TRAINING: A new generation of simulators is having a huge impact on the development of a 21st century workforce for construction equipment. While optimizing operator training across a range of heavy equipment, the simulators minimize not only health and safety issues but also adverse effects on the environment
by John Bayliss
Developed in partnership with the Swedish-based Oryx Simulations, the Volvo advanced training simulators combine advanced 3D graphics with an electrically controlled full-motion platform. With the focus on giving trainee operators a realistic experience, Volvo simulators use actual input from working excavators, wheel loaders, articulated haulers or demolition equipment, depending on the training required.
Application of these simulator-based training methods is providing benefits long associated with the aviation industry: lower risks for inexperienced personnel; cost savings; more efficient training periods; and machinery readily available for billable production rather than training sessions.
These benefits are clear to Abraham Acosta, an eco-operator instructor with the Central American plant and equipment company Comercial de Motores in Panama.
“It doesn’t matter how many sensors, systems and technology a machine has, our customers can’t get the most out of them unless they know how to use them. This is why we train them on simulators.”
With video games playing a big part in everyday life, in many ways the simulators can be seen as an extension of a familiar and fun environment. This makes it easier for trainee operators to become accustomed to operating construction equipment before using the real thing in potentially dangerous conditions.
Trainees are immersed in a simulated environment where they learn from their mistakes without any negative impact on themselves, the heavy equipment or the environment. A built-in evaluation tool monitors the operator’s developing skills.
The simulators range in size and scale. Single, stand-alone units, comprising a high-definition screen and a motion platform, give a sensory perception of operator actions. They can be transported to different training centers where trainees from other companies and districts can meet to work on the simulators. In this way, training can take place without any disruption to production on working construction sites and the stand-alone units can be moved to meet local needs.
In Europe, where the road, rail and air network is extensive, ease of transport makes the simulators a flexible training tool. However, in Brazil, South America’s largest country, the logistical challenges and greater distances between centers have led to companies taking the portability concept to another level. Tracbel SA has 45 years of experience in Brazil, supplying equipment to the construction, agricultural and forestry industries. Using Volvo CE simulators, the company has fitted out trailers with training units that can be towed around the country.
In the converted trailer, the operator sits in a cab similar to that in a real machine, and monitors the work in progress on a 140cm LED screen. The company claims that a class of 12 with no previous experience of the equipment can be trained to certification level in 100 hours. Tracbel CEO, Luiz Gustavo R. de Magalhães Pereira, says: “Our advanced Volvo simulators offer training so realistic, it is comparable to training in the real machines.”
Odebrecht, another firm operating in Brazil (see page 20), has wide experience in a range of major infrastructure projects in the country, including road, rail and airport projects, and huge construction sites. It has carried out a cost benefit analysis comparing simulators and traditional training on real equipment. Odebrecht’s training manager, Edivaldo Freitas, estimates that over a 100-hour period, fuel consumption is reduced by 10%, productivity is increased by 5%, and overall training costs are cut by an amazing 62% – not to mention the health and safety and environmental benefits.
Volvo Construction Equipment has a long history of supporting not only the interests of its customers and stakeholders but also people in the communities where the company operates. Nowhere is this more true than in Brazil where Volvo CE gives financial support to the Projeto Profissionalizar training venture.
Set up 13 years ago, Projeto Profissionalizar provides free courses across a wide range of professions to young people living in socially vulnerable environments. It started in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and, since its inception, has helped train more than 450 students. As from 2014, students are being trained on Volvo wheel loader and excavator simulators.
In South Australia, where construction companies face similar logistical challenges to those in Brazil, a dual approach to training combines portability and a permanent training center. The Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) has developed a center of excellence in a 4,000m2 site located just 5km from Adelaide’s central business district, and a 10-minute drive from the city’s airport.
The center houses the world’s first virtual construction site and a fleet of mobile training units. At its heart, a comprehensive assortment of Volvo heavy-machine plant simulators includes several four-degrees-of-movement units and two six-degrees-of-movement simulators. The CCF offers more than 20 short courses and nationally recognized traineeships, with up to 20,000 trainees passing through every year.
Phil Sutherland, Chief Executive Officer of the CCF, says the Adelaide center has focused on providing state-of-the-art education and training systems to thousands of new operators or those enhancing their skills base. “The simulators have given our business the edge over all other training providers. Volvo is a globally recognized quality brand and our Volvo simulators live up to that expectation.”
The extensive advantages of simulator training are being acknowledged worldwide, with the partnership between Volvo CE and Oryx providing an opportunity for a stronger presence in this market segment. As Phil Sutherland affirms: “Simulator-based training offers many advantages. It minimizes the risks and costs associated with training in live plant. When our students are proficient on the simulators, they transition to live plant and equipment to complete their training. We are very pleased with our association with Volvo.”