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Video games train miners in Peru

Giant video games with throaty diesel engines powering monster-sized earth movers, excavators and dump trucks have hardened miners at a metals conference this week in Peru giggling like children.
/ Source: Reuters

Giant video games with throaty diesel engines powering monster-sized earth movers, excavators and dump trucks have hardened miners at a metals conference this week in Peru giggling like children.

Far more than just a gimmick to attract customers to the Caterpillar Inc. stand, the video games are actually simulators designed to help teach people to use massive, multimillion-dollar heavy mining equipment.

They are a service being offered by Caterpillar, the world's No. 1 heavy equipment producer, in Peru for the first time and reflect the booming fortunes of the nation's mining industry.

Peru is the world's largest silver producer and fifth-largest gold miner. It is also the world's third-largest producer of copper, zinc and tin, and fourth-largest producer of lead and molybdenum.

"We're selling the training, not just the trucks," said Pedro Lopez, of Caterpillar's Peruvian affiliate Ferreyros.

Caterpillar says the simulators allow companies to train people without having to take costly equipment out of service, or risk expensive accidents.

Dump trucks of 180 tones sell for around $2.5 million and excavators in the mining industry can cost up to $20 million.

The simulators at the 28th biannual mining conference in Peru's colonial city of Arequipa are modeled after similar ones used to train airplane pilots.

Players struggle at first to use a blinking and buzzing mix of pedals, levers and buttons to motor around huge plasma screens.

One test has players pick up dirt with an excavator and deposit it in a dump truck.

In Arequipa this week, some adults behaved like kids.

"Go to the left a little. Now forward!" one enthusiastic bystander told a player.

"I thought it was hard to pick up the sand at first because I didn't know how to use the controls to put it in the dump truck," said Shirley Mandros, a saleswoman from one of the hundreds of other stands at the multinational convention.

The simulators require drivers to pass through timed obstacle courses in simulated mining pits, being careful to avoid wrecking multimillion-dollar rigs and causing the games to crash.

The driver's cabin in the dump truck bounces over the rough road of mines and some players enjoyed backing the truck up to a ravine and pulling a lever to dump the dirt load.

With skilled equipment operators in short supply, the simulators could also help fill a hole as new mines come into operation.

"There are some real shortages of people in the mining industry right now, so anything involving training is useful," said John Capehart of Automated Positioning Systems, which makes sensors that help show excavators where to dig.