Operator Training Takes Centre Stage
With mines under more pressure than ever to slash costs, cost-efficient and effective operator training, as a key component of workforce optimisation, is taking centre stage.
“In recent years, the power of computing has advanced rapidly. The simulation industry has been able to take advantage of this and the mining industry is taking notice,” says Richard Bellengere, EVP of Operations at ThoroughTec, one of the world’s leading providers of workforce optimisation systems. “You only have to look at some of the world’s militaries to witness how far the technology has progressed. For instance, in the US Air Force, F-22 Raptor pilots perform 100% of their type-conversion training on advanced simulators, there simply isn’t a two-seat training version. The first time they fly the actual jet they’re on their own. So what we’re seeing with many mine sites is that they would prefer to do most of their operator training on high-fidelity simulators, before letting them operate millions of dollars’ worth of equipment such as drill rigs, haul trucks and shovels.”
Simulators dramatically reduce the need to use the actual equipment for training purposes, which historically exposed valuable and potentially productive machinery to unnecessary, wear and tear, damage and extensive production downtime.
A recent Australian study quantifying the benefits of simulator training for dragline operators revealed some interesting results. It has been measured that a 1% increase in dragline productivity can increase profit by up to $2.3m per annum for a large strip coal mine. “Just as is the case for pilots of commercial airliners, the study suggests that simulator training for experienced operators should be repeated at regular intervals in order to hone and maintain skills,” says Bellengere. This study confirms the hypothesis that simulator training can quantifiably improve the performance of both novice and more importantly, experienced operators.
“Just because a mine has an experienced workforce, doesn’t mean that advanced simulators are not a useful tool. They play a pivotal role in refresher training for experienced operators,” says Bellengere. “Bad habits creep in over time, its human nature.”
“Just because a mine has an experienced workforce, doesn’t mean that advanced simulators are not a useful tool”
Leading the field in the supply of advanced operator training simulators is ThoroughTec Simulation’s CYBERMINE Full Mission Simulator (FMS), one of the core components of their CYBERMINE workforce optimisation system, which also includes E-learning and Operator Equipment Familiarisation Training products.
“This system is specifically designed for mine operator performance management,” remarks Bellengere. The continuous improvement of the entire heavy equipment workforce is ensured through the near-real time monitoring and analysis of each mine operators’ performance and where necessary the automated assignment of tailored training interventions so as to ensure that bad habits and safety lapses are eliminated. ThoroughTec has developed a state-of-the art CYBERMINE Learning Management System (LMS) to intelligently link all CYBERMINE products together and provide a universal, network-based system interface for the user. The system covers the entire training chain from theory-based learning to hot seat training and allows for the design, control and monitoring of the learning process for each mine operator passing through the system.
CYBERMINE E-learning is an introductory level tool, which teaches novice recruits the foundational theory of a particular vehicle’s basic controls and methods of operation. Furthermore, health & safety and general mine site orientation is delivered in the context of the equipment in question. “They’re incredibly interactive so the operators are totally engaged and learn at their own pace,” notes Adam Smallman, Regional Vice President of EMEA at ThoroughTec. Examples include demonstrating the importance of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), conducting walk-around inspections, recognising and responding to hazards within the mine and identifying various signage.
“This E-learning system engages heavy equipment operators by integrating video, images, 3D renders, prompts and quizzes,” says Smallman. “The learner is actively drawn into the training experience, advancing at his or her own pace and learning in a way that ensures theoretical concepts are understood and internalised for long term recall.” It’s scalable, consistent, and empowers learners.
ThoroughTec’s E-learning department has been hard at work developing a host of new systems for clients around the world. These include modules for various wheel loaders, haul trucks, drill rigs and LHDs, covering a number of OEMs.
Bridging the gap between theoretical E-learning and practical FMS training, is the Operator Familiarisation Trainer (OFT). This is a supplementary system, intended to develop and entrench advanced, mine operator psycho-motor skills. It’s designed to utilise cabs which are not being used by the FMS. This frees the FMS for advanced training, increasing operator throughput and thus the return on investment.
The final stage is the FMS, which utilises visual, auditory and tactile feedback in order to create a realistic sensation of operating heavy equipment on a mine site. As with advanced flight simulators, this type of technology has been proven to effectively train operators in the safe and productive application of their equipment. “These are highly realistic replications of the actual mining equipment and environment, where instruments and controls look, feel and operate as they do in the actual mining vehicle,” says Bellengere.
With tyres for an LHD costing thousands of dollars apiece, ensuring they’re not unnecessarily worn down or damaged becomes vitally important. “As an example, a CYBERMINE FMS helped a Canadian underground gold mine show their operators how to avoid spinning the front wheels as they drive the bucket into the muck pile. This act obviously decreases tyre life,” says Smallman. CYBERMINE tracks when wheel slippage occurs and the status of all the vehicle’s sub systems. From there, the instructor can deduce how to correct this behaviour, ensuring the operator is in the correct gear and lifting the bucket at the correct time.
The FMS also offers huge safety benefits. Every action of the operator is monitored in real time and the instructor can inject faults in order to see how the operator reacts. “A simulated emergency procedure such as a fire or loss of brakes can reveal a lot about how an operator deals with the problem at hand and through such exposure, learns to manage the fear and uncertainty associated with such incidents,” says Bellengere.
CYBERMINE Simulators are able to replicate a wide range of complex surface and underground mining equipment, covering an entire fleet of heavy equipment. “We’re very proud of the fact that we offer the widest range of simulated cabs on the market and we never take our foot off the pedal. We’re constantly developing new simulators to meet customer demand,” concludes Bellengere.
A recent example of this are the five new simulators being developed by ThoroughTec for China’s JCHX Mine Management. These five high-fidelity CYBERMINE FMS units will be housed in their training centre near Beijing. In addition to their current simulators for Atlas Copco 282 drill rig and Normet 1050 shotcrete sprayer operator training, JCHX will be receiving latest-generation CYBERMINE simulators for the training of Sandvik LH410 LHD and DS411 bolter operators; as well as Atlas Copco Simba 1354 long-hole drill rig, MT2010 dump truck and Cabletec LC bolter operators. All these simulators will be connected to a central database server ensuring consolidated user management and optimal efficiency.