When The Manitowoc Company implemented a common control system across its family of cranes, the company recognized an opportunity to use simulators to support the marketing and sales program behind the initiative, as well as deliver operator training.
Manitowoc partnered with CM Labs to develop the simulators.
CM Labs then developed branded Manitowoc crane training simulators to capture the look, feel and operator experience. The simulators are now supporting the roll-out and adoption of Manitowoc’s Crane Control System (CCS) by helping to train operators on the advantages of the control system.
Sales and marketing teams are also using the simulators to allow prospective buyers to virtually test-drive Manitowoc’s cranes.
With manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia, Manitowoc is a global entity. Much of the company’s growth is attributed to the acquisition of brands such as Grove, National Crane, Potain and Shuttlelift.
But diversity has its challenges. While multiple product lines help the company dominate market share, each product line has historically had its own engineering and design centres. This created steep learning curves for operators as they encountered different Manitowoc crane models.
To resolve this, an initiative was launched to standardize controls across the Manitowoc line of cranes. Found on virtually every Manitowoc crane, the Crane Control System (CCS) provides a common look and feel from an operational perspective. The objective of the CCS is to provide customers with equipment usage flexibility by reducing much of the training normally required to operate an unfamiliar crane.
“With the CCS, regardless of which model you’re talking about, control inputs are very similar,” explained John Alexander, director of service, training and telematics at Manitowoc. “For example, this allows an operator to run one of our all-terrain cranes and then jump into a rough-terrain crane and have the same functionality, feel and control inputs.”
Another benefit lies within product development and engineering. Commonality behind the core programming language of the control system inputs, is allowing Manitowoc’s engineering community to share information and make enhancements throughout product lines from both a component and control system software perspective. The result of the collaboration is an opportunity to leverage information and best practices to advance innovation.
Innovation in training
Training plays a key role in the market’s adoption of any new initiative, and CCS is no exception.
“Even 20 years ago, machines were built without all of today’s sophisticated program control system inputs,” Alexander said. “Functions were straightforward and operated through lever action. But now cranes are controlled digitally, making operation more complex. What’s more, there are unique distinctions from one model to another that an operator has to be comfortable with. That’s why it’s critical to have well-trained operators in the seats of newer cranes, and the more standardization across models, the easier that becomes.”
When it comes to effective training, hands-on interaction with physical equipment and controls is invaluable. However, field training with any piece of equipment — especially a crane — is expensive and can be logistically impractical. Training simulators, on the other hand, offer a cost-effective alternative that is both practical and efficient.
“We had been interested in simulation-based training and impressed with CM Labs technology for a long time,” Alexander said. “Prior to CCS, there really wasn’t the opportunity to standardize on anything related to training. But as control system commonality became more prevalent across our cranes, we recognized the opportunity to partner with CM Labs and integrate CCS controls into a training simulator.”
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Manitowoc is now taking full advantage of its CM Labs simulators. While physical machine training can be limited by time, space and cost, simulators are available to provide multiple trainees with ample hands-on experience.
Training can also be adapted to the unique requirements and experience of each operator. A journeyman may require just a quick tutorial to become familiar with the inputs, while a new operator will require considerably more training time.
In addition, the ability to sell branded simulators to training schools has the potential to boost operator loyalty to the Manitowoc brand, thanks to the learning experience provided by CM Labs’ simulators.
Manitowoc sells and supports machines directly and through its dealer network. According to Alexander, the ease of use of the CCS, from both an operator and technician perspective, has become a selling point.
In fact, when it comes to making a sale, nothing beats the opportunity to put prospective customers at the controls. This is where key features and the innovation that’s unique to the equipment shines.
At the same time, trade shows and events offer an opportunity to showcase equipment to a broad range of buyers. Through CM Labs simulators, Manitowoc is providing an opportunity to experience their equipment right on the show floor. As well, the ability of CM Labs’ simulators to integrate with the CCS platforms enables Manitowoc to show just what the CCS can do.
“At a trade show, we might have eight or 10 cranes on the site, but there are restrictions regarding operating equipment. Even simply sitting in the cab is limited as you can only have one person on the crane at any given time” said Alexander. “With our simulator we can have six, eight, 10 or more people watching what’s happening. This gives us a greater opportunity to showcase the benefits of our equipment and CCS technology.”
Similarly, simulators allow for demonstrating picks, swinging and other operations that are not permitted at a show. Attendees can take the controls in hand and run the crane in a controlled environment.
“Simulation allows prospective customers to go through the crane functions, options and features, just like the real thing. From a lifting perspective – how easy it is to set up the RCL, to view error codes, how easy it is to interact with the controls – all of those features can be easily demonstrated on the simulator.”