Crane simulator takes training to new levels

To enjoy a career as a crane operative takes extensive training and logging hundreds of hours of hands-on practice.

But training on such expensive equipment and in a safety-critical environment like the Hinkley Point C project can be challenging. 

This is why the team at Bylor has a crane simulator to train the next generation of crane operatives.

Installed in November 2020 at the Civils Training Centre on site, the simulator is an important part of Bylor’s training and competency assessment plan for lifting team members at Hinkley Point C. 

It’s also an important part of our commitment to zero harm when it comes to health and safety on site. It means people can be tested in real-life scenarios without the hazards involved in live situations.

Mark Holmes, Bylor Simulator Trainer and Crane Operative, said: “All the operatives that are new to our site have to come through here to prove their competency, and our existing operatives perform the same tests too. People need 300 hours’ practice in the machines to complete their qualification and they can use the simulator when the weather makes it impossible to use the real tower cranes.”

Other workers who support the crane drivers, such as slinger signallers and crane supervisors, are also being put through realistic scenarios and tested to the limits – all from the safety of the simulator driving seat, using controls that are exactly the same as the real thing.

The slingers get a better, all-round view of the job from both sides, and anyone who feels they might like to train as a crane operative can try it out on the simulator before making the investment to qualify.

Mark added: “This is a valuable resource that’s proved its worth and is also upskilling our crane operatives and lifting team members – many of whom are local people – as well as allowing others to see if it’s a career for them.” 

The simulator is an incredibly helpful and serious training tool, and by treating the simulator with the same respect as a real crane, everyone on site gets the maximum benefit from the equipment.

Tried and tested

Thomas Keirle, Bylor Lifiting Technician Apprentice, joined the team in January 2019. The former supermarket manager from Bridgwater was put through his paces in the simulator before getting into a real crane.

“It gave me a really good feel for the movement of a crane when it’s operational or how it bends when picking up a load. The seat moves, rocking back and forth and side to side.

“The simulator gives you a good understanding of how to move the crane, how fast things are, and how much pressure to apply on the controls. 

“It also allows you to experience high winds, and understand how rain and fog reduce visibility in safety without being in a real crane, where there would be real people below you.

“I’m really pleased to have had the opportunity of an apprenticeship with the project and step out of my comfort zone. It’s great, as anyone can try the simulator and get a feel for the job before committing to changing career and gaining new skills.”

John Russett, Bylor Tower Crane Operative, joined the team at Hinkley Point C in May. He’s been fully qualified for 13 years but was put through rigorous testing in the simulator before starting work.

“A project like this has more than one type of crane and they need to know you can do everything you say you can. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like it. It’s incredibly realistic and I had a number of ‘problems’ thrown at me to put me through my paces.

“I was given high winds, a snow blizzard and a dropped piece of equipment to deal with. It was challenging! But it’s a really valuable experience and a great way to try out driving a crane without risk.”

Stacking up the big numbers

  • 300 hours’ practice required to train as a crane operative for a qualification
  • More than 60 people trained since launch in November 2020
  • There are 50 cranes on site at Hinkley Point C at present
  • At the peak of the project there will be 80 cranes in use at the same time
  • Tower cranes range from 18-70 metres tall
  • Big Carl, the SGC-250, the world's largest land-based crane, has a maximum radius of operation of 165 metres and is designed to lift up to 5000 tonnes. 

It’s like a two player video game with the crane operative and the slinger on the ground guiding the load. The controls look a lot like you get on the Xbox for the signaller and there are control levers, exactly the same as found in a real crane, for the crane operative.

“It’s a training method that is particularly appealing to the ‘PlayStation generation’, as they can put to great use some of the skills they’ve perfected playing games in the virtual world and online. Some of them even have their own driving simulators set-up at home so hand-eye co-ordination is really sharp.

Mark Holmes, Bylor Simulator Trainer and Crane Operative