The Principle Benefits of an Operator Training Simulator
Operating machinery requires skill and knowledge only learned through instruction and practice. It is generally sufficient to cover the theoretical aspects of a task in a classroom with suitable visual aids and assess the trainees’ progress with oral or written tests. However, theory alone is never enough to prepare one for the tasks ahead, but conventional practical instruction has its drawbacks. In many cases, instructors now prefer to conduct their operator training with a simulator. They find this approach allows trainees to gain competence far more rapidly than the traditional watch-and-learn method of instruction. However, this is just one benefit of the simulated learning environment, but there are many more to take note of:
Listening to lectures and watching videos or PowerPoint presentations cannot compete with the personal experience of performing a designated task. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. The exercise may have inherent risks that a novice should not be exposed to, or it may not be a practical option for a large group of trainees. By contrast, an operator training simulator provides a real-life experience that can be shared simultaneously by multiple learners.
Learners access a computer program that reproduces their working environment on a screen, for example, the control panel for the cooling system of a nuclear reactor. The interaction may be via a keyboard and mouse or a touchscreen, and each action the learner performs results in an appropriate observable reaction. Trainees learn immediately whether their actions were right or wrong and can proceed to repeat any failed task, having learned from their mistakes. Among the most significant benefits of the operator training simulator is that learners are free to make mistakes with no real-world consequences.
Systems similar to that used for instructing operatives in a nuclear power station are also available for coal- and oil-fired generating plants and many other industries. One of the best-known examples can be seen in the aerospace industry, where simulations have long been used to familiarise trainee pilots with the controls of an airliner and instruct astronauts in crucial docking and manoeuvring procedures. On land, some driving schools have now adopted this technology. At the same time, operator training simulators are also being used to instruct maritime pilots to navigate and dock supertankers.
The software programmes employed to create simulations vary in terms of their sophistication. However, quality products often include a means to assess trainee performance. One can measure performance by setting time limits for an exercise and comparing this with the learner’s time or by including task-related questionnaires. The collected data can be relayed directly to the instructor, compiled into a detailed progress report for each trainee, or both. By automating this administrative task, an operator training simulator allows the instructor more time for personal dialogue with the trainees and an objective basis for performance appraisal.
Reduced Time and Costs
This safe but highly-effective hands-on approach to teaching practical tasks has been shown to increase retention and significantly reduce the time required by learners to master a given job. Time equates to money in any industry, so the shorter learning curve alone can represent a substantial saving. However, the only option for many companies is to employ a third-party organisation to conduct off-site instruction. In such cases, an operator training simulator available for in-house use could eliminate travel, accommodation and service costs and eventually pay for itself.
What are the Options?
You will have two main options when introducing a simulated learning programme. You can either buy a ready-made product or purchase specialised software to create your own. The pre-prepared products fall into two categories. Some have a generic design, providing the functionality but not the physical details of your workplace. By contrast, a bespoke product will reproduce every function and visual element of your working environment in a photorealistic 3D format.
If you decide to develop the operator training simulator in-house, you can choose between the SimuPact and 3D Pact products. The former is an advanced software suite for the rapid development of high fidelity, full-scope process plant and power simulations. 3D Pact combines a user-friendly scenario and procedure builder with a configurable tutorial and testing facility.
Whether you want a ready-made product or to develop your own, begin by consulting the experts. SimGenics is a leader in this rapidly advancing field, having developed over 75 full- and partial-scope engineer and operator training simulators. Don’t hesitate to contact us to learn how simulated instruction could help your company.