The Growing Role of Simulators in Load and Haul

It?s now recognised that skills development is more than just another component of employment in a quarrying operation ? it can generate a return on investment and help decrease costs and increase profitability.

The key objective of operator training is to reduce risk. Risk is typically associated with safety, but it also covers everything to do with skills development and reducing the potential risk to safety and equipment.

Not implementing training programs to their full potential can also risk productivity by way of having poor machine availability and higher equipment repair costs as a result of sub-standard operating practices.

Quarries can study operator performance in a number of key areas, measure the risk potential in that area and develop a profile that can be used to identify areas for improvement. That information can then be used to implement change that can improve productivity and profitability.

Operator performance data was once collected manually, often by having trainers tagging along in jump seats on driver training programs, or from analysing field reports looking for indications of issues.

These are still helpful measurement tools but technology has made it possible to more effectively gather data and report on performance.
The majority of modern quarrying machines, particularly in the load and haul cycle, have on-board technology like Caterpillar?s Vital Information Management System (VIMS), which gathers operator performance and machine metrics.

Today?s equipment training simulators make it possible for sites to run comparisons between the changing skill profile of an operator in the simulator and in the real machine. This measures the effectiveness of training and its effect on the operation.

With access to this information, sites can better identify areas for improvement. There are dozens of measures to consider including engine overspeed, accident damage, improper gear selection, abusive shifts, park brake abuse, loading accuracy and efficiency, traffic compliance, improper payload, accidents, transmission abuse and more.

While improvement in all areas is the ultimate goal, experts recommend initially focusing on a combination of site-specific critical safety factors and those maintenance and production areas that will have the largest immediate benefit.

?First and foremost, safety is the most important factor in any training program,? said Graham Bowring, Caterpillar Australia?s regional manager, ?but improving operator efficiency and reducing maintenance costs can also be achieved.

?Our experience is that any improvement in operator efficiency will also see productivity gains in areas including cycle times, spotting times and loading accuracy.

?Efficiency gains in these areas will make a difference to a quarry?s cost per tonne.?

Training operators will reduce unscheduled maintenance ? an area of significant expense ? and skill them to use the machines.

?Trained operators utilising machines as designed will reduce wear and tear on all components including engines and brakes, decrease the machine?s running cost and add to business profitability,? he explained.

With Australia experiencing a mining boom, there has been a commensurate skills shortage in related sectors including quarrying, a situation that has required the hiring of new employees.

Offering simulator-based training can play a key role in skilling new operators and reducing ?jump seat? time on board actual production trucks.

A US site that introduced a simulator trial project has found simulators have made a big difference in safety performance and provided an avenue to prepare operators, new and old, for emergency events.

The site also had an improvement in haul truck operation and efficiency, allowing it to move more tonnes at a lower cost. Similarly, maintenance costs were reduced as a result of improved operator practices and reduced brake temperatures and abusive shifts.

The program involved before and after analyses of simulator and mine site data, including VIMS, to identify those operators needing intensive training.

The evaluation found 20 per cent of the site?s operators were committing about 80 per cent on the recorded errors.

The program highlighted the value of using information from VIMS, along with simulator and dispatch data being channelled into reports to identify areas of deficiency and potential high gain such as brake use, abusive shifting and spot times.

The information collected was addressed in a simulator training program which resulted in a 71 per cent reduction in high brake temperature events and an 89 per cent decrease in abusive shift results in the haul operation.

One of the keys to reaping the reward of training is repetition. Committing to maintaining skills development as part of the operation?s strategic objectives will deliver ongoing results.

Training will provide great results but the value may decline over a period of time as a result of new employees coming on-board, or bad habits reappearing.

Careful monitoring of the available dispatch and VIMS data will indicate when it may be time to reinstate a simulator-based training program, in addition to considering factors such as staff turnover and so on.


Caterpillar offers virtual training system machine simulators that are used to train and orient entry-level operators on basic machine operation skills and application knowledge.

Simulator systems include Cat products common to the Australian quarrying industry including the 777D/F, 773D and 769D.

Caterpillar also works with Immersive Technologies, the world?s largest supplier of surface and underground mining equipment simulators, in developing advanced levels of simulator-based training. The integration of the simulator into the mine environment is important in achieving the maximum benefit, according to Immersive.

Integration will see a practical mapping of a training program to achieve success and a quick return on investment. Critical to integration is supervisor training ? the training of trainers.?

Alexander Robinson is the quarry industry representative for Caterpillar Australia.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend