Train Wheel Loader Operators for Efficiency
BY Julien Richer-Lanciault
Small efficiencies in dump truck loading translate to greater profits for asphalt professionals. Conewago Enterprises Inc., one of the mid-Atlantic’s leading design-build general contractors, discovered this soon after implementing CM Labs’ Vortex simulator in its training for wheel loader, excavator and crane operators.
In one case, following the completion of 10 exercise sessions on an excavator simulator, a seasoned operator had reduced his cycle time from four and a half to three minutes—saving about a minute and a half per excavator cycle. That reduction in cycle time means the company saves thousands on every project with more dump truck loads per hour, less fuel burned, and reduced wear and tear on equipment.
Greg Smith, a project manager for Conewago, explained the impact: “When you look at ways to track productivity gains on excavator cycle time, you can get some conceptual numbers based on a perfect world scenario. You should see approximately $13,000 worth of savings on a 30,000 cubic yard project—all the way up to $40,000 for a 100,000 cubic yard project. And that’s by shaving just 30 seconds off of cycle time. We were in a position to triple those numbers thanks to the CM Labs’ simulator.”
The same can be true for any high-cycle application, such as wheel loaders filling the cold feed bins or dump trucks on a road construction project. CM Labs’ Wheel Loader Simulator Training Pack delivers an immersive training tool for loader operations. It incorporates proprietary advanced soil simulation, which reproduces bucket/ground interactions and realistic feel, sight, and sound of the hydraulics system, transmission, tire deflections, and bucket forces. This high level of realism is what contributes to the successful transition from simulator to real equipment.
Train beginners and veterans
The Wheel Loader Training Pack features progressive learning exercises. While beginners show the greatest gains in productivity, intermediate operators are challenged with scenarios that further advance skill sets.
Beginner level exercises start with understanding the controls as well as vehicle and bucket positioning. This in itself contributes to more efficient operations. As training progresses, operators are taught not only how to completely fill the bucket, but also how to empty it quickly by reducing the travel distance between the wheel loader and the dump truck—or cold feed bin. For example, exercises demonstrate how to start unloading the bucket when it passes the dump truck gate, engage the reverse and use the inertia of the material to unload quickly and evenly in the truck. Less repositioning means the job gets done faster.
A Grade Quality Sensor provides feedback to the operator about the ground conditions so that operators learn to watch for spill piles or to re-level the area when needed. This ensures optimal safety and efficiency when clearing the path. While not directly related to improved operational features, these competencies set the foundation for best practices, hopefully reducing incidents in the real world. Simulation training allows operators to experience dangerous real-world scenarios, such as tipping, but from the safety of the simulator seat. Ultimately, this reduces damage to the equipment and protects the workers.
Efficient operators also burn less fuel from idling, which is another factor that contributes to monetary savings over the course of the day. High-duty cycle equipment is designed to handle maximum capacities. When not used at its peak, a wheel loader actually experiences more wear and tear and increased maintenance costs.
Training exercises for intermediate and advanced techniques include stockpile management, proper quick coupler changes, and safe load handling. As operators engage in exercises, a traction widget evaluates what the operator is doing and gives real-time feedback to react with less throttle or to lock the differential. The ability to change operator behavior is powerful.
In addition, teaching advanced excavation techniques to wheel loader operators gives contractors greater flexibility for managing personnel and equipment. Expanding the skill set to include excavation and ground leveling means you can do more with the same people and equipment investments.
Evaluate training data
An optional Instructor Operation Station (IOS) allows instructors to generate reports from wheel loader training sessions, and review current and past performance. Among the metrics captured by the simulator are collisions and shock loads, fuel consumption, cycle and idle time, and material excavated per bucket load and in total.
“We can go back and look at the data—how much fuel was consumed, how many times the operator hit the truck with the bucket, how full the bucket was, the cycle times, and so on. Then we can sit down and talk about how to fix it,” said Mark Kara, assistant coordinator for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 apprenticeship program.
Simulation-based training also helps instructors become much more engaged with the students. “I spend more time just watching the trainees, because the simulator reports the metrics,” said Tim Plath, manager of health and safety for the city of Toledo, Ohio. “I can see things that I wouldn’t be able to see in the field—like when an operator is going downhill in a front-end loader, I can see if they are using the wrong brake pedal.” For example, when an operator uses the clutch disconnect rather than going into a low gear, it creates more wear on the machine. With simulator training, Plath can catch and correct bad habits. “All I would be able to see in a field exercise is if they got down the hill without having an incident,” he added.
For some contractors the idea of investing in a simulator can be daunting. However, productivity gains can quickly pay for the investment. Contractors wishing to test drive the benefits will find that it only takes a couple of days of training on a simulator to improve skills.
In addition, CM Labs now offers an entry-level simulator. The Vortex Edge Max, introduced at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020, offers a stripped-down design to minimize simulator costs while offering a full fleet of cranes and earthmoving training packs—10 machines on one simulator. For less than the cost of a used wheel loader, asphalt contractors could invest in a tool that pays for itself over the course of a few projects. Simulated truck loading exercises are just one way operators can be trained to make small gains that lead to significant returns at the end of the project.
Julien Richer-Lanciault is the product manager for CM Labs.