Project Profile: Simulated Training, Real Results

Nov. 1, 2012

Sure, with its advanced 3D graphics and realistic motion feedback, you might assume it’s a video game from a modern day arcade. But it’s far from a game. The Volvo Advanced Training Simulator is where highly developed technology meets instruction, providing real-life operator education at a fraction of the cost and with fewer resources needed than with traditional training.

Most people would likely expect that a physical piece of heavy construction equipment is necessary when training prospective equipment operators. It seems logical.

Not with the Volvo Construction Equipment model of training. Implementing a simulator before actual machine use is as simple as plug and train.

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Almost a decade ago, Volvo introduced machine simulators that provide lifelike construction site scenarios for operators to navigate. Sights, sounds, movements, and even weather conditions are replicated through the magic of technology.

At that time the Volvo simulators were only being used as a trade show feature, according to Wade Turlington, sales and operator training support manager at Volvo Construction Equipment. Today, following customer requests, Volvo Advanced Training Simulators are available as a training tool for customer needs and in school settings. In most cases customers begin instruction with a simulator and then pair with real machine operation.

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The Volvo simulators, which are available for excavators and a wheel-loader/articulated-hauler combo, use actual equipment controls with all the measurements, weights, specs, and sounds one would expect from a real machine. From the seat to the pedals, levers and more-real controls are used throughout. That’s a huge differentiator among the competition.

All simulator machines have a full educational curriculum built in that takes a new student through basic exercises or advance risk tasks like steep angle or incline. What makes the Volvo simulator so realistic is not only the image on an HD LED-LCD screen, but also the real feel and reaction in the seat. Moving a bucket full of rock in the simulator feels exactly the same as moving rock in an actual excavator.

An electronically controlled motion platform, which enables further sensory perception, simulates real terrain conditions, allowing operators to train faster and more effectively. If there’s a slope in the terrain, you feel it in the seat and the machine’s reaction. That’s essential in training risk management.

Canada Comes Calling
The City of Quebec recently purchased a wheel-loader/articulated hauler combo and excavator simulator to assist with testing heavy machine operator job candidates and to further train current employees. With a municipal truck fleet of 2,500 and citywide infrastructure needs at all hours of the day-proper training and safe operation is critical to Yves Dallaire, director of training and safety/service manager of outdoor power equipment.

“We were looking for a new approach for our courses,” Dallaire says. “Before using real equipment we wanted to make sure new hires or existing employees had proper training with the simulator.”

The city used to contract simulator service for training purposes with another company. When it tried out the Volvo simulator at the local Strongco dealership, it was sold.

“They got in it and loved it right off the bat, “Turlington says.

Dallaire says that triggered a new strategy for how the City of Quebec would test heavy-machine operator prospects.

First a candidate takes an e-learning course, followed by a test in the Volvo Advanced Training Simulators. After working in the simulator, the individual would next be required to operate the actual machine, followed by even more simulator work.

“We’re constantly training a team of individuals so we can be ready day and night,” Dallaire says. He added that the main reason for including the simulator in the new system of instruction was so that everyone involved felt comfortable operating the machine before getting behind the controls of a real machine.

Safety in Training
Safety is a top priority with all products, and the use of simulators inherently offers less risk to those being trained and their instructors.

Unsafe situations and distractions can be simulated in a controlled setting as part of the dynamic, real-life training to gauge how an operator would react in a real machine.

The Volvo training exercises included were developed by experienced operators and instructors. The end result is step-by-step education with a focus on training and safety.

The software is broken down into four different blocks-machine knowledge, machine handling, task training, and risk training. To advance, an operator must complete each stage before proceeding to the next.

To evaluate progress, trainers can view operator data on any PC simply by exporting to Microsoft Office. Data are presented in graphs and tables, allowing instructors to identify improvement areas.

Cost Savings
There’s no question simulation training is the more affordable option. There’s no fuel needed with the simulator-just electricity-and no wear, tear or repairs common with machine maintenance. In addition, technology allows for less trainer supervision because computers capture all the necessary test results.

Michel Lepage, the Strongco product support specialist who worked with the City of Quebec on their purchases, says financial savings, fuel economy and the real feel is what made choosing the Volvo simulator as easy as an open net goal for Quebec.

“They said that nothing compared to the Volvo simulator,” Lepage says.

According to Dallaire the simulators are constantly in use and he’s receiving great feedback. “We’re not paying for real materials,” Dallaire says. “The savings is very significant for the city.”

And now they’re planning to turn them into revenue generators. Quebec plans to approach surrounding cities, technical schools and more to see the demand to pay to train on the simulators.

Lepage says that Quebec’s case study will likely be the model for other cities looking to train employees.

Efficiency Reigns Supreme
In the construction industry, cost and efficiency run side by side as measurables when customers are looking to choose a machine. The same goes for simulator training.

The Volvo simulators not only provide a low-cost alternative to real machine use, but they are more efficient as well. No matter the weather or job-site availability, the simulators are always ready to train.

They are efficiently sized as well. Turlington says the simulators only take up about a 7-foot-by-7-foot space. With only electricity and an Internet connection needed to get training-no fuel or tire wear-the simulators have zero impact on the environment.

Getting up and running after purchase is efficient too. Turlington and his team travel to a customer’s location upon purchase for installation and initial training. They will also make return visits if needed and support is always available from Volvo.

When simulators are used in conjunction with real machines, you get a true blended approach, Turlington says.

“You come out with a more efficient, more productive operator,” he says.

Simulated, With Real Feedback
Yes, the simulators save customers money and resources. And, yes, they are efficient. But none of that matters if they don’t have the feel and realism of an actual excavator, wheel loader or articulated hauler.

The Volvo simulator is as real as it gets. So is the feedback.

“We always get very good responses from operators,” Turlington says. “They see the value in it.”

And according to Turlington, once the simulation is complete, transitioning to a real machine is easy, because the movements are real.

The City of Quebec has received equally positive feedback since adding the Volvo simulators. Dallaire says he met with his team shortly after the simulators were put in place and the feedback was outstanding.

The city trains, on average, 50 individuals on excavators and 75 on loaders per year.

Dallaire says they looked at competitive brands, but others weren’t realistic enough. From the number of scenarios the software provides (also available in French) to the reactions in the seat, others just don’t compare.

“We are tremendously surprised with the realism,” Dallaire says. “We’ve gained a lot of time training this way as opposed to training on real equipment. It’s a completely different ball game.”