Imagine the responsibility of operating a 300-ft. boom crane in North America’s most densely populated setting and you will understand why a New York City (NYC) crane license is arguably the most difficult of its kind to obtain in the United States. Even under ideal and open conditions, the operation of construction equipment has its risks. Within the confines of an urban environment, these risks increase exponentially.
International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 14 members sit behind the controls of NYC’s heavy equipment ranging from cranes, excavators and drill rigs, to boom trucks, pavers, and forklifts, etc. As construction equipment becomes more sophisticated, the importance of training is amplified. Under the direction of IUOE 14 Business Manager, Ed Christian, training and safety have taken on new levels of importance and urgency. With a mission to maintain its rank as the highest skilled trade in the city’s construction industry, Local 14’s training center (Montrose, NY) provides instruction for new and advanced users alike.
“People recognize that this is a dangerous business; and we’ve made safety our top priority,” says Tom Gordon, training director. A 30-year industry veteran, Gordon’s responsibilities include safety and training curriculum along with related equipment evaluation and purchase. “OSHA has very stringent safety guidelines and NYC has requirements that exceed those. Simply put, we’re responsible for the safety of our workforce and people in and around the jobsite, and we take that very seriously.”
Regulations Require Specialized Crane Training
As they increase in size and length, boom cranes become progressively more difficult to maneuver. Driven by safety concerns, the City of New York imposed strict license requirements and mandated specialized training for operators of cranes with 300 ft. or more boom length.
Because large cranes are most often used within urban settings, training opportunities are not always available or practical. In the past, they entailed locating a specific crane in service and hoping to find time for closely supervised baptism-under-fire, instruction. “You can imagine how stressful and difficult it would be to make that your first time in the seat,” Gordon comments.
Faced with a need to meet the new regulatory requirements and enhance the skill set of experienced crane operators, Local 14 sought a crane simulator to effectively and safely train operating engineers. But the bar was set very high.
CM Labs“Experiencing the controls, forces, inertia, twisting and movement of a crane are critical to understanding the reaction differences between a 200- and 300-ft. boom,” Gordon points out. “Our top priority was to provide operators with detailed training for the procedures of erection and lay-down of a 300-ft. boom or luffing jib. These are dangerous steps in crane operation and we had to get it right.”
In fact, requirements were so exact and critical that some questioned whether such detail and complexity could be adequately simulated.
“We were skeptical,” Gordon admits. “We weren’t convinced that a simulator could realistically reproduce the angles, point of jackknife, controls, vision, rigging, loads, cables and a hundred other things.”
Built to Exacting Specifications
Creating a training simulator that would provide a crane rating had never been done. Success would rely on capturing the real-world reactions of the complex equipment while reflecting the operator’s working knowledge of a specific crane type, model and configuration. Accomplishing this would require the most advanced teaching techniques and tools.
Gordon had been introduced to CM Labs’ simulators at a trade show a few years earlier and was impressed at the level of detail and realism. He also quickly recognized the value of simulators as training tools, and since that time, the union’s training school has acquired several CM Labs heavy equipment simulators.
Because of the company’s ability to replicate the motion and feel of real construction equipment through its Smart Training Technology, CM Labs was given the task of creating the crane training simulator.
CM Labs“This was an extremely complex project,” says Drew Carruthers, director of product strategy, CM Labs. “We modeled the crane’s inner workings exactly – every segment, every wire, each component. We had to identify what could behave how and why, and then model those consequences exactly. Our simulations had to allow the equipment to be pushed to its limits safely without exceeding the tipping point.”
Engineering specifications and other information supplied by the crane manufacturer helped developers create a model of the crane, along with each of its individual components. This allowed Carruthers and his team to realistically capture the relationship between all the machine’s parts. This level of detail was used to identify and simulate the steps of what happens when everything goes well, along with the consequences when things don’t, and ensure that the simulator’s reaction would mirror that of the crane.
The result was a custom simulator that met all requirements and exceeded expectations. What’s more, the simulator carries the distinction as the first and only virtual crane rating solution approved by the NYC Department of Buildings. In addition, the crane manufacturer was so impressed that it is using the simulation model to help showcase the crane’s controls.
Simulator Delivers on Training Needs
The simulator has proven to be a game chamber for Local 14. “It’s such an efficient tool, it adds another dimension and is an excellent supplement to our already stringent training protocols,” says Gordon. “Our people spend days on the simulator, and I’m not talking about just new operators. These are licensed operators who haven’t operated cranes in that specific configuration and want to get comfortable with how it reacts.”
Adding the simulator to its training arsenal allows Local 14 to serve operators at all levels. “I think most simulators are used to train people who are just starting – apprentices, newcomers to the business,” Gordon notes. “We're now able to provide advanced training for our journeyman and licensed operators who have been running cranes for years.”
Bolstered by year-round training, Local 14 is maintaining a growing pool of 300-ft. certified crane operators. As a result, CM Labs is working to develop a similar simulator based on the specifications of a different crane manufacturer.
“The simulator works great and journeymen as well as trainees are impressed by the optics and realism,” Gordon states. “When it comes to training, you’re not just saving on fuel and equipment wear and tear – that’s a bonus and a big number. More importantly, you’re ensuring the safety of the instructor, operator and others on the jobsite. But just as important, it allows us to actively promote crane operator training and safety throughout the industry.”