The origin of training simulators is ancient. Devices for gladiator practice and manikins to train early midwives have led to more sophisticated modern uses. Although computer simulations are now employed in many industries for training and other purposes, few are better known than those used to train pilots and for home entertainment.

The core component of any modern simulator is a computer program. However, those used for flight training are housed in a detailed physical replica of the flight deck and its instruments, while a screen display provides a view of the terrain and the sensation of movement. Gamers can enjoy an equally realistic experience on a PC for a minute fraction of the cost. In practice, the superior abilities of modern training simulators stem from the innovative application of popular computer gaming technology.

How Training Simulators Work

One can learn the theoretical aspects of any activity from a teacher, a self-help book or one of the many video presentations now available online. However, when it is time to put that theory into practice, the choices are more limited. At one time, the sole option was supervised hands-on practice to give it a go and risk the possible consequences.

However, in a real-world situation, such as controlling the flow of coolant to a nuclear reactor or maintaining safe but sufficient steam pressure in a boiler, the consequences of a mistake could be catastrophic. Experience has repeatedly shown it is markedly safer for trainee operators to practice adjusting critical control systems with computer simulations in these and similar situations.

The simulator software can create accurate, lifelike models of any workplace and its machinery or controls based on data obtained from 3D scans or using built-in models stored in its libraries. The desired functionality can then be assigned to the model control systems using its library of code snippets to enable user interactions via mouse movements or a touch screen. The setup offers many benefits for trainees and trainers alike. For example:

  • Versatility: A single software package can be configured to create multiple scenarios.
  • Economy: The software can be deployed on a network, allowing multiple learners to practice simultaneously, thus conserving human resources and saving time and money.
  • Shorter learning curve: Like Call of Duty and other online games, work simulations provide a captivating experience. Trainees become absorbed in the scenarios and even obsessed with improving their performance. Conventional on-the-job instruction often creates nervousness, leading to hesitation and mistakes, and cannot compete with the power and innate appeal of play.
  • Safety: Allowing untrained personnel to handle tasks always carries a degree of risk. Ask any oil rig operator or surgeon! Simulations actually help learners benefit from their mistakes. The audiovisual feedback generated by errors has no real-world consequences but can transform mistakes into a powerful learning experience. 

The Scope of Training Simulators

In the previous paragraphs, we examined how simulated working scenarios have been applied to train pilots and operators in conventional and nuclear power stations. However, developers have also created some new applications for training simulations, which are now used for practical training purposes in several other potentially hazardous industries, including the following:

  • Marine: Navigating an ocean-going vessel through a narrow passage when attempting to dock or coping with a malfunctioning diesel engine are not skills one should learn through trial and error. Neither can they be perfected in a classroom. Training simulators offer a ship’s officers and crew a far safer yet more effective alternative that poses no threat to the safety of the vessel or those on board.
  • Mining: A trainee miner can now learn to meet the challenges of operating drills, vehicles, and heavy machinery deep underground and using explosives, as well as recommended safety practices whilst seated comfortably and out of danger at a PC on the surface.
  • Medicine: Physical models for training medical and nursing students have evolved since those 18th-century midwifery manikins. Today, they can use lifelike models with realistic skin texture to perfect suturing and injection techniques before attempting them on a live patient.

However, even experienced surgeons now use this technology and, more recently, virtual reality (VR) to practice unfamiliar procedures, develop new ones or provide remote assistance to colleagues.

Getting Started with Training Simulators

SimGenics is South Africa’s leading developer of simulated training solutions for power and desalination plants, mines and the marine and petrochemical industries. Contact us to learn more about optimising the safety and efficiency of your in-house operator training.

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