You won’t find it on the TV schedule, but ranks of Olympians competed in Birtley as the torch was lit on the Komatsu Technology Olympics, where employees compete against each other in a series of challenging competitions that tests their skill and quality standards.
The factory’s welding booths, paint booths, assembly line and excavator test area provided the arenas for 124 “Olympians” from Komatsu and a number of its suppliers to compete for the honour of representing Komatsu UK at the global finals of the Technology Olympics, in Japan, later in the year.
It is the 20th annual Komatsu Technology Olympics, at which employees showcase the high level of skill that goes into creating the plant’s world-famous excavators. The firm also invited family members of the competitors, and visitors from partner organisations, who could also try their hand at some of the competitions’ many disciplines.
Komatsu UK Production Engineering Manager, Mark Stephenson, said: “The Technology Olympics is a fantastic contest. The judges are all experienced employees and are looking for safety and speed as well as the highest quality of work from competitors.
“It is good, friendly competition that is embraced by the workforce. It helps promote skills, embed the ethos of continuous improvement, demonstrate the ability of our workforce and provides our employees the exciting opportunity to travel to Japan.
"Guests included representatives from local schools and colleges, the North East Automotive Alliance, the RFCA, Gateshead Council and Newcastle University, as well as a number of our suppliers. Hopefully, a few will leave here today inspired by the effort, skill and undoubted talent on display across our workforce.
“As an industry we must always look to attract the next generation of engineers and, today, we might play a small part in spiking the interest of young people who are considering their first step on the career ladder.”
Komatsu Olympics winners, from left to right, Marc Elliott, Jarvis Bell, Kevin Robson and Roger Potts, Komatsu UK.
Around 40 guests attended the event, which included a tour of the Birtley plant, demonstrations of the Komatsu excavator fleet and a winners’ award ceremony.
Preparation and training for the contest started at the turn of the year, and the actual competition takes place over a fortnight. However, attendees of the final day were treated to front row seats in the Assembly, Painting, Welding and Performance Inspection elements.
Winners included, Marc Elliott for Welding, Kevin Robson in Painting, Roger Potts from Assembly, and Jarvis Bell for Performance Inspection.
Jarvis Bell, a former apprentice with the company, said: “It is pressured, it is tough, but it is a really positive, enjoyable competition. I’m delighted to be named among the winners, but the main thing was testing my abilities against the colleagues I work alongside every day.”
Roger Potts added: “While we all enjoy a laugh before and afterwards, it’s all about the job at hand when the Olympics start and we take it very seriously. We all experience the pressure as the visitors come and watch, but in industry there is a need to work in pressured situations sometimes – it’s about how you react to that pressure. Do you crumble or do you shine? I think the vast majority of Olympians excelled, which makes victory all the more special.”
Paul Blanchard, Komatsu UK Manufacturing Director, said: “It is almost impossible to predict a winner as the standard increases year on year and some competitors really shine under the spotlight of the competition.
“Congratulations to Marc Elliott, Kevin Robson, Roger Potts and Jarvis Bell, who will no doubt represent KUK with great pride when they compete in Japan against some of the most talented and skilled technicians in the worldwide Komatsu group.”