Heavy equipment training simulators reduce safety risks

Heavy equipment training simulators: Man using a laptop in a workshop

Heavy Equipment Training Simulators and Online Training Modules

Technology tools make training safer and can potentially have profitability benefits

Hands-on training can be a great way to learn a new skill. However, it can also pose a safety risk for workers learning new tasks when they have little or no experience.

To limit these risks — and still allow trainees to gain experience — more people are turning to technology. Online training, simulators, mixed and virtual reality, and other innovative methods allow new employees to get the training they need in a safe environment.

“Komatsu — and our partners — focus on zero-harm initiatives. Workplace injuries are costly, and putting unskilled people in situations they are unfamiliar with increases risk,” said Bill Chimley, Komatsu’s senior director of training and publications for North America and the company’s global mining solutions. “Using today’s technology to build a knowledge base and skills through e-learning and simulated job site environments makes a great deal of sense.”

Online, computer learning

Universities began developing online learning courses and degrees several years ago, allowing students to take classes at their own pace, from any geographical location or without the need for a professor to directly share the content. This decreased the costs associated with travel and being on campus, while reducing the overhead of the university. Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the number of people turning to technology-based education. From colleges to technical schools to businesses to high schools, millions of learners accepted this as part of their blended curriculum.

“A real advantage of online and computer-based modules is that they can be done practically anytime, from anywhere,” said Chimley. “The value of ‘in-the-flow-of-work’ has grown tremendously as manufacturers struggle to attract, upskill and retain employees. Candidates for many job roles in our industry are building and advancing their skills before they ever see a machine or job site. This can be beneficial for work areas that have inherent safety concerns such as working on electrical systems. Understanding how they work can help reduce or eliminate the risk of shock.”

Chimley added, “Our contractors want their workers to get similar training when it comes to their operations, whether it’s a mechanic, an operator, a fleet manager or anyone else in their organization who has a desire to learn.”

a close up of a hand on a control for a heavy equipment training simulator
Simulators provide workers with real-world scenarios and let them build skills in a safe environment that doesn’t involve the risk of injury.

Wearable devices play an important role in training

Two-way headsets have been around for many years, and Komatsu trainers have used them in conjunction with on-the-job and in-the-cab training. The ability to connect a technician on the job site with an expert back at the main office — while sharing relevant information and first-person point of view — has grown in functionality and usage during the pandemic. Tools like these provide another way to upskill while on the job and can help bridge the gap to the next generation of workers. 

“I’m not sure we will ever see the same amount of on-site training as before the pandemic, but there are certain situations where it’s necessary to have someone physically there,” said Chimley. “Fortunately, our trainers are very skilled at the systems, function and operation of our products. They know the capabilities of the machines and have years of experience in many applications.

“In real time, by using wearable devices, they can tell trainees what they need to do to be more effective, like spotting a truck differently for an operator, or troubleshooting a hydraulic system,” Chimley added. “Wearable devices will no doubt grow in functionality, but today they still have a great deal of value in situations where expert advice is needed in real time.”

Simulators with AR, VR

If wearable devices like headsets are at the beginning of the training technology spectrum, then augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) are at the end. AR uses a real-world setting, while VR is completely virtual. MR works by creating experiences that fuse the virtual world with the real one through enhanced holographic visuals. All three can be used to help employees learn skills within a safe environment.

“With relatively few components, today’s simulators are very portable and can be set up practically anywhere,” said Chimley. “Time on actual production machines is very difficult to obtain, so simulators offer a real advantage. When training is done on a machine, you can only have one person in the cab at a time, and the rest of the operators are likely standing around watching.”

Man using a laptop in a workshop
Online learning has been available in the construction industry for many years, but the global pandemic increased its usage. It’s a way for workers to safely build their knowledge while working at their own pace or within a certain timeframe.

The payoff is worth it

Safety is always the number one priority for workers and trainees, and there can be significant costs associated with workplace injuries. With direct and indirect costs, a single incident could cost thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Incidents have financial impacts both in the short term with fines, and in the long term with higher EMRs (Experience Modification Rates) that lead to increased insurance premiums,” said Chimley. “Reducing the likelihood of injury is essential, and today’s training tools are a good way of doing that. While there is a cost to online training with simulators and other methods, the payoff is well worth it.”

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from a longer piece that includes information about Komatsu Academy. To read it in its entirety and learn more about Komatsu’s goal of building a learning community, please visit https://www.komatsu.com/en/blog/2022/technology-tools-make-training-safer/.