own.”

Johnson noted that even though the hybrid is quieter, it is still a very powerful machine.

“People think that if they’re not hearing this loud engine roar all the time, the machine is not going to have the power that this HB215 does have,” he said. “It has every bit of power that a conventional machine has. It’s quick and very powerful.”

Najera explained that the hybrid system is based on an electric swing motor, making it very similar to a hybrid car system.

“As the machine upper structure swings and slows down, during the braking part of the swing, the swing motor is actually generating electricity and storing it, which then allows us to use that stored energy to do the work,” he said. “That additionally stored energy gives the hybrid up to an additional 60 horsepower that it can add to the hydraulic system on an on-demand basis. So essentially, that’s what the operators are seeing, and it’s helping them see the additional power and productivity because of that hybrid boost in reserve energy.”

Kittle noted that the acquisition of more hybrid machines will be discussed in the company’s budget planning. He explained that if there is a choice to invest a little more today and through technology get a more productive machine with a resulting return such as fuel consumption, that’s an investment his company would like to make.

“This machine is a rare case of making a right investment for the right reasons,” he said. “There are multiple streams of return for the added investment, and the hybrid technology that Komatsu has incorporated can be accepted globally. You have to be very specific about the technology and how it’s being applied and what it’s doing to make it worthwhile. We’re not going to invest in an entire fleet of Tier IV machines all at one time simply to be green. We’d be out of business. But this technology specifically is a great investment.”

About Roland Machinery

Roland Machinery is responsible for the machine in Illinois. The company has been in business for more than 50 years, and currently has 15 stores in five states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Missouri. The corporate headquarters is in Springfield, Ill.

About William

Charles Construction

William Charles is a family-owned business that began in Joliet, Ill., in 1892 as A.C. Johnston and Son Coal Company. For the next 50 years, the company grew in road construction and the supply of coal, oil and lumber.

The road construction business eventually became Johnston Roadbuilders, and a partnership also resulted in Rockford Blacktop. In 2009, the construction group was renamed William Charles Construction.

Although many things have changed since that beginning, the company motto remains the same: “Doing the job right the first time.”

Divisions of William Charles are as follows:


William Charles Construction offers customers a wide scope of services, including earthmoving, road building, underground utility construction, and design/build field operations.


William Charles Construction — Materials Division is the aggregate and asphalt production component of its construction business. It operates 11 quarries, two sand and gravel pits, and four asphalt plants strategically located throughout Northern Illinois. For consecutive years, the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers has bestowed its top safety awards to the quarries, which operate daily. The distinguished Diamond Achievement Award for Excellence was awarded to one of the quarries for exemplary plant and site operations by the National Asphalt Pavement Association.


William Charles Electric provides high quality, cost-effective electrical union contract work. It specializes in commercial, industrial, traffic signal installation, roadway lighting, and airport lighting systems. The company’s goal is to provide a safe workplace for all employees while providing quality electric work that meets the contractors/owners highest expectations.


The Residential/Commercial Division draws upon a strong history of quality materials and workmanship to offer a turnkey service to customers. It offers a comprehensive operation including the design/engineering, coreout, paving and soil restoration.

Environmental Remediation

Environmental Contractors Inc., the environmental contracting services division of William Charles Construction, works throughout the country and internationally. It specializes in remediation and cost-effective management of environmental construction, and has successful ongoing contracts with many Fortune 500 companies. For nearly 30 years, it has worked with private industry, government agencies and PRP groups to streamline the remediation construction process.

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