Working To Improve Operator Productivity

Staff | September 28, 2010

Professional trainers have begun to recognize that becoming a modern heavy equipment operator may require human abilities which cannot be taught. Studies show that in typical vocational training programs anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of people lack the prerequisite abilities to become truly competent operators of modern heavy equipment. Advances in control systems and sensing devices still require extreme operator eye-to-hand coordination and a sense of feel that not everyone possesses.

Research shows that operating heavy equipment requires three kinds of ability:

  • Various "psycho-motor" abilities associated with manual dexterity, i.e. moving arms, hands, fingers, legs, and feet at the same time.
  • A "sensory/perceptual" ability associated with depth perception, i.e. seeing things at a distance and knowing what's in front and what's behind.
  • A "cognitive" ability associated with thinking about spatial orientation, i.e. keeping track of where you are in a changing work environment.

Recent research suggests that learning new skills and creating muscle memory is a three-part process.

Stage 1: Differences in learning correlate with differences in general intelligence.

Stage 2: Differences in learning are largely due to differences in perceptual/cognitive abilities.

Stage 3: Differences in learning are dominated by differences in psycho-motor abilities.

This means that once formal training ends advancing skill depends upon perceptual, cognitive and psycho-motor abilities. That's why evaluating such human abilities is so essential for predicting eventual on-the-job performance.

Until recently it has been difficult to do this properly. In the past industrial psychologists have invented tests with pegboards and paper folding (to name just two examples) to help out. These "surrogates" mimic some work functions in highly simplified ways. Generally trainers have continued to rely on observing people at work at the controls of real machines with all of the associated costs and potential danger.

VISTA Training and Simlog are pioneering a new end-to-end equipment operator productivity enhancement technique through the use of equipment simulators. Computer-controlled simulation helps maximize performance of the human element. The systems measure operator performance, benchmark individual operating skills to a known standard and appreciably enhance operator productivity.

This pioneering work is now being done in some large mining operations. Now, with Simlog's help, a training simulator is available to mimic the data collected by the mining equipment. An opportunity is also created to have the simulator provide additional performance criteria for more definitive measurements and document improvement in operator productivity. Simlog pioneered development of instructional design methods with simulators capable of providing measurement automation.

Bruce Rabe, VISTA Training CEO, said, "We researched many prospective partners and found Simlog to be unique in their approach as a training measurement and operator behavioral change artist. By applying Simlog technology and techniques we now offer our many mine customers a method to help identify and address old, inefficient habits among their equipment operators. This enables the employer to focus on replacing these habits with new more desirable operating techniques. We are currently working with Simlog to bring this technology to the operation of other types of heavy equipment in the excavating field. We invite customer inquiries as part of our ongoing research."