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Computer-based simulation is an efficient training solution for cranes and earth-moving equipment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, equipment and vehicle incidents are the leading cause of workplace deaths on construction sites. On-the-job training is particularly hazardous and placing inexperienced operators on machinery can be risky for the trainee, the instructor and the equipment — on or off the worksite.

That’s why computer-based simulation has emerged as an efficient training solution for contractors who need to operate cranes and earth-moving equipment. This is especially true as the technology has advanced to the same level of sophistication as flight simulators—which are now a mandatory training component for pilots to obtain and maintain their license.

Breaking Down the Costs

In the construction industry, simulator training technology has already proven to help fill staffing gaps in a cost-effective, productive and safety-conscious way For instance, it’s far safer to assess the abilities of a new operator in a virtual machine rather than exposing real equipment to a potentially dangerous operator. This is a particular concern when the supply of skilled labor is running short, as it is today.

Aside from this risk mitigation, simulators offer other benefits that can have a healthy financial impact for companies of all sizes, whether purchasing simulators outright or simply working with training organizations that have invested in them.

Pricing for construction training simulators varies based on features and objectives, but in general ranges from $10,000 to $100,000 or more. As a digital technology, simulation-based training is flexible, fitting into many budgets at an investment point that’s lower than most pieces of construction equipment. 

Similarly, using a simulator is more cost-effective than renting equipment or swallowing the opportunity costs of taking production equipment offline for training. Other indirect costs associated with using real construction equipment for training include wear and tear, consumables such as fuel, tires and lubricants, and repairs. When factoring in wages, fuel, insurance and maintenance, the annual cost of training can top $100,000 per piece of equipment. 

Simulator training will never replace training on real equipment, and never should, but each hour of training shifted to simulation brings appreciable savings in fuel, maintenance and/or rental costs. 

Building Out the Benefits

Some advanced simulators are able to simulate multiple pieces of equipment, so that the investment can be spread across training programs for multiple machines. This offers huge benefits for larger organizations that would otherwise need to rent or purchase numerous machines for training purposes.

Aside from cost savings, simulation-based training brings a host of other benefits:

  • it can take place regardless of weather or time of day;
  • instructors can manage more than one simulator simultaneously, unlike with real equipment;
  • simulated training provides a safer environment and allows trainees to experience conditions that are too risky to replicate in real life; and
  • built-in operator scoring provides objective, traceable hire/no-hire justifications.

Making an Informed Decision

Before investing in simulation-based training, it is important to know what current training costs are in order to understand how quickly the investment return will be realized. It’s also vital to try before buying – and there is no substitute for actually trying the simulator. However, a five-minute demo is rarely enough to give a sense of how suitable the simulator is for trainers and trainees. 

Before making an investment, test the solution with a trusted, qualified operator and over an extended period of time. If possible, spend as much time on the simulator as trainees will be spending. 

Other considerations:

  • evaluate the breadth of their solution catalogue – solutions should have been tested over time;
  • a deep catalogue provides assurance that future training needs can be met;
  • ask how many clients they have and contact three or four clients at minimum; and
  • evaluate training and support services.

Simulation is an investment that pays multiple dividends. Eliminating risk and reducing costs for maintenance, fuel and a number of other variables are just the tip of the iceberg. While simulation-based training is still a relatively new trend in the construction industry, early adopters—including for specialty and general contractors— are already demonstrating clear benefits and return on their investment.

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