With the help of virtual reality simulators, manufacturers of equipment, dealers and teaching organizations seek greater efficiency in the training and qualification of equipment operators at construction job sites
Pent-up demand for specialized manpower at construction job sites is driving the growth of an activity which, until recently, was little known in Brazil’s marketplace. Equipment operation simulators, which were rarely used in the country, started to gain popularity in view of the benefits they provide for qualifying of the employees who are responsible for driving and operating equipment at the construction site. Several companies already adopt this technology as an ally in the training of equipment operators, and the latest initiative in this area comes from Volvo Construction Equipment.
At its plant in the city of Curitiba, Paraná, this equipment manufacturer already makes use of simulators to train their dealerships’ personnel in the operation of Volvo brand equipment. According to Rômulo Wolf Pereira of the customer support area at Oryx Simulations - the company that developed the simulators for Volvo, this equipment is available for the simulation of hydraulic excavator, bucket loader and articulated truck operation.
“The simulators are built upon platforms that create a virtual reality and reproduce all of the machine’s movements so that trainees can familiarize themselves with the operation of the equipment”, explains specialist Wolf Pereira. To accomplish this, the platform is operated electrically and has six axes/shafts that are responsible for its movements according to the commands given by the operator. Facing a monitor, the platform - equipped with a seat, pedals, buttons and joysticks - helps to recreate the environment found in the cab of a machine so that the operator feels like he/she is at the command of an actual piece of construction equipment.
Gains from the system
Although this type of simulator, which is more sophisticated, demands a greater investment than systems that run on personal computers alone, Rômulo emphasizes their superiority in terms of efficiency. “This simulator goes beyond the basic movements of a machine and allows you to establish exercises with a greater degree of complexity, such as activities in which the equipment could be subject to the risk of accidents.” With virtual reality technology, the learner can further develop his ability to operate a hydraulic excavator on the edge of a slope or cliff, for example, without running the risk of tipping the equipment over.
With the support provided by this technology, the specialist estimates that a professional can be qualified to operate construction equipment after 40 hours of training. “After improving his skills, the trainee is qualified to learn on actual equipment without creating high-risk situations or exposing the equipment to damage as a result of lack of skill or experience.” Thus, besides reducing the time required to qualify manpower, the system provides cost savings for the company.
Rômulo explains that the gains, in this case, are not limited to a reduction in equipment repairs on account of the learner’s development. “Besides saving fuel as a result of the lower number of hours of actual operation of the equipment, the company can put the equipment to use in production and not commit it solely to the development of manpower.” According to him, Volvo dealers in other countries estimated that the costs incurred in the training of operators in real-life situations using actual equipment approach US$ 25 thousand, considering the consumption of diesel and the maintenance to which the machines must be submitted following the course.
Therefore, three Volvo Construction dealers in Brazil will adopt this technology in the training of equipment operators. As of this year, Volvo dealers Linck, Motiva and Tracbel will purchase simulators to offer this service to users of Volvo brand equipment. Like Volvo itself, the dealers do not rule out the possibility of moving simulators to their customer’s work site to conduct in-company courses. “In view of the gains in time and cost, this solution becomes attractive for the training of large teams, especially since the simulator is compact and can, therefore, be transported easily”, Wolf Pereira adds.
Projects under implementation
Another advantage, according to him, is that the technology enables the establishment of different operating scenarios for the same piece of equipment; from a simple task to a more complex activity. “Since all of the commands that are given are recorded in the equipment’s memory, the system allows you to generate reports for the assessment of the performance of each trainee.” Besides engaging Brazilian dealerships, Volvo is implementing the system for qualification of manpower in a partnership with dealers in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.
In Brazil, the manufacturer has already held two training courses utilizing the new simulator-based technology and, in February, it plans to qualify another group of students. The courses are being offered to its dealerships’ professionals to enable them to act as multipliers of knowledge in the market. Other manufacturers are also making simulators available jointly with their dealership networks for the training of operators of their equipment. This is true as regards the partnerships between Doosan and Comingersol, Brasif and Case Construction, Brasil Máquinas and Hyundai, and Caterpillar jointly with Sotreq and Pesa, among others.
Instituto Opus (the Opus Institute), maintained by Sobratema for the qualification of manpower for the sector, has also been utilizing this resource in its training programs. After adopting this technology in a few of its programs, including the qualification of construction professionals in Libya, Opus intends to incorporate equipment operation simulators into its training programs to provide support for the courses it offers regularly to the market. To do so, the institute has established a partnership with two manufacturers of simulators: Canada’s Simlog and Brazil’s Bit9, which cover practically the entire range of heavy construction equipment from the so-called ‘yellow line’ – excavators, crawler tractors, backhoes and others – to truck cranes, tower cranes, dump trucks and welding machines.
Technology as support
According to Wilson Mello, director at the Instituto Opus, the use of simulators does not dispense with the need for classes in theory and practice in the cab of actual equipment. “With the support of technology we are able to identify the student’s equipment handling skills and we render the simultaneous participation of a larger number of people feasible, decreasing the downtime of the equipment used to support training.” In addition, he points out that the system reduces the rates of accidents during the course since the learner only moves into the actual cab when he has proven his skills at the simulator.
The technology employed by Opus is based on simulators that run on personal computers, which also facilitates the execution of courses anywhere that basic resources such as a few PC’s and monitors are available. To Wilson Mello, the system can also contribute in the hiring of operators, enabling the prior assessment of their knowledge. “In that respect it is worthwhile to note that the time employed in training may vary depending on a number of factors, such as the equipment involved and the degree of operator experience, since the simulator serves to provide support for qualification as well as for recycling of knowledge”, he adds.
The fact is that, with the support of such resources, the training of manpower is rendered more efficient in terms of the time it demands and its cost. And the market appreciates that considering the need to provide for the qualification of a large amount of manpower in such a short time.