For training, simulators can be a wise move

by Larry Bernstein

Training employees so they can properly handle equipment is essential for every business, big or small. On the job training can be costly in terms of time and money. Then there is the frustration level that is inevitable when learning a new skill. For these reasons and more, using simulators is a wise move.

Recently, Drew Carruthers, product line manager construction for CM Labs, led a webinar entitled, “Cutting through the hype: how to buy an operator training simulator.” The purpose of the webinar was to assist companies so they are not overwhelmed by product specs and sales information when acquiring new technology. According to Carruthers, those who tuned in to the webinar came from across North America and from different aspects of the industry including those in crane rentals, training schools and more. A video of the presentation can be found at 

In addition to the reasons stated above, the presentation noted a number of others why simulation is helpful. Simulation allows a company to maximize its training resources as they can supplement real equipment time with virtual equipment. Another benefit is that simulation allows for self-paced learning. Learning time does not end when the job is over as students can continue to learn on their own. Another benefit of simulators is they can replicate all kinds of situations including challenging conditions that allow students to safely push their skills to the limit. When challenges arise in the field, employees will be prepared to handle them due to the simulators.

Utilization of simulators ultimately reduces training expenses. Having new employees out in the field increases the wear and tear on a company’s machinery and length of time it takes to complete a project. With new employees focused on classroom learning rather than out in the field and learning on the job, there will be less incidents and accidents. This leads to lowering of insurance and increased safety.

Simulators are an excellent teaching tool; not only can simulators create real world scenarios to train future machine operators, they can monitor the user’s progress and movements. This information can be used as a teaching tool allowing operators to review their strengths and challengers. They can assess when trainees are ready to progress to different levels of training and ultimately to the field. With mastery displayed during simulation, companies can feel confident that new employees can hit the ground running and not take time away from experienced personnel.

Smaller outfits, understandably, can appreciate the benefits of simulators but worry about the costs of the technology. While Carruthers acknowledges simulators can be quite expensive, there are more moderately priced options that include many of the same benefits of the pricier versions. Tabletop simulators come at different price points, and they use the same software and have the same exercises as costlier options. While the tabletop simulators do not have a motion platform and have lower number of screens, they still enable new employees to learn the necessary skills in a controlled environment. For the smaller outfits that have fewer pieces of equipment, lessening the burden on the equipment in the yard in order to get the most out of it is particularly important.

Experienced personnel can also benefit from simulators. Whether it’s due to new regulations or the inevitable changes that every industry faces, employees need to keep on top of their craft. Simulation can follow industry quickly and be programmed to incorporate the changes. Experienced personnel can learn the necessary new skills via the simulators. During inclement weather or even between jobs, experienced personnel can make use of the simulators so they stay sharp. They can also turn to the simulators to retrain following incidents.

As previously noted, simulators can be pricey and therefore companies need to put great thought and consideration into the buying process. Carruthers offers a few tips for companies when it comes to selecting a simulator vendor. These include:

  • Consider how many years the vendor has0 been building training solutions. An experienced vendor will be able to offer customer service and ‘know how.’
  • Is simulation their core business?
  • Evaluate the breadth of their solution catalogue. Solutions should have been tested over time. A deep catalogue provides assurance that your future training needs can be met.
  • Do your research. Ask how many clients the company has, and contact three or four clients at minimum.
  • Evaluate their training and support services. Inevitably, companies will have questions about the simulator and will want to make the best use of it. It is only through top-notch training and support services that a company will be able to get the most out of their simulators.

While picking a good vendor is essential to maximizing a company’s experience with a simulator, a company needs to consider its own needs before they start the whole process. Below are 10 questions Carruthers suggests companies should ask before they purchase a simulator.

  1. What are our simulation goals?
  2. What are we going to measure?
  3. Do our experienced operators agree that the simulation is accurate enough to develop real skills?
  4. Does the simulator take trainees from beginner to real worksite scenarios?
  5. Can instructors introduce faults and emergency scenarios?
  6. How many machines can I train on today?
  7. Do the training exercises come with lifting/worksite plans?
  8. Do trainees obtain a false sense of competency through “easy wins”?
  9. What reporting options are available?
  10. Is the solution robust enough to last at least 5 years?

Carruthers offers one final tip for those in the market for a simulator: try the simulator yourself. According to Carruthers, a five-minute demo is rarely enough to give you a sense of how suitable the simulator is for your trainers and trainees. He says, “Before you make an investment, test your solution with a trusted, qualified operator, and over an extended period of time — if possible, spend as much time on the simulator as your trainees will be spending.” Carruthers recommends a minimum of two hours.

Simulators offer construction companies value on many levels. Before investing in a simulator, companies need to carefully plan out what they want and find a vendor that works for them. Doing so will enable them to train their employees and have them job ready when they step on a work site.

Carruthers emphasizes that the new generation of machine operators are “becoming closer to pilots than the older generation of operators when everything was manual.” Like everything else in the world, technology is impacting the construction world. A company could make use of its simulator as a marketing tool to indicate to its clients, and potential clients, that they are a high tech outfit.


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