Two Utah State University Eastern Blanding Campus students seated inside mock cabins of a giant bull dozer and hydraulic excavator look like extreme gamers in an arcade.
These apprentices aren’t playing, though. They are on the job, even if it is only a replicated one.
New to the USU Eastern Blanding Campus are two, high-tech simulators that will be game changers for the college’s heavy equipment and trucking program, said Justin Bergeman, USU Eastern director of Career and Technical Education and trucking instructor.
For starters, they literally transform a classroom into busy construction sites. Students can put down their books and instantly climb behind the simulated wheels and levers of mammoth earth-moving and lifting machines. It gives applied learning a whole new and more immediate meaning.
It also gives the college a big break on fuel and maintenance costs that it would otherwise have to spend on actual machinery. The benefit to students just starting out is a gentler, less intimidating introduction to the equipment. A simulator can accomplish the same task as real heavy equipment in helping a student become familiar with one of these machines in terms of its controls, steering and maneuvering, Bergeman said.
Another significant bonus includes being able to offer updated controls and simulations. The simulators now provide what would otherwise cost the college several hundred thousand if it had to purchase actual new equipment with the latest controls, said Brad Stevens, USU Eastern heavy equipment instructor.
“Many of the exercises offered on the simulators would be impossible to set up in a consistent manner on an actual project within a realistic time,” he said.
“The savings is exceptional and students are getting more time behind controls than ever before. This raises our program to a whole new level.”
The training takes the operator from basic controls orientation through more complex training exercises. The hands-on learning provides an efficient and safe way to master necessary skills. The more the student masters, the more difficult the exercises become. Each training exercise automatically measures and records student progress.
Bergeman said it’s a great way for instructors to hone in on problem areas the student may be experiencing then focus on training to correct any weaknesses before moving on. It helps students build skills and confidence and progress much faster than they would otherwise on real machines.
The cutting-edge technology, as well, gives the college’s heavy equipment and trucking program a big edge since no other heavy equipment and trucking program in the region has simulators. The cost of the two machines was offset by almost $10,000 through discounts and donations from Caterpillar and Wheeler Machinery Company.
“We appreciate this partnership with Caterpillar and Wheeler Machinery,” Bergeman said. “Plans are to eventually add wheel loader and road grader simulators to our program. A grant has been written and submitted with hopes of obtaining funding so we can offer all four training simulators at our Blanding campus.”
In the meantime, current or prospective students who have a hankering to feel what it would be like to scrape a road or hoist a giant shovel are encouraged to drop by or give Bergeman a call. If not a stimulating experience, it is sure to be a simulating one.
Writer: John DeVilbiss