When many people in the mining industry think of training simulators, they’re enticed by the bright lights and sheer magnitude of the equipment.
As Immersive Technologies regional manager Greg Karadjian describes it, training simulators are often perceived as “a sexy piece of technology” at the end of the day.
While these impressive machines are aesthetically pleasing to the eye of many mining companies, they serve a far more important purpose – ensuring the safety and productivity of mine sites around the world.
“All the [looks] are wonderful, but at the end of the day, simulators are a mechanism that get people to operate as if they were in a real machine,” Karadjian says.
“We don’t want them to feel like they are playing a video game.”
Immersive Technologies is a global technology leader in the mining industry and with the increased digitisation of underground mine sites around the world, its simulators are becoming more important in ensuring the safety of miners.
The training simulators enable a range of specific operator errors and events, allowing participants to monitor and train for equipment damage and potentially life-threatening emergency scenarios.
“The simulation of products is a cornerstone of any safety initiative for operator training, there is no other way to practise for accidents like equipment failure,” Karadjian says.
“The area of practising risky behaviours is key because the underground environment is difficult to observe.”
Karadjian points out that while safety is imperative to all mine sites around the world, the focus of simulators varies based on the specific type of mining operation being conducted and the region it encompasses.
“For Australian underground mines, its experienced significant growth in simulators because we have addressed a lot of unknowns, such as how to quantify the skills a person has before they go onsite,” he says.
The company also has a number of contracts in African nations and its focus in those countries differs to the use of Australian companies.
“Their objective is more holistic, they use this technology as a solution to uplift communities and impart skills and best practises in areas where education is historically very low,” Karadjian says.
The intention again is different in the mature markets of Mexico where Karadjian notes “our solutions are used to reduce cost per tonne of seasoned operators for more profit and to ensure the ongoing life of mines.”
The sophistication of underground safety technology has risen in line with an increase in underground mines and Immersive Technologies is jumping on board the trend.
“We have ramped up focus on the underground market in the last five years, which has been coupled with an industry shift in the market due to greater digitisation and automation and moving to a more comparable space to surface mines,” Karadjian says.
The company has developed a wide range of underground equipment for global giants in the mining equipment manufacturing world such as Caterpillar, Sandvik, Epiroc to name a few.
Immersive Technologies produces Line of Site Remotes and replica cabin Conversion Kits, collaborating with the equipment manufacturer to replicate its underground loaders,trucks, bolters and drills, with functioning controls and instrumentation.
Part of the process of training involves incorporating SimControl software, which allows for the implementation of operator errors for recording and measuring incorrect operator behaviour.
The software also enables events which allow a trainer to initiate machine faults or incidents in order to train and assess operators in responding to these instances accordingly.
Operator errors and events focus more specifically on hazard avoidance, brake and engine management, gear and tyre management and site safety procedures.
The aim of the errors and events is to provide a mechanism that ensures operators are working at maximum efficiency, while also minimising equipment damage.
It also allows operators to avoid or respond correctly to hazards and potentially life-threatening scenarios.
For Immersive Technologies, one of the most important aspects of its products is the ability to quantify a person’s skills and therefore assess their ability to operate a particular piece of equipment.
“Because the environment of the machines is virtual, we can reset the environment and quantify each operator and then compare them to each other,” Karadjian says.
“It’s very important to quantify the skills of operators before taking them on site.”
The training that occurs once areas for improvement are established run at a multitude of levels, according to Karadjian.
“At the basic level, most training programs will involve baselining a scenario, taking everyone through the same environment and then identifying areas of improvement,” he says.
“We then work with operations to uplift the person’s skills and behaviours such that they represent a lower risk to operations.”
The popularity of Immersive Technologies’ simulators has allowed the company to withstand the volatility of the mining industry, with Karadjian pointing out the demand largely comes from mines due to the benefits the training provides.
“The demand for our simulators come more from mines rather than manufacturers because our products and services ultimately allow for increased productivity and reduced maintenance costs,” he says.
“For manufactures though, they still benefit through their machines operating to capacity and higher return on investment received by their customers.”
Through its solutions, which are deployed across 44 countries and high-profile partnerships, Immersive Technologies has experienced strong growth, particularly due to its “resilience to tough times.”
“We are a lot less prone to the cyclical nature of the mining industry because the focus is on quantifiably improving productivity and safety of mines,” Karadjian says.
“When commodity prices are down and you offer customers a proven mechanism to achieve reduction of costs per tonne, that’s a pretty compelling conversation to have.”
While the underground mining world is fraught with safety risks, it also offers some of the most prospective mining opportunities and the aim of Immersive Technologies’ training simulators, is for its customers to address needs for both safety and productivity.