By David Kligman
LIVERMORE — The sound of an enormous excavator at work isn’t coming from a real excavator. It’s actually a video game-like simulator that looks and feels like you’re operating the real thing.
At PG&E’s training center, the utility is teaching employees how to use giant pieces of machinery before they get in the field. The military uses simulators to train heavy equipment operators. And now so is PG&E.
Senior instructor Jerry Hall said the most important skill is learning what’s around you.
“At any given time you have so many different variables out there — hills and rocks and ruts, other employees walking, driving, various pieces of equipment out there,” Hall said. “There are so many dangers that out in the real world it’s tenfold.”
As many as 120 employees will be trained this year for two weeks at a time. And that training already is paying off.
Since the simulators were introduced last summer, PG&E already has saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and avoiding rental costs of the equipment — enough to pay for the simulators.
And an excavator can weigh as much as 86,000 pounds, so it’s far safer to train in a controlled environment.
Currents recently got to get behind the controls to test out the simulator. It’s not as easy as it looks. Your eye-hand coordination has to be precise. It pitches and rolls as if you’re in the cab of an excavator.
Teaching proper use of large equipment is vital to PG&E. Every day, PG&E gas, electric and hydro employees use backhoes, excavators and other large machinery on the job.
When you get into an accident using the simulator the machine shuts off and provides a detailed analysis, including safety numbers.
Hall said instructors quickly realized the value of this new kind of training. He recalled the first time he was taught to operate a backhoe outside this classroom a decade ago.
“To think that just 10 years later there would be simulators here where we could run equipment within a computer program and I could have gotten that knowledge so when I went out there I felt more comfortable I would have never thought it would happen,” he said.
The goal is to eventually put the simulators on a trailer and take them to other locations.
It’s just another way PG&E is using technology to meet its goal of being the safest utility in the country.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.