Better Safety Through Simulation
Over the last few decades, pressure on training has intensified greatly in order to keep pace with the increasing complexity of heavy equipment, occupational health and safety requirements, and the constant drive to push productivity up and costs down.
Consequently, the most progressive mines are looking for partners who can provide comprehensive, end-to-end training solutions, using the latest training technologies to both attract young talent and develop more efficient and effective equipment operators.
ThoroughTec Simulation is meeting this demand by offering interactive e-learning systems, virtual-reality pre-trip inspection trainers and high-fidelity equipment simulators, all integrated under the company’s Workforce Excellence (WX) Training and Performance Management system, and augmented by a comprehensive range of managed training and support services.
Benefits of simulation
Increasing training efficiency and safety
Simulators allow trainee operators to familiarise themselves with a vehicle’s controls, functions and operating procedures, along with the site on which they will one day operate, in a safe and controlled manner. Mine personnel and mining equipment are not exposed to risk or unnecessary wear and tear, while, at the touch of a button, trainees can be exposed to risky operating conditions and various emergency situations, which could never be safely recreated using traditional training methods in real equipment. This unique capability better prepares the operators to adapt to and excel in the real world, boosting productivity, preventing accidents, and reducing downtime.
Reducing training and maintenance costs
In principal, a huge proportion of an operator’s practical training (in some instances up to 80%) can be completed on hi-fidelity simulators. This represents a significant potential saving in training-related fuel-burn and maintenance, by eliminating absolute-rookie time in the mining equipment. This same equipment is also then released for production tasking to positively influence mine bottom lines, when margin is everything.
Hi-fidelity simulator systems
Not to be confused with the many low-fidelity simulator systems in the market, which might answer for basic or induction training, hi-fidelity simulators integrate and leverage a range of unique features to unlock the ultimate potential of virtual-interactive training. For example, CYBERMINE Simulator Systems feature fully replicated cabins; original equipment manufacturer (OEM) controls; military-grade six degree-of-freedom motion platforms; contactless head and body tracking; ultra-high resolution; laser-projected panoramic displays; digital 3D surround sound; and interactive, multi-player modes to completely immerse the trainee in the virtual scenario. In doing so, knowledge is more readily taken in and retained, while skills and experience transfer almost seamlessly to the real world.
Equally critical to such systems are the simulated mining worlds, and ‘under-the-hood’ computational models which bring the simulation to life and make it relevant as a training tool – the digital twins of the mine environment and mining machines. Simulated vehicles need to function and operate exactly as they do in the real world, a world which needs to be intricately modelled in virtual reality so as to represent every possible feature to the student. When this is done right, trainees will quickly forget they are not in ‘the real thing’ and the training will become ‘real’.
ThoroughTec’s experience in this field has recently received a boost in the form of closer collaboration with some of the world’s largest mining equipment providers, an example being Caterpillar, which now works exclusively with ThoroughTec to develop the best possible hi-fidelity training solutions for their customers around the world.
Without detracting from the technology, essential as it is to facilitate such modern training, the power and influence of good human instructors must not be overlooked. Whether planning simulation exercises or coaching students through them, instructors underscore and embellish the students experiences in the simulator, drawing connections between the theory and the practice of mining equipment operation.
Recognising this, CYBERMINE Simulators come equipped with a set of instructor tools, supporting the creation of myriad scenarios to test the student’s abilities under almost any circumstances. Exercises can focus on productivity enhancements, such as reducing spotting times in haul trucks or improving drilling accuracy and speed in underground drill rigs, or they can emphasis machine care through the application of mechanically sensitive operating practices and early identification of fault conditions. And then there is emergency scenario training, almost the unique preserve of simulator-based training. Burst tyres, engine and wheel fires, run-away conditions and loss of control, each one as dangerous and challenging as the other, can be practiced again and again, without cost or risk, until operator response becomes second nature.
And what good would any of this be if each and every input or action made by the student was not monitored and recorded? To this end, the simulators offer a comprehensive range of reports delivering metrics and analysis of both operator competence and proficiency.
The company also offers a range of supporting technologies to enrich and complete the holistic training solution. Two of these are the company’s in-house developed CYBERMINE E-learning courses and virtual-reality Pre-Trip Inspection Trainer. Both technologies help to lay down a critical foundation of theoretical knowledge through modern digital mediums, paving the way toward downstream simulator training activities and beyond.
The use of e-learning systems has grown exponentially in recent years. Assessments, training material, and employee records are moved online which reduces paper consumption and drastically simplifies the creation, management, and delivery of training content. They have also been proven to increase the learning rate and retention by combining audio, 3D models, video, and interactive content to keep students interested and engaged. E-learning also delivers greater consistency and uniformity, both when delivering content and testing. CYBERMINE e-learning modules are developed to be equipment and site specific, educating students on almost any topic; from the basics of personal protective equipment (PPE) use, through to site operating procedures and principles of mining, as well as more complex vehicle operating procedures.
Virtual pre-trip inspection trainers
Pre-trip or walk-around inspection training has also been brought into the digital age, as students can now learn to perform these safety-critical tasks using an interactive touch screen. The virtual mining machine is completely and accurately modelled in 3D and placed into a virtual space where the student can, by way of the touch screen or other interface, move around and inspect every aspect and component of the machine. The taught inspection procedures are developed according to OEM recommendations and tailored, where necessary, to include site-specific nuances. Potential faults and defects are realistically modelled and randomised during the tests so that the students learn to identify such issues and take appropriate action before operating the equipment.
Digitising mine training
Traditional mine training organisations are beset by a number of challenges, ranging from the incompatibility of various training tools and excessive reliance on paper-based assessments and record keeping, to the complexity of optimally scheduling students and resources. Learner management systems have historically been used to some effect in the e-learning environment, but their usefulness across the broader sweep of mine training systems and processes has been very limited.
To address this problem, ThoroughTec has developed a Training Management System (TMS) as part of the broader WX Platform. This system has been specifically designed to cater to the challenges faced by the mining industry. WX TMS is an online system that digitises and centralises the creation, planning, control, reporting and record keeping of all mine training activities, replacing most, if not all the functions of traditional LMS/HRD/ERP implementations.
While naturally optimised for use with ThoroughTec’s CYBERMINE range of products, the system is both technology and process agnostic, allowing it to adapt and meet virtually any organisational need. Such a system acts as the training department’s central nervous system, cohesively linking everything from classroom training through to simulators, and even in-pit training and practical evaluations, while providing hitherto unheard-of insight to all mine stakeholders.
Closing the loop between training and the pit
The historical and largely persistent problem is that mining training is locked in an eternal conflict with mining operations, competition for the man hours either spent training or working. The paradox is that effective time spent training should naturally result in more efficient time spent working, however, in reality, commercial and operational pressures rarely yield. Invariably, this makes most mine operator training infrequent and sporadic, possibly even solely incident-based, which is too late. In addition, people do not necessarily learn at the same rates; experience, skills and weaknesses vary, and each require a tailored response to optimally improve.
WX Analytics has been developed specifically to address this problem. WX Analytics uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically and continuously monitor individual operator behaviours, analyse the resultant data, and then intelligently recommend tailored simulator-based training interventions to address and correct any identified performance deficiencies. When training is needed, what training is required, and how it should be presented is thus determined by science, and the resultant interruption of operator work-time kept to an absolute minimum.
Once the operator returns to the pit, the AI will also be responsible for determining whether or not the intervention was successful, and, if necessary, schedule additional training.
With access to this new array of digital training technologies, and enjoying a reinvigorated mandate to advance health, safety and environment in the industry, the training of mining equipment operators is entering an exciting new era. Essential to harnessing the potential of this moment are the training management tools and systems which integrate and channel this (at times intimidating) spectrum of technology into a cohesive and effective system. Through such an orchestrated approach, mines will be able to attract new talent to address the prevailing skills shortage and sustain a highly proficient, safe workforce in the long-term.
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