Crane Simulator Overview

There are many different crane simulators available today from several different vendors.  The software covers cranes for industries ranging from ports to construction as well as offshore and industrial applications.  Training on a simulator provides the greatest benefit where the real equipment is:

  • Complex
  • Dangerous to operate
  • Expensive to operate
  • Not available for training

Using crane simulators can significantly reduce accidents, reduce the training time in real equipment and reduce the total training time.  When evaluating crane simulators, the user must consider the software realism and hardware platforms.  Integrated with the software, the hardware options range from desktop units to full cabin systems with motion.  The most expensive crane simulators provide the most training value but not all customers have the space or the money for a high-end system.  The return on investment (ROI) of a crane simulator is a balance between budgets and the training needs.

Crane Simulator Software

Graphics – Most professional simulators have sufficient graphics quality to provide training value.  It is more important that the images update without flickering or hesitation.  Image quality and resolution help the feeling of realism but must be balanced with the computer’s ability to refresh or update fast enough.  The computer’s graphics card should provide an update rate of 60 times per second for screens and 90 times per second for virtual reality headsets.

Physics – Simulators must behave in the same way as real equipment – including accidents and equipment malfunctions. It doesn’t matter how good the graphics are, if the load doesn’t swing properly on the end of the cable, the training value will be limited.  Cargo must stop or bounce when colliding with other objects.  The loads should cast shadows to aid in realism and depth perception. However, video games with explosions, flames and blood are for entertainment. Because crane simulators are for training, they might not be as exciting.

Instructor tools – One of the most important components of a professional crane simulator is the instructor station. At a minimum, the crane simulator should have a practice exercise or a curriculum.   Options may include the ability to change the weather and time of day.  In addition, a student database can record the operator’s performance on each exercise.  The best systems include the ability to create and modify exercises.

Crane Simulator Hardware

Displays – Each visual channel contains either a flat panel display or a projector or a VR headset. Also, each visual channel requires a computer to calculate the images displayed. The number of visual channels can range from one to over 10.  However, the number of displays is not as important as the Field of View (FOV).  A larger field of view provides better realism. One large display can have a larger field of view than multiple small displays depending on how close the display is to the operator.

Controls – Low-level simulators have simple and generic controls sets. Substituting video game joysticks and touch panels instead of industrial joysticks and real controls can save money but they are not as realistic.  High-level simulators have controls that look and behave like real crane controls. Custom simulators can be made with the same expensive ergonomic seats and the same controls as the end user’s crane.

Field of View

Crane Simulator Full Mission 3DOF Motion Base

Motion Systems

One of the factors that most contribute to the feeling of realism is a motion system. Motion can occur in different directions. Flight simulators need to have six degrees of freedom (6 DOF) – roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway, and heave. But it is important to understand that not all crane simulators need this kind of movement.  Most cranes only need 3 DOF. It makes no sense to pay for 6 DOF if you don’t need it.  Some systems provide seat vibrators or even 3 DOF shakers. But the axes of movement are not the same as the real equipment.  The best motion systems move the entire cabin just like the real crane.  For training purposes, having no motion is better than having bad motion.

Virtual Reality Headset Option

One of the exiting developments in crane training simulation is the advancement in Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) technology.  VR crane simulation has both advantages and disadvantages. The primary advantage of VR crane simulators with a head set is the unlimited field of view (FOV). On the other hand, good VR performance is more demanding on the computers than traditional displays.

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