Virtual reality (VR) is not a new technology in the mining industry, but its use cases have changed significantly in the past decade. Here are some of the ways miners are using VR in 2024.

It’s never fun to think about what can go wrong, but it’s important to be prepared — and that’s where VR comes in. By simulating scenarios that miners will hopefully never encounter, like gas leaks or cave-ins, VR helps them play out different emergency responses and evacuation procedures. This gives workers the kind of in-depth knowledge that can’t be gleaned from reading and watching videos about these types of situations without risking their safety.

VR also enables mining professionals to learn how to navigate specific, non-emergency scenarios effectively. This includes different geological features and a variety of surprises that can appear at new sites — such as fault lines, water pockets or even falling rocks. The customizable programs now offered by VR companies make it possible to practice the skills and approaches necessary to navigate these complex scenarios, like adjusting drilling techniques for different rock types and conditions.

VR helps prevent workers who are not familiar with machinery from becoming injured, and it also prevents high-dollar equipment from being taken out of commission due to user error. By stepping into the virtual drivers’ seats of excavators, drill rigs, loaders, dump trucks and other common mining machines, miners can get a handle on maneuvering and controlling the vehicles. This is not only helpful for newcomers to the industry — but as mining equipment evolves, it’s also useful for seasoned pros who need to get comfortable with the latest machines.

New hires can get a feel for what’s expected of them on a job site and gain key skills faster, because they’re learning by doing instead of observing. The same goes for mining operators, managers and teams trying to improve efficiency and safety — by refreshing their knowledge of safety best practices and emergency scenarios, or trying out different strategies in the virtual world, mining professionals of all experience levels can improve their operations.

With VR, mining companies can train employees on the nuances of multiple sites simultaneously, without the time and costs required for travel. As mentioned earlier, miners can also train on equipment without having to pull it out of the production process, which costs companies money. Even soft skills, like those required for effective leadership, can be cultivated through VR programs in a cost-effective way.

Employees seem to like VR, too — a PWC study found that managers trained with the technology were 275% more confident in acting on what they learned, a 40% improvement over classroom learning and 35% improvement over e-learning. Having effective (and less expensive) skill-building options makes it easier for mining companies to provide the paths for career growth that lead to higher employee retention and satisfaction. This is especially important now, as the future of the industry’s workforce remains unclear. Increased retention/lower turnover also saves companies money, so it’s a win all around.

Not only are companies using VR to provide training, but they’re also leveraging it to find out what training is needed by which employees. VR systems can track users’ movements and decisions, provide detailed analysis of their performance, give feedback in some scenarios and even gamify the learning process — which leads to better engagement and retention of information than traditional training methods.

Wondering how current VR technology can improve your mining operation? Take the latest programs and products for a test run on the MINExpo INTERNATIONAL show floor. The world’s largest mining event brings 1,500+ top manufacturers and suppliers from around the globe to Las Vegas, Sept. 24-26. More information about what (and who) you’ll see is available at minexpo.com.

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