Digital simulators: A personal approach to training mining operators

Simulators are useful for pre-screening of potential machine operators. Image: Bestech Australia

Personal simulator training can save money in maintenance costs and extend machinery lifetime. It is also used as a pre-screening tool in an aptitude test when recruiting for mining operators.

Modern mining equipment is increasingly complex, costly and difficult to operate productively. But there are wide variations in the technical proficiency of the operators in a typical company workforce; only approximately 10 per cent of employees are high performers. Typically, the operators with less technical proficiency are responsible for accidents and pose a serious hazard to the workplace. It also increases the odds of premature wear-and-tear in the equipment that results in a higher maintenance cost.

By increasing the operators’ working proficiency, it will directly translate to increasing mining efficiency and lower maintenance costs. In reality, not all training candidates are suitable to be trained as a heavy equipment operator. In one documented case, two-to-three (or sometimes even three-to-four) of 10 people in a training class won’t have enough aptitude to make the training as an equipment operator. Based on side-by-side comparisons, it is reported that an average of 25-42 per cent of training candidates were judged to be unsuitable for training as heavy equipment operators.

This proficiency can be assessed with a typical ‘aptitude’ testing to assess the psychomotor, sensory, perceptual and cognitive abilities of an individual.

By choosing a better training candidate, every operator trained will develop into a fully efficient worker. Industrial psychologists have developed several psychometric tests dating back to World War Two to measure these aptitudes, including pegboards and imaginary paper folding, to name just a few.

Bestech Australia is the leading sensors and instrumentation company that specializes in test and measurement applications and also supplies technical teaching equipment to universities and registered training providers. It is also the distributor of SIMLOG’s heavy equipment personal simulator in Australia and New Zealand.

Its sensor technology has been used in many industries, such as defence, manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, mining, research and development, and many more.

Bestech’s Wirhan Pratiano offers a few reasons why digital simulators can be a boon for operations.

The era of personal simulators

It should be noteworthy that pre-screening for operators is just part of the solution. If pre-screened operators receive inadequate training, it will certainly lead to lower productivity, high fuel costs, increased wear and tear and more frequent maintenance and repair. Operators need to develop the right habits, which are integral to achieving maximum operating proficiency.

SIMLOG’s heavy equipment simulators are available in many models across a wide range of industries, including mining, construction and forestry. Mining machinery such as drills, electric rope shovels, hydraulic excavators, mining trucks, wheel loaders, material handlers, bulldozers and backhoe loaders are available. These simulators can be used to train screened operators in developing good habits for operating practices.

SIMLOG offers the simplest method to test operational aptitude in a simulated yet challenging work situation. It presents to the training candidates a simplified version of what the real work will be.

One of SIMLOG’s customers in Canada has reported double the training productivity over a four-week training period thanks to simulation-based preparation.

In Brazil, a customer documented increased productivity over a training period of six weeks of real work after pre-training the operators using the personal simulator. Without a doubt, personal simulators offer massive long-term benefits to mining companies in terms of productivity and efficiency.

Eliminating the bad habit of poor operating practices

Tyre wear is a typical concern for mining trucks as a result of poor operating practices. For example, turning the wheel while stopping, cornering too fast or driving with tyres in contact with a berm will quickly wear out the tyre. For wheel loaders, loading the truck while articulating greatly reduces productivity as the engine power is optionally transferred to the front end.

The simulation software features a “performance indicator” module to track all of the poor operating practices cited above. When they occur during training, the occurrences are counted and displayed at the end of practice for both the operator and the trainer to review.

Using the simulator, the trainer has better flexibility to show what to do (and what not to do), which significantly improves the quality of training programmes.

Choose what you need: Cost-effectiveness vs. complexity

With so many companies out there with heavy equipment simulator products, cost is always the number one priority. Depending on the training needs, complexities and price often go hand in hand.

The most complex device may cost as much as a million dollars to purchase. These will typically feature multiple PCs, special wraparound displays, a motion platform, trainer station and hardware/software details that change with the particular make and model of the simulated equipment.

Commonly, it also comes with an ongoing annual fee, which adds more to the already expensive device.

In summary, modern personal simulators can help companies to decide whether their training candidates have enough aptitude to make the training investment worthwhile.

Once they are hired, it is also a useful learning tool to teach them the right operating procedures. The performance indicator modules offer comprehensive assessment of the operators’ quality to decide whether they are good enough to operate the real equipment.

This article originally appeared in the October edition of Australian Mining.

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