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Real-life experience, no risk. Estevan mine training on new simulator

The local mine has recently acquired two new pieces of equipment that allow for efficient training for different purposes.

ESTEVAN — Practicing and perfecting equipment operating skills without safety risks might seem like a dream, but Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine has found a way to make it possible.

The local mine has recently acquired two new pieces of equipment, which allow for efficient training for different purposes, including proper reactions during emergencies, and safer and more efficient equipment operations, as well as for routine pre-shift inspection practice.

One is a simulator, which is an immersive technology that was installed in October and brought up to speed earlier this year. For that, the producer surveyed the Estevan mine and built the mine setup and even the surrounding landscape into the simulation. Since then, about 40 operators had a chance to practise on the new piece.

"They have our custom mine built into a simulation. [As part of the simulation you can] drive a Cat 777-G end-dump, you pull out of the shop, and you go all the way down to our Pit 10, then to our Shand stockpile, and then we have a Pit 12 and Pit 18 [and so on]," explained Tija Donovan, a safety specialist at Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine.

Different scenarios help train equipment operators for proper reactions in case of different issues with trucks, as well as emergencies – from mine-wide to isolated to the piece of equipment – and a better understanding of safety protocols. There is also better productivity and equipment maintenance. It even allows for night, rain and snow operation experiences.

The simulator also helps new hires learn the mine landscape faster.

It is a driver's chair with a steering wheel and operation system reflecting the real equipment pieces being used at the particular mine. It mimics any motion an operator would experience, while the projectors on three walls around the chair replicate the mine set-up.

"Operators say it's very realistic," Donovan said.

The project was in the works for a while, she noted. Other Westmoreland mines had experience with the equipment, which proved to be successful, so Estevan followed their lead, acquiring hauler and loader packages, which included software and equipment simulating the cab of the real-life machinery.

They started with haulers and will switch over to loaders later. The mine has an extensive on-site training program, and the simulator will complement it with experience with different scenarios.

"Fully, it takes about eight hours in the simulator for all the different scenarios that we go through," Donovan said, noting they try to get one or two people trained a week.

The system also allows for watching the simulation over and going over mistakes with the trainer afterwards.

The other piece of recently acquired training equipment is a touchscreen TV with software allowing one to practise the pre-shift inspection routine. Operators can choose the equipment they work on, and go through it piece by piece, learning more about what to look for every day, as they inspect their piece of equipment, Donovan said.

She noted the feedback with their new simulators has been good.

"A lot of people learn quite a bit, especially on the pre-shift inspection," Donovan said. "And the response has been really good."