Safe, effective virtual reality instruction that passes on cost per tonne savings.
In both surface and underground mining, the training of today’s and tomorrow’s earthmoving operators will increasingly focus on their interaction with onboard and remote technologies, including ongoing trends in semi and full machine automation.
Barloworld Equipment’s Operator Training Academy in Isando, Johannesburg, is at the forefront of these developments, spearheaded by the incorporation of Cat simulators that provide a virtual environment that greatly enhances the learning experience. (Barloworld Equipment is the Cat dealer for southern Africa.)
Caterpillar fields a comprehensive simulator training line-up. These include modules for articulated trucks, hydraulic excavators, medium and large mining trucks, M-Series motor graders, scrapers, track-type tractors, small and large wheel loaders and electric rope shovels. Further developments are underway to introduce Cat simulator training stations for the underground market.
Cat Simulators are compact and easily portable from the classroom environment to customer sites. These units are also available for sale or rental.
“We have found that the use of simulators greatly enhances downstream proficiency and efficiency at a time when the industry is looking for ways to save on operational expenditure and maximise the cost per tonne utilisation of their existing fleets,” comments Willie Haasbroek, head of Barloworld Equipment’s Operator Training Academy. He was speaking at the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s (SAIMM’s) Virtual Reality in Mining Conference, held between 15th and 16th July 2015 at Pretoria University.
An accredited training provider in terms of the Construction Education & Training Authority (CETA) and the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA), Barloworld Equipment’s Operator Academy is currently ranked in the top tier among Cat dealers worldwide. Around 700 operators from industry are trained and certified annually at the Academy.
“In addition to proven machine proficiency, we will only certify operators if they can demonstrate, via theoretical and practical examination, that they have a comprehensive understanding of the correct techniques required to achieve safe and optimum production. This includes an understanding of how these techniques can positively impact on machine health and availability. Cat simulators enable us to set the benchmark at the highest level,” Haasbroek continues, “as there are no shortcuts or training gaps.”
Once on board a Cat simulator, realistic controls ensure that the operator gains familiarisation and muscle memory using the same hardware found in the actual machine. Rich graphics create a virtual world as trainees move through a succession of exercises that test and record their progress.
In addition to correcting bad habits, Cat simulators also prove beneficial when addressing new technologies. An example is the Cat M Series motor grader simulator that trains operators on a machine class that functions purely on joystick controls, as opposed to the conventional steering wheel and levers found on current K Series units.
“Even for experienced K Series operators, this can be a conversion challenge and we’ve found that it generally takes a minimum of six weeks before they grasp the basics of the new joystick technology,” says Haasbroek. “Younger operators accustomed to the virtual world of 3D gaming may pick up the techniques slightly faster, but in the end the playing field is levelled by the nature of the training programme.”
Core metrics are built into the programme for all Cat simulator machine classes. For the Cat M-Series module, these include controls familiarization; the number of blade-ground contacts; total blade-ground contact time; total time spent in reverse; average speed; highest gear used; number of collisions; and number of blade-tyre contacts.
Once in the field, Caterpillar has a wide range of technologies that build on the competencies of an expert operator. A prime example is the Cat MineStar system, which consists of a number of configurable capability sets, namely Fleet, Terrain, Detect, Health and Command. These can be used individually or in combination to provide the scalability needed to maximise safety, reduce costs and improve profitability.
‘Fleet’ provides comprehensive, real-time machine tracking, assignment and productivity management, enabling a comprehensive overview of all operations.
‘Terrain’ enables high-precision management of drilling, loading, grading and dragline operations through the use of guidance technology. It increases machine productivity and provides real-time feedback for improved efficiency.
‘Detect’ helps keep personnel and assets safe by using satellite, radar and camera technologies to enhance operator awareness of the working environment around their manned or remotely controlled mining equipment in both surface and underground applications.
‘Health’ delivers critical event-based machine condition and operating data for the entire fleet. It includes comprehensive equipment health and asset monitoring capabilities, with a wide range of diagnostic, analytic and reporting tools.
‘Command’ in turn enables remote control, semi-autonomous and autonomous systems for surface and underground mobile mining equipment. By integrating the capabilities of Fleet, Terrain, Detect and Health, it delivers dramatic improvements in safety, productivity and availability.
“At the Academy, our role is to ensure that we keep abreast of technological developments that maximise the machine and human interface,” adds Haasbroek. “Now and into the future, this training journey begins on a Cat simulator.”