By Newton Mthethwa
Training has definitely made it into the new millennium with computer simulations becoming more and more commonplace. Certainly it is less expensive to crash a virtual bulldozer but the debate is now whether these machines can prepare the operator for real life.
The old way of training is still around and it is remarkably still being used by some of the powerhouses in the business.
However, safety, productivity and impact to the environment have always been the mainstay of justified asset optimisation projects and advanced training simulators.
Operator competency is critical to any work environment- hence Advanced Operator Training Simulators ultimately enable mine sites to achieve their objectives through operator training- to improve safety, productivity levels, as well as minimising impact on environment.
Advanced Operator Training Simulators enables trainers to take trainees through a realistic virtual reality world without consequence to safety, machine abuse and environmental impact. Operators can built muscle memory of machine controls and practice any operating procedure again and again, until they get it right without endangering others, or themselves- thus coming out of the training programmes with a greater level of competency in a short space of time.
In addition, the higher the fidelity of the simulator is, the more the mine will be able to achieve with their operators. Motion platforms with up to six degrees of freedom, accurate replication of the equipment’s controls with feedback, and a panoramic high-resolution projection display system with surround sound audio are just some of the things required to achieve an authentic level of realism.
Machines that are not taken out of production are less prone to damage and fuel wastage by inexperienced operators, thus decreasing the operational costs, and safety levels are enhanced by the fact that operators can be trained and scored on their reaction to emergencies such as engine fires and tire blow outs, which are obviously impossible to replicate safely on the real equipment.
Furthermore, safety operating procedures can be customized to the customer’s requirements, for instance hooting three times before moving a haul truck.
Simulator Training Structure
Simulator training often called Simulator Integrated Training Environment (SITE) is indeed as effective as the training programme structure itself. Customers are looking for a more customized and managed solution, and many want a more complete programme, not just simulators but training tool- so that operators are measured step-by-step, and they go from novice to fully trained in a timeous and efficient manner.
Traditionally mine sites take new operators to a process covering mine safety and induction, classroom instruction on machine specific safety, control familiarization and operating procedure and then onto hours spent on the real machine and in-pit, followed by even more hours on their own operating in the actual environment to ultimately qualify for competency.
A number of organisations have introduced several types of training tools, for instance ThoroughTec has introduced tools to complement and further enhance the way adult learning works. Computer Based Trainer (CBT) eLearning modules to help with knowledge acquisition, the Operator Familiarisation Trainer (OFT) as a step approach in mastering machine controls first and finally to the more familiar Full Mission Simulator to marry knowledge, control skills and operating. In addition, other traditional tools such as training aids, instruction, actual machine and in-pit environment are also integrated.
In an enhanced Simulator Integrated Training Environment (SITE), the process or steps is no longer linear but blended instead. Operators will switch back and forth in the steps and tools to cement and reinforce knowledge, skills and experience.
Return-On-Investment (ROI) and justification of investing on Operator Training Simulators
As technology continues to impact the way mines operate and new mines being established, the assumption is that new mines as well as the established mines will have a large volume of employees to train, and the logic applied is that each recruit would perform X number of hours on a real equipment to be declared competent. These real hours often have a high cost in terms of fuel, tyres, damage and not to mention potential production losses while that truck is being used for training. Simulation can be used as a direct off-set for real vehicle hours for anything between 50 percent and 80 percent often at an operational cost of well below 10 percent of the real vehicle. In larger and more expensive vehicles such as shovels, the costs on a simulator vs. real are a fraction of percent.
Furthermore, existing mines are required to complete refresher training every year on all of their operators to re-issue their licenses for that machine, usually done on their return from annual leave. When the mine is already in production, pulling machines out to carry out training, it has a massive effect on production which again is off-set by the use of the simulator. Beyond this, workers are required to perform emergency procedures which are not only extremely dangerous in the real machine but exceptionally costly on brakes. Other emergency procedures they cannot attempt and need to be covered in theory which is less acceptable.
Mine optimisation although much harder to actually prove, simulators can also be used to hone operators skills and teach them new techniques in order to improve production such as double-sided loading.
Above this, a sound business revolves around three key issues- Improved productivity (less down time during training as well as improved operator skills); Reduced maintenance costs (through ability to train machine sympathy); Improved safety (operators can be subjected to safety related incidents and training practically to react correctly when in high potential incident situations).
For this reason, simulations are proving to be an indispensable part of getting operators trained and remaining relevant. A training simulator remains an effective way to upskill an operator, helping them to learn how to operate equipment proficiently and effectively as well as becoming more valuable to the operation.