Dragline simulator helps skills shortage

THE development of a dragline simulator by Perth-based training equipment specialist Immersive Technologies is claimed to help alleviate the skills constraint on production growth and productivity improvement sought by the coal industry.
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Claire Svircas

Immersive’s simulator allows complex operating processes and digging tool interactions to be realistically simulated for training and practice purposes.

Immersive said the simulation technology, the result of more than seven years of research and engineering work, could help coal miners overcome the significant skills barrier that is hampering the rapid expansion of Australia’s export coal mines.

“As the primary removal tool at many of central Queensland’s large openpit coal mines, the draglines are often expected to move more than a billion cubic metres of waste material every year,” Immersive Technologies business development manager Oye Obe said.

“Skilled, competent operators are vital, not only to the efficient and productive use of the $A100 million machines, but also in minimising equipment and component damage, unscheduled downtime and safety risks,” Obe said.

Anglo Coal Australia (ACA), who partly funded development of the simulators, said there is an acute shortage of skilled dragline operators in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, which has the largest operating dragline fleet of any single coal producing region in the world.

“The dragline simulator, part of Immersive’s VirtualGround Technology, which recreates high-fidelity real-time simulations of complex tool interactions and behaviours, has made the holy grail of mining machine simulation a reality,” ACA chief mining engineer Warren Seib said.

“The dragline is probably the most complex earthmoving equipment to be simulated.”

ACA runs a fleet of seven draglines in central Queensland, including two units at the Callide mine south-west of Gladstone, where the first dragline simulator will be used to train new operators, test prospective operators and continue the coaching of more experienced drivers.

Senior mining engineer at the Callide mine, Matthew Little, said ACA’s successful use of previous training simulators by Immersive Technologies –for dump trucks, excavators, loaders and dozers – had shown positive results and created high expectations for the new dragline simulator.

“The simulator could halve the typical training time of up to six months for new operators and simultaneously cut the amount of production normally lost during the training period by at least 50%,” Little said.

“Initially you’re trying to teach new operators co-ordination and what does what, then you can teach correct technique. It would be of significant benefit if better technique saved you a couple of percent in maintenance costs related to the bucket, if not the dragline itself.”

Little claimed that, with the bucket being where most operator-related damage is noticed, the potential of the simulator to train operators in correct operating procedure could result in significantly increased bucket life and reduced maintenance costs.

Immersive Technologies has already reported a strong interest surrounding the new dragline simulator from other Australian and overseas coal miners.

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