CAT® Simulators Give CM Students Insight Into Project Management
BATON ROUGE – While most of his students will spend this summer enjoying the great outdoors, LSU Construction Management Assistant Professor Chao Wang will spend the hot days excavating indoors.
This would normally be impossible, but the CAT® Simulator Hydraulic Excavators in the Performance Contractors, Inc. Construction Management Learning Complex make it a reality.
Situated in Room 3130 of Patrick F. Taylor Hall, the two CAT® simulators teach students about construction equipment, allowing them to see what being a project manager entails.
“Equipment is a big factor for a construction project in terms of project cost and schedule,” said Wang, holder of the Eddie Rispone Professorship in Construction Management. “In my CM 2113 Construction Equipment class, I’m teaching the future project managers to learn how to estimate hourly equipment cost and production rate. Now, with the help of the CAT® simulators, students can learn in a 3D virtual environment and better understand the factors that will affect the equipment productivity.”
Each CAT® simulator consists of three 43-inch Smart TV monitors; a frame and controls needed to operate the simulator; a computer, mouse, and keyboard; software that supports four languages (English, Spanish, French and Chinese); and a motion system that allows users to feel vibration and movement when the simulated machine is running during training exercises.
“The motion system makes you feel that you are really excavating a trench,” Wang said.
The excavator creates a virtual world where operators can choose different exercises such as Setting a Trench Box & Pipe, Trenching, Bucket Placement, Truck Loading, Bench Loading, Backfilling, Completing a Production Cycle, and more.
“The CAT® simulator has a walk-around inspection function embedded,” Wang said. “With this function, our students can visually learn the various parts of a crawler undercarriage, such as links, pins, sprockets, shoes and more. This function can also generate quizzes to let students answer whether the part is in good condition or not. From a manager’s perspective, students will better understand that well-maintained equipment minimizes repair and downtime costs and will eventually reduce the total project cost.
“For a training operator, they have a grading system you have to pass to be certified. But for the students here who are going to be future project managers, they don’t necessarily have to know how to operate this equipment. But (they) do need to know what kind of equipment to choose based on a project and its cost and schedule. They’re more like decision-makers.”
“The educational intent is to have students analyze with the different facets of productivity, cost estimating, maintenance schedules, and safety protocols through various equipment simulations,” said Charles Berryman, chair of the Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management. “The bonus to this is that the students have the opportunity to learn the complexities of operating large pieces of equipment through operational simulations.”
There are many factors to consider when managing a construction project that requires large equipment.
“Different material can alter the performance—hard clay, sand, gravel or rock,” Wang said. “With the simulator, they have a better understanding on the bucket-fill factor by visualizing how much material can be loaded in one bucket. In class, I also teach them the concept of cycle time and downtime cost. For example, in the excavating/loading activity, one excavator works with a fleet of trucks. I ask them to calculate how many trucks work best with one excavator based on the cycle time. If you have too few trucks, the excavator operator will be sitting there waiting for trucks to come back. If you have too many, you will then have trucks waiting in line to be loaded. As a project manager, you want to have your downtime cost to be minimum.”
On top of the learning aspect, the simulators also save a lot of money for the industry.
“Through practicing on a simulator, the operator trainees can get familiar with the controls before they operate a real machine to avoid unnecessary damage to equipment, minimizing maintenance costs,” Wang said.
The idea for the simulators, which were purchased through funding from the Construction Industry Advisory Council (CIAC), came when Wang started taking his students on field trips to Louisiana CAT® in Reserve, La., in 2015.
“Every semester, I take students to Louisiana CAT® where they have a chance to operate the simulator, then go to a real machine and operate on their training yard,” he said. “That’s when we first started talking about a simulator for LSU.”
“This was envisioned by Performance Contractors, Inc. and the CIAC,” Berryman said. “It will have a second function for the industry. There are construction firms that have large-equipment training programs but the training has limited hands-on training. These simulators now allow industry to provide long-term practice of real-world scenarios in a protective and safe environment. These equipment simulators are a great way to bring together education, research and training to a wide variety of stakeholders. Much thanks go to industry for moving the CM department towards this type of technology.”
By the fall of 2018, CM expects to have at least two more simulators ready for the start of classes, with a total of eight by year’s end.
“We will have a crawler crane, tower crane and front-end loaders,” Wang said.
Wang is currently researching how the equipment simulator helps with the utilization of a real machine from a behavioral perspective by monitoring the operator’s brainwaves and motions during use. He is also developing a wearable training assistance system that will make use of the simulator more efficient and effective, improving operation productivity and preventing potential safety risks.
Wang will spend his summer figuring out how to incorporate the simulators into his course as a final project, though one might not call it work.
“We can also use it as a recruiting tool to attract more high school students who are interested in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math],” Wang said. “I think they will love it.”
Contact: Libby Haydel