Vale unveiled their new high-tech $1.7-million taxpayer-funded mining simulator on July 18, nearly a month to the day after the grand opening of the Valer-Vale education building where the simulator is housed. The simulator is the crown jewel of the training centre that officially opened on June 19. The simulators were purchased with a combined contribution to the Northern Manitoba Sector Council from the federal and provincial governments announced in 2010.
On hand for the announcement were federal Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Manitoba NDP Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation and Thompson MLA Steve Ashton, Northern Manitoba Sector Council executive director Doug Lauvstad, Mayor Tim Johnston, as well as Vale representatives Ryan Land, manager of corporate affairs for Manitoba Operations, Lovro Paulic, general manager for the smelter and refinery, Glen Laycock, Vale superintendent of learning and development, and Warren Brass, acting general manager of mines and mills for Vale’s Manitoba Operation.
When looking at the simulator from the outside, it appears as not much more than a shipping can with a large flat screen television attached to the outside. When you walk inside, however you’re presented with some initial sensory overload, with an array of screens and a cockpit with a full control panel for the trainees.
The most simplified way to envision it would be to imagine the most advanced and arguably largest arcade game you can find. This comparison is one that Laycock used when explaining how the different peripherals work, with being able to change from a scoop tram simulator to a truck simulator.
“Imagine that this is the PlayStation,” said Laycock, referring to the large can where the training takes place, “and this is the game,” Laycock said, pointing to a truck dashboard complete with a steering wheel and control panel.
Travis Bloomer is one of four mine trainers at the Valer-Vale training centre, and he ran down the impressive list of features and benefits that the simulator possesses.
“Underground on these machines, the operators can’t hear us, we can’t stand beside them and tell them what they’re doing right or wrong,” said Bloomer, “with this machine we can be right there and give them immediate feedback. There’s also a bit of an ego that some people may have when on the machine and they don’t necessarily want to accept a criticism, but this machine documents everything you’re doing, so if you’re spinning your tires or you bump a wall, there’s record of it and we can show the trainees what they need to correct.”
Bloomer went on to explain the array of situations that the simulator can create, such as a blown-out tire or an engine fire.
“We can explain these things for hours, but there’s a good chance you might forget it,” said Bloomer, “when they have the hands-on experience, they’ll be much better off once they’re underground.”
The completion of the Valer-Vale building, combined with a cutting-edge piece of technology like the mine simulator, is expected to aid in the transition of some 350 surface workers at Vale to underground operations in 2015. There are 700 to 800 employees working in surface operations currently, Land said July 19. A top-notch facility should also help in the training of the future underground miners from Thompson and the surrounding area, the company hopes.
“Minister Toews indicated that there was a need for a couple of thousand people [in the natural resource sector] in the near future and I think that’s a conservative estimate,” said Lauvstad, “the North is challenged in that we have a recruitment and attraction problem, so the strategy then becomes to recruit from our own. Minister Ashton mentioned that we have good, young, able-bodied and energetic people in our midst, the problem is matching the skill level with the job requirements.”
Toews was optimistic for the future of the local mining sector, thanks to the new simulators.
“Our government’s investment in this state-of-the-art simulator is providing mining skills development and job opportunities for Northern Manitoba residents,” said Toews, referring to the federal-provincial funding that was provided to the Northern Manitoba Sector Council, “this equipment is playing a key role in increasing mining production while ensuring the long-term competitiveness of the local mining sector.”
While officials praised the simulator and the role it will play for the future of mining in the North, perhaps the most significant benefit of the machine will be its contribution toward the principles of Vale’s in-house SafeProduction in managing risk to As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) mantras.
Brass spoke to the company’s dedication to the safety of its workers.
“It [the simulator] will help us achieve our goal of zero harm,” said Brass, “so that we get our employees safely home, every day.”