Back with a Bang
Kato returns with brand-new MR HD514 excavator
There was a TV commercial way back in the 1970s that ran on rural TV stations pushing a certain agriculture/livestock business and the advertisement was based around “trust”. The very successful advertisement ended with the words: “When you know the man who owns the store, runs the store, he’s the man you can trust.”
Fast forward almost 50 years and those words came back to haunt me when I caught up with a real good old mate of mine who depicts that advertising campaign to a tee.
Bruce Pennells, managing director of Australian Hammer Supplies, not only owns the store but runs a brilliant, almost vertically integrated business from his Ingleburn yard in Western Sydney, which includes several Kubota dealerships, Australian Hammer Supplies (and Hire), Australian Bucket Supplies and now has the Kato dealership just to top it off (just in case he gets bored).
Bruce once worked for the company which imported Kato excavators into the country way back in the late 70s and 80s. His expertise in sales and understanding the market, client needs and the industry helped place Banbury Engineering in the top sales bracket of excavators in Australia at an unprecedented 80 per cent market share; unheard of these days but back then that’s how successful and popular Kato excavators were in Australia.
Stories like this are usually now quite rare, where you have a self-made man who has worked from the bottom and up the ladder of success, grasping every opportunity to understand every aspect of the industry, create trust and loyalty with staff and clients and the ability to develop a great family business where he is ably assisted and supported by his lovely wife Julie and two sons Christopher (Australian Bucket Supplies) and Mitchell (Australian Hammer Supplies Hire).
In another life I had a great association with Kato excavators. I owned a heap of them, demonstrated for Banbury, Kato and Krupp at all the earthmoving exhibitions, set up their field days, hauled new machines to their rightful owners all over the state, and even convinced them to sponsor our ex-Allan Moffatt Monza under the Kato banner.
So when Bruce Pennells recently advised me that he was expecting his first Kato excavator into Australia and was also trading in his first Kato as well, he reckoned he just had to give me the scoop.
THE PROUD OWNER
A quick trip down to the big smoke from rural Queensland found us in the yard at Ingleburn – meet and greets all round – and then out to inspect the new Kato dealership and the very first trade-in under the Kato banner.
It is often said that some things in life are just meant to happen and I can attest to that exactly. You see, way back in 2016 I found a really neat and straight late-1970s/early-80s Kato HD550G excavator in a yard in Lithgow, NSW. George Pearce was the owner – I just happened to know him from the old days. Well, George decided to trade it in and here it was in the yard.
If that was not enough, Bruce advised me that he had actually sold that machine to George back in 1982 as a used excavator with a Krupp hammer and now has it back in his own yard; and George supplied Bruce with the original sales receipt issued with the machine from almost 40 years ago.
Bruce is in the process of restoring the Kato HD550G and will proudly display it outside the entrance to the new Kato dealership in Ingleburn. Once we had checked out the yard we jumped in the Cruiser and headed off to ‘Snobs Hill’ over on the North Shore of Sydney.
The first new Kato excavator delivered from the Australian Hammer Supplies yard was a MR HD514 bladed 14-tonner and was delivered to its proud owner, Marty Ryan of Old Bourne Constructions, on a demolition/construction site on Sydney’s North Shore. There was a rumour circulating that the MR in the Kato MR 514HD stood for “Marty Ryan” but that is still to be confirmed.
The first thing I noticed is that the colours and livery have changed since 1982. Gone is the square-shaped cab and mitredoff corners around the bum; gone is the bulky high-set engine which blocked the view of the operator; the creature comforts are overwhelming; and gone is the apple box seating so popular in the day.
What I did find was a very neat, compact, well-designed, bladed excavator sitting there with Ronnie’s Road Trip name on the keys. At last, after 40 years, I’m back in the driver’s seat of a new Kato!
IN THE CAB
First impressions are lasting so they say, and it came as no surprise to me that once I climbed those tracks and positioned my bum in the captain’s chair, that Marty Ryan was going to have a heap of trouble getting me out of it.
It’s comfortable, has great vision, has simplistic but effective dash layout, is equipped with the largest monitor I’ve ever seen
in a digger of this size, all of the operators controls are at your fingertips, and there’s perfect vision to the blade … not just good but Kato has got this one spot on with a subject that just happens to be my ‘biggest bitching session’ with any bladed excavator manufacturer.
You have to include the operator when designing this blade and this is perfect. Blade control, smooth operation, seating and corner tip vision to the blade are crucial in today’s design and Kato has nailed it.
Failure of the operator to final trim with the blade on any job with this Kato is definitely not due to a design issue … better go back to ‘shovel and rake classes and keep dreaming’ because you aren’t good enough.
UNDER THE HOOD
Tucked in neatly behind the driver’s cabin is the nice little fibreglass door which opens up to the radiator, intercooler, air-conditioner unit, batteries, air filter and electrics. All are accessible in this close-radius machine, as is a little pipe holder perfectly designed and positioned to hold your grease gun in place in the vertical. There’s no more slopping around causing damage to batteries or leaving a permanent trail covering everything within cooee with grease – it’s simple, effective and costs nothing to make but makes life simpler once you are in the paddock.
Up in the engine bay you will find a powerful, fuel-efficient, smooth four-cylinder Isuzu 2.95-litre turbo-charged, direct injection, intercooled diesel engine. Coupled with the hydraulics on this new rig, it’s a perfect match for a big day’s work without effort.
On the far side of the machine are two other locked doors. The rear door houses the fuel filters – hydraulic pumps are all easily accessible – and the front door houses the hydraulics and valve banks, the fuel tank (all locked away from theft) and another small three-way lever which allows the operator to flick a switch and change operator controls from ISO to whatever suits them on the day.
It’s all safe, effective and minimises training days for a new operator to get used to the machine before letting them loose on the job.
ON THE JOB
I was fortunate to get a good half day on the Kato MR HD514. I tidied up, loaded out and trimmed the site with this little beauty. Stockpiles of topsoil mixed with tree roots and timber demolition material needed sorting and loading, so there was no ground engaging required but what I did find is that this Kato is quick, quiet and smooth.
Raking through the soil and separating all the crap with the Australian Bucket Supplies bucket attached, this was my opportunity to see how the little Kato performed in a lighter working role.
Whilst Marty hauled the truck and dog loaded with vegetation waste to the depot, it gave me the chance to trim up with the blade, push a little more and extend the balance of the digger to the limits with no supervision. This Kato didn’t disappoint in any way.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It was difficult for me not to feel a touch sentimental during this half-day demo. After all, for many years I was an integral part of the Kato team and its development in those early years of excavators and hammers in Australia.
Brothers Thiess opened up the excavator market in Australia by importing the Kato brand way back in the 60s; Banbury Engineering inherited the dealership and took Kato to unprecedented heights with 80 per cent market share.
The demise of the Kato brand didn’t come because of price structure, design, reliability, lack of performance, service or spare parts availability. It was purely a company takeover/restructure thing that should never have happened.
Those boardroom decisions certainly hurt the thousands of Kato owners and it opened the door for Komatsu, Caterpillar, Linkbelt (Sumitomo), Mitsubishi and Case to move in a get a foothold in the Aussie market.
Kato bought the first successful mini-excavator into Australia, first bladed diggers ever seen, and was the first excavator ever to hold a hydraulic hammer (Krupp) off its dipper arm in Australian construction history.
The Kato brand is what the Australian excavator market was built on … and Kato is back.
Bruce Pennells from Australian Hammer Supplies has worked tirelessly to make his mark on our industry from a salesman in the store, to being the man who owns and runs the store.
Kato Excavators and Australian Hammer Supplies – both are winners in my eyes.
Opposite page:Kato MR HD514 excavator is built tough Above: A very well balanced bladed excavator
1. Hydraulics and fuel all locked away 2. Isuzu 2.9-litre turbo engine3. The blade rams are fully covered4. The perfect rear attachment