By T.W. Lyman, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Public Affairs
NORFOLK (NNS) -- During April, 2017, Naval Facility Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic began using crane simulators to keep skills sharp.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command is dedicated to enhancing naval shore readiness and maintains a reputation for mission accomplishment in the face of demanding challenges. No one knows this better than the command's heavy equipment operators; specifically the crane operators and riggers who carry a heavy load toward U.S. Navy readiness.
Naval Facility Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic's Weight Handling Center and Crane & Rigging Operations staff must maintain proficiency in order to accomplish their mission to lift ordnance, Naval nuclear propulsion plant components and equipment, new and spent nuclear fuels, electronic equipment, hot metals, components of ships and submarines, supplies, construction materials, and hazardous material items needed to support the Navy's world-wide commitments... often at a moment's notice.
The new crane simulator is computer-based and consists of an operator seat and controls nearly identical to what an operator uses in a crane. The instructor can change scenarios using a panel located near the person undergoing training. All components are housed in a room in Building A-80 on board Naval Station, Norfolk.
Craig D. Hall, from Yorktown, Va., is a NAVFAC Midlant training instructor who has 22 years working with heavy equipment for NAVFAC, recently demonstrated the capabilities of the equipment.
Instructors can choose from seven scenarios or design a course to test a variety of skills. Students negotiate moving a load on an obstacle course, practice lifting and placing loads and exercise operating the controls more efficiently. Actions are displayed on a 55-inch monitor and sounds can be heard through monitor speakers. Monitors and speakers can be added to create a surround environment making training even more lifelike.
"The controls have a realistic feel," said Mark Muth, a Beavercreek, Ohio native and retired 24-year SEABEE who's been with Midlant two years. "I operated the simulator three times when we first got it. The crane movement is very responsive to the commands."
Many heavy-equipment operator programs have added simulator-based training to training on real equipment. Simulator technology has advanced to a level of realism and fidelity. As a result, skills learned operating in a virtual environment are directly transferable to real world situations.
Additionally, simulator training can provide students more hours of hands-on training than they can receive in training programs that use only real equipment. More practice and repetition develop higher-level skills and make our worksites safer.
Computer training is also less costly than using real equipment only. While training on actual equipment is invaluable, it is also expensive due to equipment costs, maintenance, and wear and tear caused by novice operators. Further, resources expended for course and equipment preparation are eliminated.
Simulator training also teaches students to respond to equipment failures, unsafe conditions, emergencies and bad weather. Training on actual equipment is mostly restricted to non-hazardous, routine operating situations.
Hall explained, "Of course the simulator is cost-effective for training in that we save the cost of fuel and wear and tear on cranes, but we also benefit greatly by decreasing the risks that come with conducting training using actual cranes on a training site. Plus, a crane being used for training is not in the field conducting the mission. I truly appreciate how much safer and more economically we can conduct training using a realistic simulator."
"Another advantage to simulator training is that the instructor can change the environment much like it happens in the field," Hall said. "We can bring rain, wind or simulate conditions almost instantly. Plus every movement or correction made by the student is recorded. This includes throttle control, braking and speed. Students can also monitor the stress on equipment during the training. We can critique actions taken and make corrections in the safety of the classroom. Students also benefit from observing the training of others."
Use of the simulator also allows the instructor to print results and exercise reports to maximize training effectiveness.
Midlant's use of the simulator demonstrates NAVFAC's commitment to applying the best tactics, techniques and procedures to accelerate learning as individuals, a team and an organization.