Heavy equipment training improves with simulators

At a recent trade show, the head of a general contracting company was intrigued by a demonstration of simulators for training crane operators. He’d seen a similar demo back in the mid-1990s and remembers considering the technology crude at best. But the latest equipment and software seemed far more promising.

The graphics were extremely realistic. Even more impressive, the simulators accurately captured the behavior of the rigging and hoisting cables. Virtual loads moved just as they would in the real world. Suddenly, the contractor found himself seriously considering whether he should invest in a simulator.

Potential benefits

The manufacturer’s rep explained that professional-grade simulation technology, used for decades in training pilots, has now been adapted for cranes and other heavy construction equipment. The contractor listened carefully to the potential benefits:

Better managed risk. Trainees can gain experience with a range of situations and conditions they might encounter on the job. They can make beginners’ mistakes without catastrophic consequences. Simulators let you measure progress objectively, so you can ensure operators are ready before sending them into the field.

Faster training. With simulators, a single instructor can work with several trainees at once. And the units can run 24/7, regardless of weather conditions, so trainees get concentrated instruction without interruptions or delays.

Reduced costs. Simulators reduce costs of damage to actual heavy equipment, the expense of transporting authentic assets between training and jobsites, and costs of citations and legal payments from disgruntled building owners whose sites may have been damaged.

Instructors’ time can be spent on developing higher-level training tasks, too, while trainees work their way through more basic simulation exercises individually. Ultimately, better-trained operators mean more productivity, greater efficiency and fewer accidents.

Cost considerations

The contractor was nearly convinced. But he wanted to make sure that a simulator would be a wise investment, not just a shiny new toy. Daunted by the range of prices, from about $30,000 to more than $1 million, he sought guidance from his CPA.

His accountant said that, together, they could estimate what value a simulator might add to his company. When shopping for one, they’d need to identify not only the right model, but also a vendor who would work within his budget and provide value-added services such as support and training. They might also explore the possibility of renting or leasing.

Mission accomplished

After much research, this particular contractor decided to invest in a crane simulator. Although there was a learning curve, his company took to the technology quite readily. Over time, his operators demonstrated the greater efficiency and fewer mistakes he was looking for. And there was an added benefit: Word got around that his company provided cutting-edge training, which attracted some strong job candidates.