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Low-Cost, High-Skill Portable Simulators Can Help Workforce Shortage

Let’s face it – with over 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs going unfilled because applicants lack the required skills, we have an urgent and critical need for manufacturing training. Companies and community colleges are desperately trying to fill this skills gap, and portable simulators, also called trainers, may provide the edge that they need to be successful. Portable simulators are rapidly gaining popularity in educational and industrial training facilities because they require less space than full-size simulators and consequently, come at a significantly lower price.

 Companies find it difficult to carve out additional training space from their already overcrowded manufacturing areas and community colleges are likewise struggling with their own space issues. This results in instructors trying to train more people in less space which is very difficult to accomplish. Here, portable simulators shine; by design, they are smaller and require less room than full size simulators. A portable simulator typically fits inside a suitcase and is easily transported in the trunk or the backseat of a car, whereas a full size simulator may range in size from three times that size to as large as a pickup truck.

Yet, even though portable simulators are smaller, the amount and quality of training they provide is not diminished. Well-designed portable simulators are not simply stripped down versions of their larger counterparts – they are designed to mirror the same skills, just in a smaller footprint. Not only can instructors fit more of these smaller simulators in their available training areas, but the simulator’s portability allows instructors to take advantage of non-traditional training areas. Conference rooms, workstations on the plant floor, and even empty cubicles become training space when utilizing these portable systems. Many instructors rotate different portable simulators in and out of their training areas daily, allowing them to teach multiple technologies such as PLCs, electrical systems, pneumatics, and motor control. This is unheard of with full size simulators! The ability to quickly retask a training area and expand training into new areas allows instructors to maximize their training capacity.

Organizations with multiple facilities are taking advantage of simulators’ portability by transporting these systems to other locations as needed. Sharing full size training equipment is both expensive and inconvenient. Regular transportation of expensive full size trainers requires a large, enclosed trailer with a commercially licensed driver, large truck and trailer, insurance, upkeep, etc. Portable simulators remove these burdens. A training instructor can easily transport portable simulators in any vehicle to take to another facility. Not only are organizations maximizing their training equipment investment, but they are also decreasing training cost and inconvenience. Technical skill training can easily be delivered at the employees’ location rather than having employees take valuable work time to travel.

Learn More About Amatrol’s Portable Learning Systems

Acquiring and staying sharp on technical skills requires hands-on practice, both for consistency and safety reasons. Many organizations require their workforce to undergo hands-on skill assessments every two years with additional training and practice for any deficient areas. While this ensures adherence to approved standardized practices and refreshes safety skills, it comes at a significant cost to employers in missed production. By using portable simulators, an instructor can quickly set up an assessment station and have employees periodically demonstrate their skills. This allows an employee to “test out” of any further training quickly, reducing an employee’s time away from production. It also allows instructors to set up targeted training for specific problem areas instead of retaking an entire course. For example, a technician can be placed in front of a portable PLC troubleshooting simulator and asked to identify and resolve various faults that have been inserted. The instructor can observe the technician’s methods and speed as well as ask questions to ascertain their understanding of the procedure. They can then set up targeted training as needed to improve specific areas.

What about cost? Even though portable simulators transfer the same skills to learners as the full size versions, portable simulators are actually significantly less expensive, often by as much as 50%. There are several reasons for this, but the most obvious is that the smaller components necessary to fit the simulator’s “portable” requirement cost less, thereby reducing the overall price of the system. Not only does this reduce an organization’s “cost per student” for budget justifications, but depending on available funds, instructors may be able to purchase additional simulators to expand their training offerings.

You may be thinking, “With all the advantages of portable simulators, why would you ever purchase full size training equipment?” The main reason is simple – not all training simulators are available in a portable platform. Due to their popularity, more full size simulators are being redesigned into portable versions. Unfortunately, not all areas of technical expertise lend themselves for configuration into a portable size. For instance, rigging, central lubrication, utility scale wind turbines, and others require items that are not available in a small, portable size. Another reason lies in the training preference of using a standard industrial component exactly like those used on the plant floor for skill practice. Portable simulators teach the same industrial skills but sometimes with components that are not industrial in size.

Portable simulators are becoming increasingly prevalent in community colleges, industrial training centers, and high schools as instructors learn about their advantages. For example, Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana is preparing learners for work in the oil and gas industry using portable AC/DC electrical and pneumatics simulators as part of their training. Companies such as Freeport-McMoRan Mining use portable simulators to teach topics that include Allen Bradley and Siemens PLC troubleshooting, electric relay control, pneumatics, and sensors. Even high schools, such as Union County High School in Morganfield, Kentucky, use portable simulators to teach basic electricity.

Lower cost, highly flexible portable simulators can be a great asset in reducing the workforce shortage in manufacturing today.

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