Q&A: Digging into simulation

Person sitting in simulator, operating machinery

A conversation with Julien Richer-Lanciault regarding excavator and earthmover training simulators

Humans have been using simulators to train for machine operation for almost a century. From the Link Trainer, the first flight simulation device, created in 1929, to today’s plethora of mass-produced virtual reality and video game-style machine operation simulators, we have always seen value in simulating operation.

For heavy equipment operators, simulators are a tool that can be used for things like facilitating muscle memory for the controls of a machine, cutting down on the emissions of full in-machine training and avoiding accidents and injury caused by inexperience.

Montreal’s CM Labs has designed many different types of software for training simulators, including excavators, bulldozers and wheel loaders.

CM Labs’ software is trusted by various training programs and institutions, including the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario, an institution backed by the Government of Canada.

Julien Richer-Lanciault, Product Manager at CM Labs Simulations, fielded some questions regarding their excavator and earthmover training simulators from our editor:

Max Carrington: Simulators have been used in training programs for trucking and flying for a long time, but is a more recent trend for heavy equipment. Do you think that simulators have become a necessary tool in heavy equipment training programs, like they are in other industries?

Julien Richer-Lanciault: Yes, training simulators in heavy equipment is considered new, but we see a great adoption from the market. Our heavy equipment simulators can cover everything from machine familiarization to advanced operations. It’s the perfect way to bridge the gap from classroom to the real machine and ensure new operators are ready and have the confidence to take the controls of the actual equipment before doing so. It ensures safety by only graduating those operators that are ready, up to the real machine.

With simulation, you are transforming subjective assessment to objective evaluation that’s based on actual data that the simulator captures, scores and reports on. Instructors are more empowered and have access to points of views/drone views they don’t have in the field.

Screenshot of excavator simulator. Excavator is loading soil.

MC: What skills taught within the heavy equipment software do you think are most transferrable to a real machine? What are the limitations of learning through simulation?

JRL: One of the core benefits of our simulators is the machine behavior. While you may find motion platforms on other sims, what really differentiates us from them is the fact that our sims move according to the reaction of the machine. Our patented software leverages real equipment data to determine how the equipment should react. This allows us to provide advance training that goes beyond controls familiarization. You can teach operators techniques like pivot turns, slot dozing, articulated driving, how to catch a crane’s pendulum etc. We actually just launched a video campaign where you can see these in action.

Specifically, beyond controls familiarization and basic earthmoving skills, the Dozer Simulator Training Pack features advanced exercises that focus on complex skills such as material spreading and access road creation.

The Excavator Training Pack exercises immerse operators in challenging environments that allows them to develop specific, complex skills, such as pipe placement and load handling.

During the Wheel Loader training exercises, operators can change tools depending on the task they need to accomplish. Trainees learn the proper usage of the wheel loader’s quick coupler, in order to avoid accidental release of the bucket during operations.

Screenshot of dozer from simulator.


MC: How adjustable are the settings in terms of replicating the multitudes of shapes, sizes, power and controls of machines that are used on real jobsites?

JRL: We work with OEMs to ensure our equipment training packs are based on real equipment specifications. That said, our products are a generic representation of them. Our controls and pedals are what you can find on the real machine. If potential users have specific needs, like controls, attachments, LMIs or exercises, we can develop it for them as a service. Our curriculum focuses on building skills that you can transfer to other equipment, for example, the skills you build on a 20-ton excavator can be transferred on 30 ton or larger.

MC: With the growing demand for equipment operators, do you think that simulators can attract the younger, more tech savvy generation to the field?

JRL: Absolutely, this is part of our core messaging as well. What quality simulation allows companies to do is provide a real-world perspective to potential recruits about what a life as an operator can look like. Equipment has and continues to undergo innovations that have transformed the industry. It’s not as labor intense as it used to be and we need to demonstrate that to the next-gen. Equipment can also be quite technologically advanced and these advances need to be reflected in simulation.

The other interesting aspect is that those companies who invest in simulation as part of a workforce development program are demonstrating to their employees that they can have a career path with them. These companies are basically saying “we can train you to move up the ladder” and that has proven to help with employee retention.