Operators are in short supply, the average age of those in the industry is creeping up, and we need to act now to prevent serious problems in the future. We have to attract more people into the industry and train them to operate the ever-advancing technology-packed plant coming into the market.
One key group, dubbed the Playstation Generation, is part of a technology-driven revolution in training and collaboration that adds excitement to the sector and attracts talent.
This is thanks to the explosion in the use of simulators and the rapid development of industry collaborations like those recently announced between Tenstar Simulation and slew and height restriction technology specialist GKD Technologies.
The two businesses have developed a Simulator training solution that integrates the specialist technology into the Tenstar software to support safer site operations.
The challenges faced by GKD related to how operators could get to know the technology before being asked to use it onsite. You would fit a GKD system to a machine to restrict the movement of an excavator boom, both for the slew, left and right and the height overhead and in the ground.
These applications relate to confined working environments, like the side of a busy road or a rail project, for example, where overhead lines have to be avoided. Suppose an operator is new to the system. In that case, they will have to learn how to use it properly, which can be stressful in a fast-paced environment. As Director of Innovation at GKD Technologies, Nick Ground explains: “Imagine going onto a nightshift for a railway project with a limited line shutdown and trying to figure out a new system you had never used before. And imagine the scenario where the system isn’t enabled properly and could potentially put operatives into an unsafe environment.
“By teaming up with the Tenstar Simulation team, we can model all different types of scenario onsite in the day or night time, integrating the simulator with our physical in-cab technology, located in a similar position as it would be in a typical cab.
“Here, you can model the setup in a controlled and safe environment, doing familiarisation and practical training with a whole team of operatives in next to no time. We can even give them a real job with which to practice on. This new collaboration will get the best out of our technology and therefore help to make sites even safer.”
With simulation now a proven part of the training tool box for the industry with early adopters, it now falls on the rest of the sector to embrace the numerous opportunities simulators can deliver. A great example of this is the work Tenstar Simulation has been doing to support the creation of digital construction courses at designated training facilities across the UK and Europe. One such college that is a blueprint for the future is SOMA in the Netherlands.
Tenstar has been working with the college now for over ten years, pioneering the use of simulators to train the next generation of operators. The college itself now has a dedicated simulation room with 18 simulators using its latest motion-based platform system, giving users a real-world feel for how machines will move about on a job site.
For Richard Kleinjan, an experienced operator and teacher at SOMA College for 12 years, simulators have proven invaluable for the learning process: “The students get acquainted with the machines through simulation. The more they practice, the better. I’ve been an operator for 15 years, and so for me, operating is routine, but there are a lot of hours behind it. I know what to expect from the machines, and I can translate that for the students using the simulators. A simulator is a perfect tool for a teacher. It’ll keep the students going, challenge them throughout the learning process.”
This is not the only facility Tenstar has been supporting, as more training facilities are being built all the time. One of the newest is the Operator Skills Hub, near Birmingham in the UK. It is a joint venture between leading plant hirer and contractor Flannery Plant Hire and tier one contractor Balfour Beatty. One of the key projects this facility will be supporting is the local major earthworks requirements for the UK’s High Speed Two rail project.
At its opening, Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd said: “As one of our key construction partners on Phase One of HS2, Balfour Beatty VINCI (BBV) expects to be one of the biggest recruiters in the West Midlands and Warwickshire over the next two years, with up to 7,000 skilled jobs required to complete its section of the HS2 route. These jobs emphasise the importance that HS2 is playing in Britain’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
“The Operator Skills Hub will play a vital role in ensuring local people have the opportunity to upskill in readiness for these employment opportunities on Britain’s new railway.”
To achieve its goals, the Operator Skills Hub has a simulator room with three Tenstar simulators. These are helping to train new operators like Jessica, who swapped a career in the police to become one of the first ‘Trailblazer’ apprentices for Flannery Plant Hire.
Explaining how the site is using its simulators, Tenstar Simulation’s UK expert Simon Hogg said:
“By banking up three simulators, the team can train operatives on a range of different equipment, familiarising them with the standard and then more advanced functions. What is really exciting about putting three simulators side by side is the opportunity to have the operators working together on simulated tasks.
“For example, you can have an excavator loading an ADT, which then travels to and from a different part of the simulated site, dumping the material that is then graded by a dozer. This collaborative training has a hugely positive impact on team building and learning as you can hone skills and learn how to interact with other equipment properly.
“What this then achieves onsite is a much more fluid team that can work more efficiently and achieve greater levels of productivity. This, in turn, has a much more positive impact on the environment, reduces idle time and ultimately saves fuel and money.
“The biggest part of any learning process is understanding how to use the functions of a machine. For example, switching between modes like ECO and Power can make the most of the equipment’s capabilities. Throw in attachments like tiltrotators, 3D machine control models, slew and height restriction solutions and other safety solutions, and you really can learn a lot.
“Of course, all of this simulation training is for one key goal, to enable individuals to get onsite and become operators. This is why it is great to see colleges combining both experiences.
“For example, the Operator Skills Hub has a big dig area at the back of the facility just metres from the simulators. This allows for real-world activities to take place once trainers think operators are ready.
In addition to facilities like the Operator Skills Hub, we also have partnerships with key education organisations like Weston College. It works with a leading plant hirer, Plantforce Rentals to deliver industry-leading training using the latest machinery and technologies like 3D machine control.
Here we support the team with regular upgrades to the software on the simulators that reflect the advances in the ever-changing technology systems from providers like Trimble Leica Geosystems and Topcon. They also have a dig area, so you can learn on the simulator and put the skills into practice on the 3D GPS tech enabled semi automatic excavators from the Plantforce fleet.
pic of GKD – Picture caption – Plantforce has already integrated the GKD Technologies solution onto its Tenstar simulator
Dale Hawkins Digital Manager for Plantforce Rentals describes how simulation training is a game changer for their business.
“We have been using simulation for some time now, the Tenstar system offers us a fantastic solution to not only to help introduce new operators into the industry but also upskill existing operators in the use of GPS machine control, GKD height and slew restriction along with the tech that’s becoming more popular within in the industry. If these are the tools that are available to us currently, I’m very excited about what will be on offer for the future”.
As the technology integration on simulators continues at a pace, it is clear that operators of the future will use these skills in other even more sophisticated applications.
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COMMAND : Cat Command Remote Console and Station
Caterpillar customers are already exploring one such opportunity across the globe with the new Cat® Command for Construction solution. This is a remote control operator station that launched at Conexpo in March 2020. It takes a lot of the learning and success Caterpillar has achieved in the mining and quarrying sectors and brings this to general construction applications.
In construction, jobsite projects can last hours, days or weeks; fleets are mixed; and processes differ from job to job. This all requires autonomous solutions for construction to be introduced in varying stages and degrees, over time. The Cat® Command solution is scalable and incremental, allowing customers to enter at whatever level of technology and infrastructure they choose, ranging from line-of-sight (LOS) to non-line-of-sight (NLOS) remote control solutions as well as semi-autonomous solutions.
Initial trials have seen construction companies completely change working practices, using the remote-control non-line-of-sight stations to keep staff safe and operations capable of running 24 hours a day. These include businesses like Associated Terminals that is using Command Stations to maneuver Cat small wheel loaders and excavators via non-line of sight remote control to eliminate the need for people to work in potentially dangerous situations. Watch here.
Similarly, construction and civil engineering specialist, Saiia is using the solution to manage work on a site with an ash pond, using three Cat Command Stations and a Command Console to remove operators from the worksite. This also means the team no longer has to track to more stable ground when finishing a shift. Watch here.
Talking about Cat Command for Construction, Caterpillar’s Construction Digital & Technology Commercial Manager Jason Ramshaw explained: “The Command station is designed to work with our range of general construction equipment. We currently operate items like dozers and wheel loaders using the station and will bring more of our equipment mix into the system. Cat Command allows the user to connect remotely to different machines on a site.
“The station can operate multiple machines from different product families. As an example, from the same station, a single user will be able to switch from trenching with an excavator to using a dozer to backfill – all at the touch of a button. The Cat Command Station can be paired with up to five machines but can only operate one at a time. The location of the site can be anywhere in the world and operators can run the equipment remotely. The station itself has all the controls needed to do this, it feels like you are in a Cat machine, and the multitude of cameras and screens make it an immersive experience.”
Cat® machines often work in challenging environments under highwalls, on steep slopes, around unstable surfaces or near other hazards, all of which can create difficult operating conditions. These can hinder a customer’s operation or put their crew’s safety at risk. Cat Command’s remote-control solutions remove operators from these hazards of the job.
Ramshaw adds, “From an operator perspective, you can switch between machines, you can swap with a colleague when you want a break, and you are in a nice environment. There is a production gain during shift change as a significant amount of time can be spent with operators traveling to and from machines and discussing issues from the previous shift. With Cat Command, operators can carry on a shift change conversation while continuing the work. It is also a great way of supporting and mentoring less experienced operators. With Cat Command comes a suite of operator assist features similar to that found in the machine. These features help a less-skilled or less-experienced operator achieve optimal work in reduced time. They are critical aids during the development of an operator’s skills. There is also opportunity for advanced training for the current workforce to improve job opportunities. You can even bring operators back into the sector who may have an injury or disability that would otherwise prevent them from doing the job in the machine or travelling long distances,”
Ramshaw concludes, “Feedback from operators has also shown much less fatigue when not exposed to jobsite conditions, which leads to a safer site and operation. Safety and productivity go hand-in-hand. Cat Command improves safety by reducing risks, thereby improving productivity. Other advantages include less wear on a machine when it has to be tracked back for breaks as it can be left in position for the next operator shift.”
There are numerous advantages to both simulation and remote control stations, but the clear benefit to the industry for both of these applications is a better outcome for those operating machines. This in turn, will attract and keep operators in the industry to tackle the skills shortage head on.