Sandvik Mining reckons it has the answer: training simulators.
The Swedes have analysed the challenge of producing technically efficient operators in countries where most of the candidates have little or no access to even a mobile phone, never mind a haul truck or the latest drill rig.
Most of us fortunate enough to grow up in economically advanced nations enjoy the material luxuries this lifestyle brings.
Few would say they didn’t have at least a modest games console in their formative years. Many probably enjoyed the latest offerings from Sony or Nintendo.
But in countries where mining is taking off, recruiting a workforce with a grasp of even basic technology is a constant challenge.
Many of the basic principles we learn from operating phones, DVD players, computers and even the humble car stereo can help our interpretation of new technology.
Those from a rural background don’t have that basic exposure or understanding. If they do, it’s certainly likely to be less than a miner raised in a traditional Australian household.
Sandvik Mining has pondered this knowledge gap and come up with a solution for companies looking to set up projects in countries where technology is limited.
“In remote areas, everyone is looking for the same type of skill set in operators,” Sandvik Mining surface drilling products director Jan-Olaf Petzold explained.
“However, there is only limited access to people. Therefore, you have to find a mechanism to train inexperienced people.
“If you are looking to Western Australia’s Pilbara and you have a 25-year-old operator on a heavily automated machine, these guys will have no problems.
“They have grown up with iPads and phones in their hands so they know what it means to operate a touchscreen or a joystick. It’s easy for them to adapt to the equipment.
“But in remote areas in China or Africa, where you have labourers who have never had access to electronics or technology, you have to train them.
“Simulators are an effective tool to help someone who has never held technology before to quickly be able to operate a drill rig.”
Why not fly in your workforce from overseas? This happens in the mining industry, obviously.
Many of us know someone who works abroad. They’re usually paid quite handsomely too.
And that’s the problem, adding significantly to operating costs. It’s cheaper to use locals on the ground.
Sandvik, and other manufacturers of training simulators, will tell you they can train an operator to drive a haul truck – even if they’ve never driven a car.
The Swedes take this philosophy a step further with their latest training simulators.
For the first time, Sandvik is using an exact copy of the latest Pantera drill rig simulators.
So apart from the wall of screens surrounding the operator, the controls and instruments are exactly what you’d see on an actual drill rig on a minesite.
“The technology has advanced so much over the last few years that this time we asked ourselves, why are we not going a different way?” Petzold said.
“Why are we trying to simulate something that we have already? Isn’t it better to give the customer the real equipment?”
Petzold said Sandvik believed accuracy was “absolutely essential” to the success of a simulator.
“There are several companies in the market that are offering simulators for mining equipment,” he added.
“But all of these companies are simulating the product of an OEM. With Pantera, we are not simulating our drill – it is our drill.”
If training simulators are trusted by the aviation industry to train airline pilots, there’s little wonder mining companies trust them to deliver the next generation of truck and rig operators.
With many Australian mining companies building and managing projects abroad, training simulators offer an intelligent solution to the skill shortage.