Komatsu Forest officially unveiled its new UK headquarters with a dazzling day of celebration, with guests including the Mayor of Carlisle and the Consul General of Japan. Forestry Journal was on hand to report on the festivities and get a first look at the results of the company’s significant investment.

THE sun blazed while champagne was poured at the official opening of Komatsu Forest’s new UK home last month.

One of the hottest days of the year was chosen for the official unveiling, with temperatures of around 30°C lending an unexpectedly tropical atmosphere to proceedings.

The new facility, based on the outskirts of Carlisle, represents a major step forward for the forest machine manufacturer in the UK. Designed and built with the future in mind, it is a much larger space than its former base and is designed to revolutionise the way Komatsu does business in the country, particularly for the customer.

The property is the first to be owned outright by a Komatsu Forest sales market, including the land and building itself, breaking away from the company’s practice of renting out spaces. And it is, of course, a massive investment for the firm in the UK, totalling somewhere in the region of £4 million.

Forestry Journal was among the guests invited to the unveiling and open day, which saw customers, contractors, and local dignitaries given an exclusive look around the site. 

Forestry Journal: The two-storey office is clad in cedar.The two-storey office is clad in cedar. (Image: FJ)

Located a stone’s throw from Carlisle Airport, Komatsu bosses believe its location will perfectly meet the needs of operators across the UK. Comprising a two-storey office, parts department, workshop and yard, plus parking for up to 35 cars and cycle parking, it certainly made a remarkable impression on all who saw it on the day.

Many of those getting their first look at the facility included Komatsu’s own employees, who had been working at a temporary site since moving out of their old Longtown premises some months earlier. Their excitement on seeing their spacious new working areas was palpable and a touch infectious, as visitors were led on informal tours through the different parts of the building.

The office layout marks a major departure from what staff have been used to until now. Its design drew inspiration from Komatsu’s new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Klockarbäcken, Umeå, Sweden, which was designed to be sustainable while boosting creativity and productivity, boasting large, open areas, high ceilings and timber (sourced from the nearby spruce forests) throughout.

Forestry Journal:  The spacious, steel-clad workshop. The spacious, steel-clad workshop. (Image: FJ)

The new Carlisle HQ has similarly been designed with sustainability, productivity and comfort at heart. The open-plan offices with their standing desks, floor-to-ceiling windows and multiple breakout areas are calibrated to foster open communication and free thinking.

In its brief to architects, the team at Komatsu asked for multiple working areas for staff, so they wouldn’t feel chained to their desks all day. Employees were openly enthusiastic about the multiple breakout areas and canteens, which would allow them to change the way they work.

READ MORE: Komatsu Forest officially unveils new £4m Carlisle home

“From the start our aim has been to make a really nice environment for everyone in the building,” said managing director Stephen Bellas. “Many of our staff are seeing it today for the first time and they’re over the moon. The aim was to deliver a facility that would allow the organisation to grow and develop, but also to provide an environment that is safe and nice for staff to work in.

Forestry Journal:  Inside, the workshop is neat and clean, ready to be put to work. Inside, the workshop is neat and clean, ready to be put to work. (Image: FJ)

“We wanted flexible working areas. Three working areas for every member of staff from which they can conduct business. We’ve succeeded in that. We’ve actually got a fourth when it’s a beautiful day like this and they can work outside as well. For the engineers, we’ve increased our workshop space. The workshop now is 24 m long, which provides space to move and work around the machines safely.

“Feedback has been amazing. I don’t think anyone was expecting to see such a modern environment.”

Looking back on the road that had led to this point, Stephen said: “It’s been a long journey. We started this process in April of 2019 and it still doesn’t feel real that we’re actually now opening up our new facility.

Forestry Journal: The building’s meeting rooms are named after different local hills.The building’s meeting rooms are named after different local hills. (Image: FJ)

“For us, it provides security. Within the UK, Komatsu is taking our operation seriously. The support we receive from Komatsu has been outstanding. The amount of investment is significant not just for Komatsu but also the forestry sector within the UK.”

Construction got underway at the site in January, with a ground-breaking ceremony attended by representatives of Komatsu, Architects Plus, Cubby Construction and the then mayor of Carlisle, Mike Mitchelson, who praised the firm for its commitment to using local companies in the project.

At that time, Forestry Journal heard from Stephen and financial controller Geoff Winrow about their ambitions for the new facility, which they hoped would cement the company’s presence in the UK, ensuring a long and bright future.

Forestry Journal: Decorations on the wall were commissioned from a local artist.Decorations on the wall were commissioned from a local artist. (Image: FJ)

Their aim, they said, was to create a spacious, modern, future-proofed building which staff would look forward to working in. Just as important would be the impression it made on customers, who could be assured of a premium experience whenever they came to visit. A lot of thought was given to how the team could connect to a younger consumer base, looking at a more modern way of working while still providing the same standard of service.

The site itself is bigger than the previous HQ at Longtown by an acre, so allows plenty of scope for expansion, while the facility boasts solar panels on the roof to improve energy efficiency, and electric car-charging points, among other features aimed at sustainability.

The new two-storey office, clad in cedar, provides more space than the current team of 35 requires, but will allow room to grow in the years to come. Similarly, the workshop has a modular design, so an extra bay can be added if required.

In the new warehouse, attendees were treated to a demonstration of the new vertical storage unit holding almost all parts stock. Eight metres tall and four metres wide, the Compact Lift from Randex stores 25 tonnes of stock in an automated vertical unit, saving huge amounts of space and improving efficiency. Komatsu’s is the first specific model of its kind in the UK.

Forestry Journal: Together, the Consul General of Japan and Mayor of Carlisle cut the ribbon.Together, the Consul General of Japan and Mayor of Carlisle cut the ribbon. (Image: FJ)

Next door to the warehouse is a fabrication area and a workshop six metres wider and three metres longer than the one at Longtown. The layout allows for metres of space either side of a harvester or forwarder undergoing service or repair, with a design for each workspace inspired by Formula 1 pit stops. 

The yard space is 1.8 acres, allowing a lot more room for moving and storing machinery. Though a number of machines were in the yard for the open day, they were still a long, long way off from filling the place up.

Local consultants and construction companies were used at every stage of development. Martin Gass of Cubby Construction admitted there had been a few late nights for him and his team as they had fought to bring the project in on time.

Sounding relieved to be celebrating the opening, he said: “The building’s looking great and the client’s over the moon. It’s been a combined effort from everyone and we’re all delighted with the final result.

Forestry Journal: The Consul General of Japan, Tadashi Fujiwara, and Komatsu MD Stephen Bellas at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.The Consul General of Japan, Tadashi Fujiwara, and Komatsu MD Stephen Bellas at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Image: FJ)

“If you’ve seen the architect’s original drawings, the finished building is almost exactly the same, so we’re very pleased with the outcome of the building. It’s been a good turnout today and we’ve heard nothing but good feedback from the client and customers.”

Stephen Bellas singled out Cubby Construction for praise in a speech ahead of an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, carried out by the Consul General of Japan, Tadashi Fujiwara, and the Mayor of Carlisle, councillor Abdul Harid.

Cllr Harid said: ““It is a huge boost for the local area and for Carlisle. For Komatsu, one of the largest manufacturers in the world, to come to Carlisle is truly an honour and a privilege.

“The facility is very impressive, state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly. I think all the staff will enjoy working here.”

A good number of valued Komatsu customers were invited to the open day for some food, a glass of champagne and to take a tour of the premises. All that Forestry Journal spoke to were very impressed. 

Komatsu also seized the moment to launch its new partnership rewards programme, offering exclusive benefits to members, including cash-back rewards, personalised support from the team, an extensive range of discounts, the chance to win some amazing prizes and much more.

Forestry Journal: The yard is considerably larger than what Komatsu had at its previous premises.The yard is considerably larger than what Komatsu had at its previous premises. (Image: FJ)

A tiered membership is on offer to customers, ranging from bronze, silver and gold to platinum and Komatsu Partner, ensuring members can maximise their benefits in a manner that best suits them.

“The rewards scheme is something we’ve been looking at for a long time,” said Stephen. “We are playing catch-up with some of our competitors, who have operated such schemes very successfully for a number of years. We want customers to spend with us and we want to reward them for that expenditure. We will be offering financial rewards as well as other benefits along the lines of visits to Sweden and so on.”

The celebrations did not end at the new site. Come the evening, guests were transported to the Garden at Eden, Carlisle, for a lavish gala dinner.

Canapes of marinated venison and sushi paid subtle tribute to Komatsu’s position in forestry and Japanese heritage, enjoyed outside under the setting sun. A three-course dinner with open bar followed, the courses interspersed with musical performances from the local youth theatre and speeches giving thanks to all who had made the project possible.

Among the speakers was Tom Sarin, CFO for Komatsu Forest AB in Sweden, who explained a little about why the company had decided to make such a significant investment in the UK.

He said: “I would like to thank everybody who has been involved with this project. I know it has been a lot of work for Komatsu Forest, from the architects and construction company, and particularly Komatsu employees, because you had to do all of this at the same time as taking care of our customers.

Forestry Journal:  The presence of a few machines helped visitors realise how large the new yard is. The presence of a few machines helped visitors realise how large the new yard is. (Image: FJ)

“From an owner’s point of view, this is historical. It is the first time we have built a new building that we own. Our company has operations in 10 or 15 countries. In Sweden alone we have between 15 and 20 service centres, but in every case, we just rent them.

“So why did we make this change? We decided that, where we feel we have a place we intend to stay for the long term, we should commit to it. And what I have experienced here, from talking to people, is a great enthusiasm. There is a joy that I’ve seen. I would actually like to import that to Sweden, because I think we need it. It’s very nice to see.

“I’m very happy to see so many customers here and I’m convinced with the team we have in the UK that we will be able to prove to be worthy of your business.”