Simulators are the paving the way for the future of crane training technology.

At a recent Lift & Move USA event, I tried a 3D simulator out for size. I found myself “walking” through a bustling factory with employees swirling by and sparks flying from welders in my peripheral. It was easy to get immersed in the simulation, so much so that I nearly forgot I was outside, standing under a tent, with a headset and headphones on. In this example, the company was using a simulator to allow attendees to virtually tour their factory. An incredible piece of technology, the future of crane training is evolving right before our eyes.

Lead Photo_WIKA

Simulator training gives instructors the opportunity to teach operators in a standard, consistent environment. 

Simulators serve as an alternative that gives instructors the ability to train people in a standard, consistent environment and more frequently. It also allows students to get more seat time on a crane, so they’re meeting operator qualifications with more experience and preparedness.

“Simulators are a tremendous asset allowing students of all experience levels to gain hands on experience,” said Tom Zanone, training instructor, WIKA Mobile Control. “Most of the individuals that have attended classes over the years tend to be ‘hands on’ individuals, they learn by doing. Simulators are an invaluable tool for training within our industry.”

North American Crane Bureau (NACB) offers training, certification and inspection services while NACB Interactive Educational Systems (NACB-ies) serves as the sister company dedicated specifically to designing simulation systems.

“The intimidation factor can be big when you consider the sheer size of a crane,” said Monica McNeill, marketing/production manager, NACB. “A simulator can bridge the gap between intimidation and field work. A simulator eases the person into operation as it reduces that intimidation, and you can build upon the positive aspects. We currently use NACB Interactive Educational Systems simulators in our training.”

It’s also important to note that in the crane industry it can be very difficult to provide training on an actual machine when working with a group of five or more students. Crane simulators serve as a solution to this problem.

“A simulator allows more students adequate time to work through hands-on applications,” added Zanone. “As our products have evolved from an indication system into more of a ‘control based’ system, software has a larger impact on troubleshooting. These ‘smart’ systems have greater access to much more pertinent information via the display. A technician is less likely to troubleshoot the system with a voltmeter as opposed to the operating console.”

Virtual training and simulation can also be utilized as a more cost-effective method of educating operators.

“Virtual training provides flexibility to provide training when in different locations with increased participation,” said Bill Mowen, service and aftermarket sales manager, WIKA. “This would reduce classroom and travel cost and would also allow larger training groups.”

CM Labs releases new training pack

CM Labs Simulations, developer of Vortex training simulators, has launched a new Training Pack that includes the industry’s only simulated mobile crane tandem lift exercise, as well as a competency demonstration exercise that provides a safe, objective tool for employers to assess crane operator skills. Developed in response to industry demand, CM Labs’ tandem lift exercise teaches the lead crane operator how to safely and efficiently maneuver a steel pipe load in tandem with a secondary crane, operated from another simulator connected on the network.

The Mobile Crane Simulator Training Pack’s tandem lift feature can be deployed in multiple configurations, with operators working at any combination of CM Labs simulators, including the motion-enabled Vortex Advantage simulator, as well as the portable Vortex Edge Plus. Collaborative learning can be further extended with CM Labs’ Signal Person Training Station, which allows a trainee to guide the operation, within a challenging virtual jobsite that includes power lines and jobsite personnel.

The new Mobile Crane Training Pack also allows trainers to fully evaluate operator readiness with an innovative Mobile Crane Skills Assessment exercise. This exercise is the only simulation-based assessment tool to cover advanced lifting techniques, such as performing a blind lift, recovering from a load pendulum, girder lifts and more.

 

tandem2

The Mobile Crane Simulator Training Pack’s tandem lift feature can be deployed in multiple configurations. 

A viable alternative

McNeill went on to describe the benefits of simulator training for situations that are impossible to replicate in a hands-on environment, but can be valuable to have experience in. This pertains particularly to hazardous scenarios.

“It can also be a tool to fine tune skills on operating and preparing them for dangerous situations,” said McNeill. “We can increase the hazard conditions; like power lines proximity, wind and other aspects, with no fear of an actual accident to better prepare the students on how to work under those conditions. Some companies utilize simulation as a pre-hire screening, long-form training during apprenticeship; new-equipment familiarization; and practical assessments. Lastly, simulation is a good way to bridge that gap to the youth and get them interested in crane operations as a career.”

As industry technology continues to evolve, it can be expected that simulator training will only become more and more advanced.

“With the advancement of technologies, such as virtual reality, the line is blurred between the physical and digital,” said McNeill. “But there is always the need for hands-on training. Some advantages of virtual training are the ability to design and manipulate scenarios regardless of cost and location. Perhaps one day an operator practices a specific set of procedures, provided by the client, even before construction ground starts.”

WIKA’s Mowen also suggested that a variety of industries could utilize this technology.

“All markets could provide training – this might be training on product installation, product assembly or product communication setup,” he said.

The 411 on VR

Virtual reality, a specific form of simulation, provides an even more immersive approach to today’s training methods.

“VR [virtual reality] training and the underlying technologies have progressed significantly in the past 12 months,” said Zack Parnell, president and CEO, Industrial Training International (ITI). “Thousands of employers have adopted virtual reality for workforce development – organizations as diverse as Walmart, KFC, UPS, the LA Sheriff’s Department, as well as construction and industrials such as Bechtel, DPR Construction, Nucor Steel and many more.”

Parnell added that many of the hardware deployments for workforce development have been with stand-alone or mobile VR headsets like the Oculus Go. This device, which launched in the past 12 months, is cheaper than its higher-fidelity PC-based VR headsets where setups run about $2,500.

Training content is also becoming much more widely available. ITI anticipates that the Oculus Store and Viveport (HTC’s Virtual Reality store) will follow similar growth rates in the number of apps that the Apple App Store experienced from its launch in 2008 to present (see graph).

 

ITI Graph

ITI anticipates that the Oculus Store and Viveport will follow similar growth rates in the number of apps that the Apple App Store experienced from 2008 to present. 

 

The Oculus Store has more than 1,000 applications while HTC’s Viveport has over 600.

“A lot of content being used by employers for workforce development – like the training content ITI creates for crane operators and construction personnel – isn’t publicly available on the app stores,” said Parnell. “In other words, there is a lot more VR content available than the app stores might suggest.”

In addition, the ITI VR Crane Simulation Library has seven crane models and are underway, with their development partner Serious Labs, and external partners, Liebherr and Bechtel, in the development of the Liebherr LR-1300 crawler crane. ITI will be showcasing the LR-1300 simulator at ConExpo 2020. ITI is also testing a VR Crane & Lifting Life Saving Action exam that was built with ExxonMobil to assess contractors on their C&L Life Saving Rule.