The first training candidates have successfully passed the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) PAL+ advanced MEWP operator course in a virtual reality (VR) environment using MEWP simulators.
Paul Roddis, IPAF’s Training Manager, says: “PAL+ is an advanced MEWP operator training course for people that will work in higher-risk environments. In the same way as most of us pass a standard driving test to drive a car for commuting or leisure, some professional roles such as the emergency services, bus or haulage drivers require extra training to reduce the risk from the more challenging driving they undertake.
“This concept applies equally to MEWPs and PAL+ is the ideal solution for employers that want to reduce risk to their teams when they are working in complex areas such as factories, steel erection, inside power stations, processing plants or with net rigging.”
Following extensive development work and fine-tuning involving IPAF staff and member firms, IPAF has launched controlled trials involving some of its training members to deliver PAL+ training testing candidates using sophisticated MEWP simulators instead of real machines.
The other elements of the PAL+ course, notably the theory module of the course and the pre-use inspection, are conducted as usual at an approved IPAF Training Centre, and the first batch of candidates has now successfully completed their PAL+ training at member firm AFI-Uplift’s Training Centre in Rothwell near Leeds, W Yorks, using simulators instead of real MEWPs for the assessment portion.
Paul Roddis, who was present to witness the first candidates tested using a simulator, adds: “There has been a huge amount of hard work put into making these assessment scenarios as lifelike in the VR environment as possible; the next step was to prove the technology using real training candidates under genuine assessment conditions.
“This requires support and input from our Training Centre members to find out how best the VR technology can help them deliver IPAF courses most efficiently, and we are grateful to some of our leading Training Centres in the UK and North America for engaging with these live trials using real candidates leading to certificates being issued to those who successfully pass the assessment.
“We have worked with the developers of the simulator technology over many months perfecting the detail and quality of the VR environment, testing extensively at events including Vertikal Days, bauma and IPAF Innovate in the US, working out the fine details, gathering feedback and calibrating the simulators for use at IPAF Training Centres. I am pleased to say this hard work has paid off and IPAF now has its first official PAL+ advanced MEWP operators certified via simulators.”
Giles Councell, IPAF’s Director of Operations, adds: “Working with some of our training provider members in both Europe and the US, IPAF will now continue these proving trials testing genuine PAL+ training candidates in the way we would normally. As with the first batch of candidates, if they pass their assessment using a VR simulator rather than a real MEWP, they will be issued with their certification to PAL+ as usual, so these are not ‘dummy runs’.
“We are now looking to fully develop the IPAF PAL+ course into eLearning and VR by developing a digital version of the theory module and simulated pre-use inspection. It’s an exciting project that requires a lot of work and will make 2020 a very exciting year.”
IPAF’s PAL+ operator training was developed in response to increasing demand from contractors for a recognised qualification demonstrating advanced operator proficiency and signifying a certain level of experience in using different types of MEWPs in a variety of challenging environments and scenarios.
Currently not all IPAF approved Training Centres offer PAL+ training, in part owing to the significant investment required to purchase specific types of MEWP equipment and the need for a large and secure training area containing structures around and through which the candidates must operate during their assessment.
Moving the PAL+ course into the VR environment will open up IPAF’s advanced operator training as a viable option to more approved Training Centres, and in turn make it more convient for training candidates, who will need to spend less time away from the worksite to successfully complete the assessment.
IPAF continues to work closely with members and those developing VR systems to assist the industry in recognising new opportunities to apply and adopt new technology in training, safety awareness and equipment familiarisation, and to enhance the safe and effective use of powered access worldwide.
The IPAF Training Centres in the UK offering PAL+ courses using VR simulator assessments are: A Plant/Plantfinder, Kilmarnock; AFI Uplift, Leeds; Nationwide Platforms, Warrington and Luton; and Riwal, Hemel Hempstead.