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Use of virtual reality simulators in advanced MEWP training gets green light from IPAF

man using a virtual simulator with the IPAF PAL+ training course

The use of virtual reality (VR) simulators as part of the assessment process of advanced operator training courses has been approved by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) Council.  

Approved training centres delivering IPAF's PAL+ advanced Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP) operator course now have the option of assessing candidates in a VR environment as an alternative to the standard assessment using real MEWPs and a specially constructed superstructure to operate around.

The PAL+ course is aimed at trained operators who work in higher risk or challenging environments, e.g. steelwork, work in confined overhead spaces, or work on challenging terrain. IPAF PAL+ is only open to existing valid Powered Access Licence (PAL) Card-holders and demonstrates a higher level of proficiency and dexterity in carrying out complex manoeuvres, as often required of contractors in advanced construction, manufacturing, engineering or processing applications. 

Paul Roddis, IPAF's Training Manager, says: "Our trials showed that VR simulators are well suited for testing control, observation and decision-making required for conducting various advanced-level operations and working intensively with the precision required in applications such as manufacturing, complex construction projects and the like. There's 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. Our instructors can be confident that candidates using simulators will have a good deal of prior time using real machines, and the VR assessment has been rigorously tested to ensure it transposes precisely the experience of operating a real MEWP." 

Previously, the PAL+ course was conducted at training centers with difficulty due to the complexity of the course. Complications ranged from the size of the space needed, weather conditions, and time needed to conduct the course.

"It is generally difficult for a training center to offer the PAL+ course. It's expensive, time consuming, hard to put together, and usually not very representative of the spaces you're trying to put the machinery into, like typical spaces on construction sites, oil refineries or other locations," said Darren Verschuren, International Account Director of Serious Labs. "The simulated world is a great place to do that, because you can create an environment that more closely matches reality, that doesn't require any physical preparation by a training center, and which doesn't have any effect to the operator from a safety perspective."

"Now, not only has the training been simulated negating all of those issues, but it's also mobile, so you can take the training to client sites. It truly becomes a trainer's tool for efficiency, safety and proficiency," said Verschuren.

The virtual training also provides the ability to stagger training and allow control of the environment's sanitary conditions, a necessity during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Douglas, IPAF CEO & MD, adds: "Following extensive development work and fine-tuning involving IPAF staff and member firms in Europe and North America, IPAF has now completed controlled trials involving some of its training members delivering PAL+ training, testing candidates using MEWP simulators instead of real machines. 

The results have been considered and validated by the IPAF Council, which has now resolved that those Training Centres wishing to use VR simulators instead of real MEWPs to assess IPAF PAL+ trainees may do so, with all other elements of the course such as demonstrating how to inspect machines and operating scissor lifts from outside the platform using remote controls also now translated into the simulator. Candidates passing the IPAF PAL+ training using a VR simulator will be awarded their certificate and upgraded PAL Card as normal, and the certification will not differ in any way to those who have been trained and assessed using real machines."

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