Mine Equipment Simulator: Fording River
Richard Tremblay and Doug Stokes, then General Manager of Fording River, understood the Operation would be faced with hiring numerous new employees as a result of the attrition of an aging workforce. They conducted research at other mines, and decided that use of an equipment simulator could be a tremendous benefit in enhancing the existing safety training program.
Fording River purchased a simulator with three haultruck modules and a shovel module, and assigned training foreman Shawn Anctil as project lead. Shawn developed two training programs: one for new and another for experienced operators. In each case, he established a baseline incorporating specific scenarios to monitor individual progress and mastery. Shawn co-ordinated ideas and training requirements in conjunction with supervisors and the on-shift trainers who ultimately conducted the day-to-day instruction; all trainers completed level 1 & 2 Immersive Technologies certifications, while Shawn and two others earned their level 3 to ensure that on-site operational expertise would be readily available.
The programs simulated various operating conditions; weather patterns like fog, ice, dust, rain, snow; and equipment system failures resulting in fires, use of runaway ramps, loss of steering and brakes –these are difficult or impractical to practice on real equipment. It was imperative that the tool had the look and feel of Fording River Operation, so software closely resembling actual pit areas and scenery was installed, giving new operators a real sense of the environment they’d be facing. New ideas for the simulator training program were developed as the software’s full capabilities became apparent, and as more individuals became involved in project implementation.
The simulator proved to be a tremendous teaching aid, as it allowed inexperienced employees to practice operating equipment in standard and potentially serious emergency situations. Productivity of existing operators is also expected to improve, because the simulator helps reinforce best practices including travel speeds, correct truck positioning at shovels, and procedures designed to minimize tire wear.
The project’s successful results and careful project management has inspired operator Elk Valley Coal Corporation to supplement other sites’ training programs with mine simulator equipment. Fording River continuously challenges the vendor to create more simple, realistic and responsive software, and is working to ensure programming more accurately reflects operating standards.
Simulator technology will never replace hands-on experience, but has proven to be an excellent and important aspect of training.