New Heavy Equipment Operator Training Program

Oct 14, 2016

Cat Simulators help build real-world skills in safety & productivity.

A long-awaited heavy equipment operator training program made its debut this fall in BC’s Lower Mainland. Playing a starring role are Cat® Simulators, purchased from SITECH, a division of Finning Canada, which create a realistic training experience without the need for a work site, wasted fuel or the prohibitive expense of an actual machine fleet.

Hosted at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s (BCIT) new Annacis Island campus, the program features a “heavy equipment operator lab” equipped with eight Cat Simulators, and a 44-foot trailer with four simulators that will serve as a mobile classroom to remote communities. “The program will enable students to build safety awareness, operational efficiency and muscle memory on a simulator before moving to actual machines,” explains BCIT's Steve Perry, associate dean, motive power.

“These savings will pay for a simulator pretty quickly.”

Students learn about the finer points of machine operation because the simulators replicate a virtual work site using3D graphics and controls of five different machines - track-type tractor, excavator, wheel loader, articulated dump truck and motor grader – all in the safety of a controlled environment.

Focused on the right metrics

The effectiveness of Cat Simulators in the training and evaluation of operators is due to the close attention to detail. “In developing this product, we worked with Caterpillar soil physicists, motion specialists and subject matter experts to ensure we’re using the right metrics to measure productivity,” explains Tom Whitworth, account manager with Simformotion™, the company licensed to manufacture and market Cat Simulators.

“The technology has come a long way and only keeps getting better,” says Trevor Tetzlaff, acting director, SITECH, whose team focuses on the provision of tailored construction technology solutions for companies and institutions. “The graphics are amazing and the motion platform gives you a realistic feel of the vibration and movement of the machine.”

Another key feature of Cat Simulators is the records management software program, SimU Campus™, which comes pre-loaded with each model. “With [SimU Campus], we can record what the student is doing - his or her movements and how efficient they are. It’s pretty amazing,” says Bruce. The system also measures fuel consumption, material movement efficiency and calculates machine wear and tear.

It’s all in the science

Science attests to the effectiveness of Cat Simulators. A controlled study at a proprietary training facility compared the competency of students trained only on machines versus those who used simulators. The results were startling - students trained on simulators required 41 per cent less training time; on average a 38 per cent decrease in time spent maneuvering a small wheel loader and were far more competent in truck loading than those who were trained on an actual machine.

Track slip for dozer simulator trainees dropped 95 per cent because students understood the balance between loading a blade efficiently and carrying material. The study also concluded that simulator training as opposed to machine only training accounted for a 45 per cent improvement in three key areas - amount of fuel burned, execution time and volume of material moved. "These savings will pay for a simulator pretty quickly," notes Whitworth.

In addition to increased production, simulators are strong contributors to a culture of safety. Whitworth says the mining truck simulator includes a range of emergency response scenarios that are generated at random. “Safety is at the heart of all simulator training,” he says. “For instance, if you don’t have your seat belt on, the simulator will shut down.”

SITECH's Tetzlaff says safety is top of mind when simulators are discussed with potential customers. “We usually start the conversation with safety,” he says. “This product can have a very positive impact on safety, people and the bottom line.”

The future of operator training

About 150 Cat Simulators are deployed in Canada, says Whitworth. A number of educational institutions in western Canada are already using them as effective training tools, such as Northwest Community College in Terrace, Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo and Keyano College in Fort McMurray.

"In our opinion there continues to be a growing demand for trained heavy equipment operators," says Perry. "The requests from companies are still coming in. So if we can train our students to be safe operators and more mindful about transfer efficiency and use of throttle and brake, they’ll be kinder to the machines and more efficient in the workplace.”