Komatsu business has made thousands of excavators since arriving in 1987

A digger maker has hailed a “truly proud and memorable moment” after celebrating three decades of North-East manufacturing.

Komatsu UK today (Friday, July 21) held a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of its plant in Birtley, near Chester-le-Street.

The company designs, develops and makes excavators at the factory, which was officially opened in 1987 by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales.

The occasion came just days after the business launched a new hybrid and a sister machine using advanced controls at its Birtley plant.

Those diggers added to another recent unveiling of a “game-changing” high-reach model and followed a report by The Northern Echo last year, which revealed the firm had been chosen by its Japanese bosses to supply a next generation hybrid.

Speaking during the celebrations, Tetsuji Ohashi, global Komatsu group chief executive, who helped find the Birtley site and worked at the factory during its formative years, said he was delighted to be back.

He also highlighted the company’s impact on the region, saying local support continues to be overwhelming.

He said: “I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Birtley and learned so much during my time here. 

“Komatsu UK arrived at a time when North-East industry was changing dramatically.

“I am not exaggerating when I say the whole region opened its arms to welcome us and I’m very pleased the strong ties between Gateshead and Komatsu still remain.

“I would like to congratulate everyone who has played a role in making this factory such a success over the last 30 years.”

The plant provides work for in excess of 400 people and has been responsible for making more than 65,000 machines, which have mainly gone to customers in domestic and European markets.

However, officials previously revealed plans to take on another 40 staff to maintain its momentum and Peter Howe, Komatsu UK managing director, said it was committed to further decades of success.

Mr Howe, who has been with the business for 24 years, said: “We are a family and work as a formidable team to continue to drive innovation and productivity at this brilliant plant.

“To celebrate our 30th anniversary is a truly proud and memorable moment.”

The company has a number of staff members who are celebrating their 30th anniversaries with the business.

They include HR officer Jackie Lowe, who started as a receptionist back in 1987.

However, after gaining qualifications in HR, she moved up the ranks and said the business always gives workers a chance to progress.

She added: “We have seen people go right through the company.

“Some are now directors, which is one of the things that can happen if you have the right attitude.”

According to the firm, its new hybrid creation is capable of running on diesel and electric power, with its second excavator using what the business describes as intelligent machine control, which constantly updates a driver on operations and uses software to cut production time by reducing the need for secondary checks and measurements.