A DIGGER maker is to appoint a new managing director when its current boss steps down after almost two decades.

Paul Blanchard, current director of manufacturing at Komatsu, in Birtley, near Chester-le-Street, will take up the new position from April 1, taking over from current boss Peter Howe.

Mr Howe has been managing director of Komatsu since 2001, having joined the manufacturer in 1992 as finance manager.

He said: “I am incredibly proud to have led Komatsu UK for the last 18 years, during which we have enjoyed significant growth across our product range, and have developed and manufactured some of the most innovative machines working across the construction industry.

“I have had the pleasure of working alongside some genuinely talented people and have shared some fantastic successes.

“I am confident that Paul is the right person to take the company forward. He has a wealth of experience, knowledge and skill and I very much look forward to working alongside him for another year in my new role at Komatsu UK.”

Originally from Cheshire, Mr Blanchard is married with two daughters, and has worked at Komatsu’s Birtley plant for the past 29 years, the last four as director of manufacturing.

He joined Komatsu straight from University as a graduate engineer in 1989, and during his career with the company, he has spent time in the quality assurance and area service functions, as well as manufacturing.

He said: “It is a real honour to be appointed managing director for such an esteemed organisation.

"I want Komatsu UK to build on the success we have achieved in recent years, as a result of Peter’s strong leadership and the hard work and dedication of our talented workforce.

“I would like to place on record my thanks to Peter for his many years of contribution and dedication to Komatsu.

"I am delighted he will remain in the business for a further year as we move through this transitional period.”

The factory in Birtley, which was opened in 1987 by The Prince of Wales has already made tens of thousands of machines, which have mainly gone to customers in domestic and European markets.

The firm, which employs almost 500 people, has experience of making thousands of diggers, ranging from 20-tonnes to 80-tonnes, and supplying machines fitted with longer arms to break down buildings.

Komatsu UK is part of the Global Komatsu organisation, which is the world’s second largest manufacturer and supplier of construction and mining equipment.