Simulators in training

My first hand experience with mobile equipment simulators was during my role as business development/marketing manager at the Caterpillar Institute.

Managing the acquisition and ?introduction of simulator use for training of mobile ?equipment operators at the Institute was part of my role but because of my experience with technology and a teaching qualification, I was asked to manage the project. With my marketing hat on, I made full use of the ?simulators at various industry functions such as career expos, trade shows and conferences.

I spent some time setting up and demonstrating the simulator (a hydraulic excavator in this case) which consisted of a laptop computer, a basic frame to hold the control pods and a screen to see the control inputs.

My colleagues noticed how proficient I was at the simulator controls and decided to put me to the test on the real thing. Prior to this test I had operated an excavator of any type or size and although we all know simulatorsare useful in training, I had not received any formal training by the operator training instructors so the chances of my confidence balloon being burst were high.
On the other hand, as a private pilot who had trained with flight simulators, I was ?confident I could operate the real thing.  The scene was set, I was introduced to the machine and asked by a qualified instructor to perform a trenching function in a ?designated training area. The result? I operated the equipment safely and was 80 per cent productive within 10 to 15 minutes. The reason I achieved this is because I had acquired the muscle memory for all control movements on the simulator – all I had to think about was the feel and physical movement of the machine and the task itself.

A quick search on the internet shows that simulators have been used to support and enhance education and training for over a century in various industries.  Simulators have evolved from primitive mechanical structures set up in paddocks to high-tech digital systems that reproduce very realistic scenarios.

The flow on effect from those early days shows simulators as a key ingredient in training operators of mobile equipment by simulating the complex operating needs and environments to ensure training takes place in a controlled, safe and cost-efficient manner.
Simulators are used in a variety of industries, including quarrying, to reproduce a complex range of scenarios to improve safety, increase efficiency and reduce costs.

For operators of mobile equipment, the ?simulator replicates the controls of a wheel loader or a motor grader. It allows the ?operators to manipulate the controls and view the movements on a computer screen until they develop the muscle memory and ?precision of movement to eventually ?operate the equipment live. The simulators in this ?arena range from basic, where only the control movements are simulated, to the high end, where the simulation includes the controls and the physical movements of the cabin, as would be experienced on a work site,  eg bumps and hills and a range of electronic, hydraulic and mechanical failures.

Simulator use for training in the extractive, civil and mining industries is increasingly used for a variety of reasons, including:
? Safety. The risks of injury to the operator and potential equipment damage is removed.
? Reduced training cost. The hourly costof running equipment can be in the ?thousands,as is the unproductive time that the equipmentis used for training. Simulated training keeps the equipment in profitable operations.
? Work efficiency. Improvements are achieved because the operators are better prepared before they start to work on site.
? Recruitment. Being able to assess more candidates in a short time decreases short and long term costs.
? Operator selection. By selecting candidates with the required skills to learn operating, you can shorten the learning period and avoid possible accidents and harm to the actual machine.
? Performance records. Simulators can record performance during training sessions that form an ongoing record to compare progress.
? Assessment for experienced operators. A simulator session can determine the current skill levels as well as highlight poor habits that require corrective training.
? Other effective simulator uses, eg when an operator is converting from one type of equipment to another.

Emergency evacuation – The physical experience

A simulation can prepare the body and mind to cope with disorientationthat occurs in an emergency situation such as evacuation from a submerged helicopter or an upturned boat. The trainees are exposed to a realistic environment of a submerged vessel where they learn to control the experienced loss of direction and balance. As a safety measure, the participants are accompanied by an instructor inside the submerged capsule and safety divers outside ready to assist.

Thinking and decision making skills
In the medical field, a virtual patient can be monitored for heart rate, blood pressure, placement and movement of surgical instruments or a stroke or a reaction to administration of various drugs in different doses. The simulators train the doctors and medical staff to deal with practical skills as well as thinking and critical decision making skills.

Practical skills in the use of tools
Students perform welding operations in a simulated environment to gain practice and a better understanding of techniques for high quality work. The welding process and outcomes can be viewed on a ?computer screen, showing the weld and the quality of the weld run.

Multitasking environments that combine skill and decision making
Where multitasking skills are required in flying a helicopter or aeroplane,the simulator creates a variation of scenarios, eg severe weather conditions, systems failure, partial and full engine failure, and a partial flight controls failure. The simulator sessions allow students to maintain skills and practice emergency situations. As passengers, it is comforting to know that all commercial pilots are required to demonstrate their skill and must successfully pass the test in a simulator before they are allowed to sit in the front seat with a few hundred of us sitting behind them sipping coffee or squeezing  in a few beers.

The following websites  are recommended: (Marine navigation simulators)

Steve Antunovic is a member of the Victorian Branch Committee of the IQA and an independent training consultant to the quarrying industry. Email:

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