Tech­nol­ogy: Im­mer­sive Tech­nolo­gies ex­ca­va­tor train­ing

For more than 25 years Perth-based Im­mer­sive Tech­nolo­gies has been de­sign­ing and build­ing heavy ma­chin­ery sim­u­la­tors for the min­ing sec­tor around the globe to help train and up­skill op­er­a­tors in a safe, con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. Evarn Covich writes

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

This lat­est ‘vir­tual re­al­ity’ method elim­i­nates the risk of dam­ag­ing ma­chin­ery and re­moves the added pres­sure that comes with op­er­at­ing in what can usu­ally be fast paced and, at times, hec­tic work ar­eas.

I’ve had 24 years in civil con­struc­tion and six-and-a-half years in min­ing and things have changed a lot in terms of tech­nol­ogy in that time.

I was given the op­por­tu­nity in late 2017 to try one of these units out when I par­tic­i­pated in a con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment ini­tia­tive pro­gram at a coal mine in Queens­land’s Bowen Basin.

The high-spec site sim­u­la­tor was large and in­cluded wrap-around pro­jec­tion screens with an op­er­a­tor work sta­tion that is mod­elled from the ac­tual ex­ca­va­tor it­self and mounted on a mo­tion base for added au­then­tic­ity – all housed in a mod­i­fied 20-foot shipping con­tainer.

I was part of a train­ing team tasked with try­ing to safely squeeze a few ex­tra cu­bic me­tres per hour out of some al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced and ca­pa­ble dig­ger op­er­a­tors on the site.

The ex­pe­ri­ence quickly opened my eyes to the ben­e­fits and pos­si­bil­i­ties that could re­sult from this type of vir­tual train­ing, so I nat­u­rally jumped at the chance when I was sent an of­fer to take a look at a vir­tual re­al­ity sim­u­la­tor setup.

This spe­cific sim­u­la­tor was de­signed and pro­duced by Im­mer­sive Tech­nolo­gies in con­junc­tion with Ko­matsu en­com­pass­ing a PC300-8 ex­ca­va­tor, and is aimed at the civil and con­struc­tion in­dus­tries.


We en­tered the train­ing room at the Ko­matsu Train­ing Acad­emy’s Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre lo­cated in Sher­wood, Bris­bane, and were greeted with what looked to be a pretty stan­dard desk­top PC setup with the ad­di­tion of a cou­ple of mo­tion sen­sors sit­ting on each side of the screen.

Two ex­ca­va­tor con­trol levers were mounted to the desk­top by way of screw-on brack­ets lo­cated on the un­der­side of the grips along with travel foot ped­als lo­cated on the floor.

This setup has been made more cost-ef­fec­tive through the use of a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set de­signed with porta­bil­ity as a key func­tion to fit in a spe­cially de­signed rugged case for easy trans­porta­tion. This al­lows cus­tomers to eas­ily bring the train­ing to where it is re­quired the most.

It is a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the high-fi­delity sim­u­la­tors Im­mer­sive Tech­nolo­gies has de­vel­oped over the years for the min­ing in­dus­try.


Af­ter a short stint in the seat to get a feel for the sys­tem my­self, I handed over the con­trols to our guinea pig for the day, my 16-year-old son Caleb,

who was some­what an­noyed at be­ing dragged away from his gam­ing com­puter at home for a bit of ‘work ex­pe­ri­ence’. His per­sona soon changed when he re­alised that the job en­tailed play­ing a type of com­puter game any­way.

Ko­matsu’s tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity man­ager for the Queens­land re­gion, Daniel Stegman, pro­ceeded to help Caleb fit the VR head­set and then guided him through the op­er­a­tional as­pects of the sys­tem be­fore set­ting up the first of many tasks he would have to per­form on the day.

The sim is con­ducive to train­ing op­er­a­tors with ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence at all through to upskilling al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple.

Caleb started from the very be­gin­ning, where the pro­gram teaches each in­di­vid­ual move­ment of the con­trol levers.

The op­er­a­tor is in­structed to line their bucket up with an­other ghost bucket on the screen in or­der to achieve suc­cess and move on to the next task.

We were able to watch Caleb’s progress on the com­puter mon­i­tor as he worked his way through the tasks pro­vided, and with each new task we were able to see a slight im­prove­ment as he ne­go­ti­ated his way along.

He was free to go back and re­peat tasks at any time if he was not happy with the re­sult or his own per­for­mance, which he utilised a cou­ple of times.

By the time he made his way through to load­ing his first truck, he was start­ing to swing the ma­chine with a bit of speed and flu­ency.

The as­sess­ment stage is where you have to put ev­ery­thing you have learned into prac­tice. You are mea­sured through dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters. These in­clude:

• Time (the over­all time it takes to com­plete the


• Accuracy (how pre­cise you are while dig­ging as well as where dirt is placed ei­ther on the ground or in a truck – so spillage is not good for the score)

• Dam­age (an­other that can ham­per your score if you hit trucks or swing your bucket too vig­or­ously into the spoil pile).

The truck-load­ing as­sess­ment also scores you on your load dis­tri­bu­tion along with op­ti­mum pay­load weight which all re­sults in a score given out of 100 for each as­sess­ment.


I would some­times hear a cou­ple of state­ments about ma­chin­ery sim­u­la­tors when I was do­ing my mine train­ing many years ago.

One was: “They make me dizzy!”

Un­for­tu­nately, a small num­ber of peo­ple may ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle ver­tigo or dizzi­ness while

op­er­at­ing in a sim­u­la­tor and I feel that the full im­mer­sion of the VR head­set could slightly am­plify this feel­ing a touch.

How­ever, the sim­u­la­tor it­self ac­tu­ally sug­gests the op­er­a­tor takes a break af­ter 15 min­utes of con­tin­u­ous use, which some op­er­a­tors would be wise to utilise.

A small break away from this vir­tual world can do won­ders when it comes to set­tling the brain.

“It’s not a real dig­ger!” was prob­a­bly the most fre­quent state­ment I en­coun­tered.

This usu­ally em­anated from the mouths of the self-pro­claimed top op­er­a­tors that hadn’t per­formed as well as some of their peers in the as­sess­ment stage.

My an­swer to them would be: “Ev­ery dig­ger is dif­fer­ent; all the other op­er­a­tors had to drive the same ma­chine and dig the same dirt, so maybe some prac­tices or tech­niques may be in need of re­vis­ing.”

The thing is, op­er­at­ing in a sim­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment is just that: a sim­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment!

It’s never go­ing to feel ex­actly the same as op­er­at­ing a real ma­chine in a real en­vi­ron­ment, so small op­er­a­tional and visual ad­just­ments are re­quired to be made – as you would when op­er­at­ing any un­fa­mil­iar ma­chine for the first time.


These VR sim­u­la­tor units open up a whole new realm of pos­si­bil­i­ties to con­struc­tion and earth­mov­ing com­pa­nies, along with RTOs (reg­is­tered train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions) with a straight­for­ward ap­proach that makes them a lot more af­ford­able to these in­dus­tries.

They now have the op­por­tu­nity to train brand­new op­er­a­tors from scratch with­out the fear of dam­ag­ing peo­ple and equip­ment, wor­ry­ing about fuel burn or even fret­ting over lost pro­duc­tion time.

Lost pro­duc­tion time and fuel burn prob­a­bly go some­what hand in hand when it comes to train­ing new op­er­a­tors.

It’s not of­ten you get a job site where you can train a new op­er­a­tor with­out some sort of added pres­sure on the trainee due to the need to keep the job mov­ing while they try to come to grips with work­ing in a new en­vi­ron­ment and learn­ing new con­trols and func­tions.

Fuel burn will still stay much the same even though ma­chine pro­duc­tion will drop away in the short term, as most green op­er­a­tors are usu­ally en­cour­aged to work at a lower en­gine speed un­til they get used to a ma­chine.

How­ever, this prob­a­bly still equates to more burn per pro­duc­tion hour than hav­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced op­er­a­tor do­ing the job flu­ently at full revs.

Safety, as we all know, is def­i­nitely the big­gest player in any in­dus­try these days and you won’t find many safer places to train than sit­ting at an of­fice desk learn­ing to drive a ma­chine.

As part of learn­ing to op­er­ate an ex­ca­va­tor, you can prac­tice your skills with­out fear of in­jur­ing some­one or wreck­ing some­thing, all while dig­ging as many holes as you want with­out fear of get­ting a boot up the back­side from the boss for mess­ing things up.

The sim is con­ducive to train­ing op­er­a­tors with ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence at all.


The fact that you are sit­ting in an of­fice chair pulling on a cou­ple of levers mounted to a com­puter desk gives the feel­ing that you are ac­tu­ally play­ing a com­puter game and well … you are!

The dif­fer­ence is that the skills learned play­ing this game can be taken and used in the real world be­hind the con­trols of a real ex­ca­va­tor.

No, it’s not go­ing to feel ex­actly the same when you fi­nally get to sit in the seat of a real ma­chine, but when you do, you will al­ready have a good grasp on what’s needed to be done to op­er­ate the ma­chine in a safe and ef­fec­tive man­ner.

I had a small case study of my own with­out even know­ing it.

I was tasked with train­ing four green ex­ca­va­tor op­er­a­tors from scratch on the afore­men­tioned mine site.

None had op­er­ated ex­ca­va­tors be­fore, but I can tell you from my own ex­pe­ri­ence that the two who had the op­por­tu­nity to spend some hours on the sim­u­la­tor be­fore get­ting into a real ma­chine were in a far more ad­vanced state than their coun­ter­parts.

Both needed less coach­ing be­fore they were in a po­si­tion to safely and com­pe­tently op­er­ate the ma­chines on their own.

I would say, at a con­ser­va­tive guess, that a quar­ter to a third of the over­all train­ing time was shaved off util­is­ing this prac­tice.

This in it­self would equate to sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings – not only in a min­ing en­vi­ron­ment but also in the con­struc­tion and civil sec­tors as well.

As for Caleb, well, he worked his way through the pro­gram. Although he did not have enough time to com­plete the full as­sess­ment, he scored a very re­spectable 92 per cent on the truck­load­ing as­sess­ment and showed good prom­ise with his op­er­at­ing abil­ity.

He en­joyed his time at the con­trols and said that it was easy to ne­go­ti­ate his way through the dif­fer­ent tasks with the help of the au­dio tu­tor, which de­liv­ers in­struc­tion to the op­er­a­tor through­out the pro­gram and also negates the need of hav­ing an ac­tual trainer watch­ing over their shoul­der as they work along.

He also men­tioned that be­ing able to go back and re­peat tasks un­til he was com­fort­able or happy with the out­come def­i­nitely helped when it came to as­sess­ment time.

At the mo­ment there is a big up­turn go­ing on – not just in min­ing but also the civil and con­struc­tion in­dus­tries, which is start­ing to re­sult in a major short­age of op­er­a­tors around the coun­try, for a broad range of equip­ment.

Im­mer­sive Tech­nolo­gies and Ko­matsu have teamed up to ad­dress this emerg­ing prob­lem by de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem that is not only af­ford­able to a lot of con­struc­tion and civil com­pa­nies but also eas­ily trans­ported and can be set up al­most any­where in less than 20 min­utes.

Ko­matsu Train­ing Acad­emy is also look­ing at of­fer­ing a wheel loader sim, with other ma­chines to be rolled out over the course of time.

I feel that this is the fu­ture of op­er­a­tor train­ing and, although it’s not ex­actly the same as the real thing, it makes for a good tem­plate.

Not only is it safe but there is no ma­chin­ery wear and tear or fuel burn, and there are no wor­ries when it comes to ham­per­ing pro­duc­tion or even just stuff­ing a job up and get­ting it wrong.

I think this tech­nol­ogy could be well utilised not only by com­pa­nies want­ing to up­skill staff but also by mem­bers of the gen­eral pub­lic who may be cu­ri­ous as to whether they have what it takes in or­der to pur­sue a ca­reer as a ma­chin­ery op­er­a­tor – but would never oth­er­wise be pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity.

The dif­fer­ence is that the skills learned play­ing this game can be taken and used in the real world.

Left: The vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tem quickly be­comes in­tu­itive

Far right: The vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tem al­lows you to get a feel for op­er­at­ing a real-life ex­ca­va­tor

Right: The head­set re­sponds to head move­ment im­me­di­ately

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