Miners are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using equipment simulators to improve the performance of rookie and experienced operators alike. Moreover, it allows them to train people without putting individuals or valuable machinery at risk.
In early 2009 South African simulator maker Thoroughbred Technologies set up an office near Perth Airport. ThoroughTec supplied one of its simulator units to Sandvik, which is using the unit at its training centre in Perth. The centre is capable of simulating a range of Sandvik underground mining equipment.
Western Australia School of Mines student Nigel Lister undertook just such research in conjunction with Byrnecut Mining and Sandvik’s training centre.
He concluded that:
• Simulator-based training for underground truck operators would increase safety, environmental performance and operational efficiency in the underground working environment;
• The simulator-based training program offered a substantial reduction in average incident severity for a relatively small increase in operating cost;
• Most operators who participated in the course showed improvement in both machine operation and their ability to respond to emergency situations; and
• The proposed simulator-based training course would add value to Byrnecut training systems for underground truck operators.
Before taking simulator training, Byrnecut’s workers had been trained using a combination of theory and knowledge sharing with experienced operators. For this study Lister looked at four operators working at Byrnecut’s Waroonga mine near Leinster. He noted that three of the four showed improvement in performance.
Lister admitted that the three operators’ performance improvement was more marked that shown in his graphical reporting because they were exposed to more difficult situations towards the end of the course. This meant that not only were they hitting the walls less frequently, they continued to improve even though the scenarios became more difficult.
The fourth member failed to show any improvement but Lister writes that this operator did not have the attributes necessary to operate an underground haul truck. He had been put through Byrnecut’s standard training but had failed to improve during that too.
Lister found the introduction of simulator training to the Byrnecut operation resulted in a 30.33% decrease in the average severity of incidents onsite. This came at an increased operation cost equivalent to 7.3% of the annual maintenance and repair costs of a six-truck fleet.
Simulators allow workers to put theses lessons into practice without putting themselves or valuable mining equipment at risk. Simulators also allow trainers to set up scenarios that would not be feasible with actual mining equipment.
A whole range of vehicular emergency scenarios can be put in place without harming people of equipment. This helps the operator respond automatically to such scenarios and reduces the risk of injury or damage.
In Lister’s study, when exposed to a truck fire situation for the first time, three out of four operators failed to recognise what was happening and therefore did not activate the fire suppression system.
When tested again, two of the three operators who had failed to pick up on the emergency the first time did recognise the situation as soon it was reinitiated by the instructor and activated the fire suppression system. The third trainee failed to push the fire suppression button twice but picked up on his mistake quickly and carried out the correct procedure whenever a truck fire situation was initiated by the instructor.
Another point Lister raises is that when an actual mining truck is being used for training purposes, its production efficiency falls and mining revenue is reduced.
Sandvik set up its training centre to help customers get the most from their equipment. Besides the ThoroughTec simulator, it has a training facility to help improve the performance of maintenance staff.
The Sandvik module and another at the MISC is the extent of ThoroughTec’s sales in Australia to date.
However, the company’s Australian representative, Brad Rouse, is confident that will change soon. Rouse said Thoroughtec’s push into the Australian market had probably not been at the best of times. The global financial crisis bit right around the time the office opened. “But that gave us an opportunity to find our feet a bit,” he said. “The first three to four months were just setting up and getting everything ready. Since then we’ve been out there getting people interested in the product. “We’ve had a couple of big players back for second and third demonstrations.” He reckons ThoroughTec is about two to three months behind where it would like to be.
ThoroughTec’s simulators are well known in its native South Africa and it also has units in North and South America in both above and below-ground mining. “Probably the most interesting thins in pushing the underground side is that we’ve had probably as much interest, if not more, shown in our above-ground simulators.” Rouse noted that having South African expatiates involved with the Australian market had helped a little. A number of these people were familiar with Thoroughtec’s mining and military simulator products.
Thoroughtec started out making simulators for the military during the period South Africa was cut off from the rest of the world because of apartheid-spurred embargoes. As people completed their military service and took up employment in the mining industry, they started calling for similar simulator-assisted training regime. Thoroughtec set to work on that.
*Extracted from Australia's Mining Monthly*