Training simulators aren’t new – medieval jousters practised with a device that could unseat the unwary. Today, simulations are invaluable to many industries. Even before those noble knights, when Rome ruled most of the known world, mechanical devices were used to simulate combat when training gladiators. In practice, most methods used to imitate real-life tasks for training purposes were strictly mechanical until the invention of computers and the dawn of the digital age.

The harnessing of steam power and electrical energy and the success of the Wright brothers in perfecting human-crewed flight were timely and invaluable achievements. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of World War 1, many of those first brave pilots who risked their lives in aerial combat underwent their flight training in a halved wooden barrel moved manually by people on the outside to simulate real-world actions when operating its dummy controls.

Even at the end of World War 2, when a Pan American Airways engineer developed the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser simulator, this detailed replica of the aircraft’s flight deck was immobile and had no visual system. Only in the ‘60s was up and down motion added to recreate the feel of takeoff, landing and turbulence, and it was a further ten years before the introduction of computer-generated flight training simulators.

The Use of Gaming Technology to Develop Modern Training Simulators

Surveys suggest that around three billion people engage in online gaming and that almost half use a PC to pursue this popular pastime. In 2021, the global average time spent playing online games was estimated to be 8,45 hours per week, although it’s easy to see that some players regularly exceed that figure in a single day.

Computer games are successful because they are compelling. The lifelike visuals and sound effects quickly capture and retain players’ attention, immersing them in a fantasy world created by sophisticated computer software. Players can practice defensive and aggressive tactics to outsmart and defeat invading aliens, a zombie apocalypse or giant fire-breathing dragons without risking as much as a minor contusion. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why gaming technology has also been adopted to develop training simulators and why these are proving far more effective than the traditional approach.

Some Common Applications of Training Simulators

While simulations can be applied to most learning situations, they are of particular value to those whose routine tasks could expose them, others or costly equipment to danger. The following are some of the many industries that have embraced the use of simulations to conduct some or all of their practical training:

  • Power Station Operators: Novice operators in many nuclear and conventional power plants now acquire their practical skills by performing tasks in virtual scenarios generated by a computer software program. This novel option allows trainees to make mistakes without real-world consequences and to repeat a job until it becomes a conditioned reflex.
  • Crane Operators: The giant cranes used by the construction industry to erect high-rise buildings are extremely expensive and potentially dangerous. It is, therefore, best that new crane operators practice the necessary manoeuvres using simulated scenarios from the safety of an office or classroom at ground level.
  • Medical Professionals: No doubt, much to the relief of their patients, surgeons often use computer simulations today to practice unfamiliar procedures or develop new ones. The technology has also been applied to assist medical students and trainee nurses.
  • Mining: Miners face more dangers than most and may now gain practical skills like handling heavy vehicles and drilling equipment and coping with fire and flooding using mining simulations from a safe location on the surface.

The benefits of computer simulations in training are numerous. They produce better results in far less time than conventional methods. They avoid the risk of accidents to trainees, fellow workers and equipment. They are cost-effective, allowing simultaneous training of multiple learners.

Training Simulators Now and in the Future

Advances in augmented and virtual reality technology suggest a future in which VR headsets or glasses might replace PCs. Until then, however, SimGenics remains South Africa’s leading developer of PC-based training simulations, with more than 75 compiled to date. We offer partial and full-scope solutions for practical training in power plants, mineral exploitation, marine operations, desalination plants and the petrochemical industry.

Alternatively, we can supply specialised software enabling you to create simulated training scenarios to your preferred specifications. Whatever your training needs, please feel free to call on our expertise to develop an innovative virtual solution.

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