Although technology is usually designed to make the operator’s job easier, it can add a level of complexity that never used to exist. Today’s crane operators need to be tech-savvy in addition to having all the other traditional skills required. Technology also has the potential to psychologically remove the operator from the dangers that are inherent in operating large, complex machinery. Fortunately, it can also be used in our favour, opening up avenues of operator training that have never been possible before.
This brave new world of operator training was strikingly evident at the recent ConExpo construction machinery trade show in Las Vegas, USA, where major crane manufacturers and specialist tech companies were displaying their own crane simulators. Liebherr, for example, calls its simulator-based training LiSIM. Different versions are available for various Liebherr crawler and tower cranes. The company says these simulators are designed to train operators in using specific crane models under authentic work conditions, such as different weather conditions and different times of the day and night. Virtual environments from actual construction sites can also be replicated. More than 20 simulators are already in use worldwide, Liebherr says. On the company’s ConExpo stand, visitors could experience the 710 HC-L tower crane simulator. Using virtual reality goggles they could ‘fly’ around the crane, looking at parts of it close-up; this could potentially increase a trainee’s understanding of how a crane works as a whole.
On Terex’s stand at ConExpo another simulator was also attracting attention. Terex’s Simulift system enabled users to ’operate’ a Demag AC 250 using four screen displays that simulate the windows of the crane’s cab. Terex says that by using the Simulift, students can train operating large-sized cranes in situations that would be too dangerous for a training exercise in a real crane, such as a hoist rope break. Simulift even requires the operator to set the crane’s outriggers.
“Our simulator can provide training for operators and signal persons simultaneously. Because of that, we can evaluate the applicants for operator positions in a faster, cheaper, and safer manner,” says Ricardo Neto, services manager for Terex Cranes in Latin America – a region in which Terex invested more than R$1 million (US$ 322,000) and six months of time rolling the system out.
Terex’s system was developed by Swedish simulator specialist Oryx Simulations. Oryx claims its training simulators “replicate real world physics” to train new operators on how to use the machines or help experienced operators to increase their skills. The company has also developed a simulator management system. This lets instructors track operators’ progress inside the simulator in detail, making the entire training process more efficient. Instructors can create their own training programme and decide the order the operator should attempt certain exercises in and when it is time for them to advance to the next level. A continual stream of detailed statistics and information about their progress is provided.
The use of screen-centric simulator systems for training, however, is not without limitations, according to US crane, rigging and lift-planning training specialist, Industrial Training International (ITI). As a result of market research it conducted before investing in simulation-based training, ITI decided not to buy existing technology. Zack Parnell, ITI President, explains, “We didn’t believe existing simulators would deliver enough value to our customers at the costs required mainly due to high price points and the inability to process enough trainees in a given year because of general immobility [of the simulators].”
SPMT safety training available anytime, anywhere
Employees at Italian heavy-lift specialist Fagioli will benefit from a digital learning solution designed to improve safety when using self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs). Digital learning solutions company, BeOne Development from the Netherlands, has created a digital learning solution that enables Fagioli employees to learn whenever they want and wherever they want, accessible from all devices. The company says that no such training for the safe use of SPMT currently exists in the market, and its tech will ultimately be available to any operators active in the sector. By making the SPMT training programme accessible anywhere, anytime, BeOne Development says working and learning can be integrated and that it can help an organisation achieve a basic standardised level of awareness in the company.
In short, ITI found the high cost of crane simulators led to too few being purchased, resulting in too few trainees being able to access them. ITI also identified generally poor user experiences, such as unrealistic simulations, on the smaller, more mobile units. As a result, in August 2016, it embarked on developing its own crane and rigging simulations in partnership with advanced simulator and game-based training specialist, Serious Labs.
The end result, the VR Mobile Crane Simulator, was launched at ConExpo. It utilises a virtual reality headset - the cost of which became commercially viable in 2016 with the rise of Oculus Rift and other headset manufacturers. ITI claims its system offers low up-front capital costs, a good user experience, and subscription pricing based on actual usage. Two versions of the virtual reality system are now available: one uses an operator seat on a motion base that simulates crane cab movement; the other is a mobile desktop crane simulator. ITI says both offer complete immersion in a lifelike virtual world. It offers more than 400 scenarios and free updates for subscribers will be available as new content is added to ITI’s simulator library. The Tadano GR-1000XL and the Link-Belt 218 HSL lattice boom crawler are two of the first crane models available on ITI’s system.
Despite the ever-evolving advance of training technology, however, technophobes need not despair. Simulators need not be used at the expense of traditional teaching; rather they are being adopted as a supplementary tool within a wider training context that embraces new and tried-and-tested techniques. For example, ITI’s training solutions encompass traditional hands-on learning opportunities under the guidance of instructors. Books and reference materials remain popular. Then there’s Terex’s busy US training centre where new and established training techniques are employed. Thus the role of technology looks set not to take over training but rather to enrich it.