Stimulation by simulation. Operators are under more pressure than ever to improve their productivity and efficiency. But how do they find the time to practice and develop their skills? Volvo Construction Equipment has found an answer - in the form of state-of-the art-training simulators.

Working with industry specialists Oryx Simulations, Volvo has launched three, highly realistic simulators that allow wheel loader, articulated hauler and excavator operators of all skill levels to practice everyday worksite scenarios in a safe environment. Combining the most sophisticated technology with real-time physics and advanced 3D-graphics, all the operational details and movements of a real machine are faithfully reproduced in the simulator. The use of the same controls that are fitted to actual Volvo machines enhance the realism of the training sessions, as operators sit in the simulator cab and set to work on various tasks played out on a real life plasma projection screen in front of them.


The virtual scenarios are developed and tailored according to the needs of the customer and operator. Skilled 3D-artists can even create an exact replica of a customer's real working environment, while normal vehicle characteristics such as hydraulic power, engine sound - and even the bouncing over uneven ground - are all faithfully reproduced by the simulator. Instructors are on hand to advise operators on how to improve their handling skills and correct any mistakes without risk of costly machine damage. This instant evaluation and feedback makes it easy to identify incorrect performance, allowing trainee operators to learn far more quickly.


Surprisingly, research shows that an operator learns significantly more in the early stages using a simulator than on a real machine. Very specific data is logged during each training session, which can then be used to evaluate the progress of the operators as they move up to higher levels of accomplishment. Each training session logs information such as volume per hour, fuel consumption, tire wear, driving distance, collisions with objects etc.


Sitting in a Volvo Care Cab attached to a hydraulic motion platform, operators can be taught all levels of operation from basic machine maneuvering to complex operations over rough terrain. One of the greatest benefits of the simulator is that it allows the operator to experience and practice working in extreme and dangerous scenarios, which would be to risky for novice operators to try out for real. The operator experiences precisely how the machine would react in a wide range of situations, such as the fraught maneuver of, say, when a wheel loader attempts to lift too heavy a load and rocks forwards. It is not possible to practice these scenarios in real environments without endangering both man and machine.


Using the same software, it is also possible to propose portable, briefcase size, simulators that provide an ideal solution for both training or screening operators in remote locations, such as would be the case on a pipeline, so effectively taking the training to them when there is no possibility of getting operators away from the site to a Training Centre.


Following simulator training, if operators find themselves in a hazardous challenge in the workplace, they will be better equipped and more confident to deal with the situation in a safer, less stressful fashion. This is a development that supports Volvo Construction Equipment's ongoing safety campaign.


Volvo's Arvid Rinaldo has been at the heart of the project from the outset. "The simulators have several major advantages," he believes. "Although they will never replace real experience out in the workplace, they can dramatically - and rapidly - improve an operator's performance and skill levels, because he can keep working at a difficult task until he gets it right, whereas in a real situation, he may not get that chance to practice and perfect his technique."


The simulator has other, less obvious virtues too, as marketing director Jonas Thoursie is quick to point out. "Another important factor that shouldn't be overlooked is that the simulator is, of course, environmentally friendly. It has virtually no negative impact at all.


"For the operator, the great advantage is to work in a completely safe environment, knowing that any mistakes made won't end in injury or expensive damage. But one of the biggest benefits is that customers don't have to take real machines out of operation for training duties, meaning less downtime and lower fuel consumption - and greater productivity and time efficiency."


Research shows that vehicle efficiency can vary by up to 40%, according to the experience of the operator. The simulator provides the opportunity for both the less experienced and the skilled to raise their performance to a higher level, quickly, safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.


The Volvo wheel loader, articulated hauler and excavator simulators are the first of a planned series of training and educational equipment for Volvo Construction Equipment machines.

Text: Niall Edworthy