Autonomous training

AN AUSTRALIAN training and simulation specialist believes it has developed a system to make it easier for miners to teach their workers how to work in and around autonomous equipment.
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An Immersive Technologies loader simulator fitted with Cat Command to help train operators to interact with autonomous equipment.

While many miners consider the technology side of the introduction of automation on site to be biggest challenge, often it is the change management piece that is hardest.

Immersive Technologies has been working on a system to help operators learn how to best interact with autonomous trucks so they stay safe and productivity gains from the technology are maximised.

Its training solutions, which have already been implemented across 23 mines globally, are mainly aimed at operators, although it is expanding its training solutions for other roles.

The solutions include a package including e-learning, an interactive desktop simulation that offers bite-sized learning, virtual machine inspections, and an equipment simulator equipped with autonomous system panels.

Immersive Technologies group product manager - autonomous solutions & data and analytics Ravitha Sukumaran said the importance of training and change management increased as automation was introduced.

She said managing a project of that nature needed more than training, it needed a significant change management effort.

Sukumaran said that entailed:

  • Building a broad understanding of, and agreement on, the changes required, typically well in advance of a mine deploying autonomous haulage;
  • Using data to form a workforce development plan;
  • Tailoring training content to maximise training efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Providing the expertise and support for implementation and integration of digital learning tools; and
  • Continuously improving based on changing mine needs and workforce profile.

"We help mines with solutions to overcome effects on human behaviour and performance," she said.

"With increased complexity compared to traditional operator roles - for example, an operator needs to be proficient in safe operation of their equipment and also the safe interaction with autonomous equipment, including sometimes controlling the movement of autonomous vehicles - the focus is not only to develop replacement skills in people to meet changing job requirements but also to be skilled in a broader range of proficiency as compared to similar roles in manned operations.

"Automation within the mining industry eliminates people from certain equipment such as haul trucks and drills. It is also transforming the nature of work performed by people in other roles in the field and in the office that interact with the autonomous machines.

"This means miners are required to redefine tasks and retrain people to use new technology and processes.

"Our training solutions mainly include operator roles such as loader operators, ancillary equipment operators and operators of light vehicles, which can be mine employees or contractors carrying out work on site.

"We are also expanding training solutions for other roles such as fuel-bay technicians, supervisors and other back-office roles.

"Autonomous technology interfaces in some way with the majority of on-site roles."

Sukumaran said simulation had also been a mission critical tool for helping select personnel for roles and defining optimum personal development plans once they were in those roles.

She said a blended learning plan had been widely adopted in autonomous mines because it addressed many learning styles and introduced efficiency because the right level of content could be deployed for specific job roles.

"Most mines prefer a degree of flexibility in their training offering," she said.

"Most mines also require a degree of training advisory services to support the effective use of these digital training products, or training process development.

"Tailoring and meeting specific mine needs is what the industry requires.

"Immersive Technologies invests considerable effort in developing product updates and improvements, ensuring our training solutions are mapped against the real challenges faced by industry.

"For example, incorporating relevant changes within simulation training in line with changes in site operating procedures to specific situations or events in light of the introduction of automation and tailoring the simulation training environment to represent a site's autonomous entry signs/gates are some aspects that are quite important for customers from the perspective of reducing risks and maximising learning retention."

Sukumaran said Immersive had helped customers:

  • Minimise risk to people, property or equipment;
  • Assess safe interaction with autonomous areas and systems, such as making sure workers followed relevant site protocols to reduce or eliminate interference with autonomous trucks; 
  • Streamline training throughput;
  • Reduce in-field training time;
  • Decrease human errors in the use of autonomous systems;
  • Increase training effectiveness and learning retention to deliver high levels of competency by using blended learning and improving training design;
  • Use field data to measure, assess and optimise the skills of key autonomous operational roles; and
  • Keep the training solution up to date to fill the knowledge gaps arising from the ongoing changes to autonomous systems as customers progressed through their autonomous journeys on site.