Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Forklift Operator Training

Wisconsin Lift Truck and Illinois Material Handling partner with Really-Virtual Consulting to increase safety in forklift training
By Steve Guglielmo

As material handling companies find it increasingly difficult to find experienced industry talent, many have had to look outside the industry fill open positions. Those new to the industry, especially those who have never operated potentially dangerous equipment like a forklift before, require extra training and attention. That training requires time with the trainer, equipment to be taken off the floor and used for training and an area of the warehouse cordoned off to be used for training scenarios. It can be a long and costly process but a necessary one to ensure that these new trainees are operating machines in a way that is safe.

The Wolter Group LLC is always looking to stay on the leading edge of technology within the industry.

“Technology is constantly improving and coming out very quickly,” says Tony Parsons, Operator Training Manager of Wolter Group LLC. “We are always looking for ways to implement new technology.”

With that in mind, The Wolter Group approached Reality-Virtual Consulting, LLC, RVC, about its Virtual Reality Simulators for purchase or rent. The idea was to incorporate these simulators into customer training curriculums.

“There are two different models,” says Tony. “There is a full simulator unit and a portable desktop model. The desktop model is hooked up to a computer with goggles, a steering wheel and pedal and then an actual hydraulic lever that represent the forklift. Then you sit in an office chair at a desk and train on a forklift in virtual reality.”

Companies have the flexibility to purchase or rent either model by day, week, month or even on a long-term basis.

“The goal of the technology is to minimize the time that you have an inexperienced driver to get them to a level where they’re safely operating a forklift in the actual environment for the customer to be profitable and safe,” says Parsons. “Instead of having a full training class with somebody like myself doing three hours of lecture and then going out and teaching a person how to drive, it’s a computer-based training but it’s reactive and interactive. You’re wearing the goggles and it’s explaining what a forklift does and you’re recreating what a forklift should be doing without the need for direct supervision.”

One of the most beneficial aspects of the simulator is the printed our reports that measure everything the trainee did during the simulation.

“It’s useful for everybody from a brand new operator to an experienced driver who might have some bad habits,” he says. “To give an example, it actually tracks head movement. So when you go to back up, if you don’t look over both of your shoulders and hit the horn, it throws a code for that. Many experienced drivers might think they’re doing everything perfectly when in reality they might have things they can improve on. And they aren’t up for interpretation. The computer shows you the areas to improve.”

The virtual environment is much safer than the traditional training as well.

“Our customers find it most important to be able to educate forklift operators while in a hazard-free environment, and allow as much practice as needed before getting behind the wheel of the real thing. Not only is it a safer solution, virtual reality forklift training is multi-sensory… proving to increase retention while minimizing the time required to train,” says Parsons. “The racking within the program is reactive as well. You can tip racking over and bump it. Currently it records G Force, but RVC is looking to translate that into an actual dollar amount of damage you would have caused.”

And those safety considerations go beyond the operator and the equipment. Many companies have begun to train their floor employees who aren’t forklift operators on the simulator to give them a greater appreciation of the hazards operators face on the floor.

“If you have 500 employees on the floor and 50 of them are forklift operators, the other 450 are pedestrians,” says Parsons. “It’s difficult to train those 450 employees what the operator is going through. So a company might put the average line worker on the simulator to show them what it’s like to be a forklift driver. Show them the risks, blind spots and hazards that person deals with without the risk to themselves or coworkers.”

The program is highly customizable, with scenarios, tutorials and different warehouse environments preprogrammed an option to upload your own courses to the software.

“The biggest selling point to me is the ability to increase your safety with minimal risk to coworkers and not having to use up your equipment and space to try to make a safe training environment out on the actual floor,” says Parsons. “We’re excited to be able to provide the latest technology and solutions to ensure customer’s continued safe material handling operation.”