In the first of three articles looking at technology in mining, Alison Birrane talks to some WA’s companies at the forefront of their field.
THE story of a technology company beginning life in someone’s garage is a familiar one.
Immersive Technologies, a Perth-based developer of simulator technology for heavy equipment used in mining, is another of those stories.
The brainchild of brothers Peter and Wayde Salfinger, the company began producing computer-based training (CBT) for the mining industry in 1993 with the help of content experts.
Realising there was a step missing for many operators of heavy machinery – that being between CBT and heavy equipment training – the brothers embarked on an ambitious plan to develop simulators for heavy equipment.
By 1997 the company had produced their first simulator product, a commercial Dump Truck Simulator for the mining industry, which was then purchased by Caterpillar in 1998.
The simulators produced by Immersive are now a training staple for many of the resource industry’s largest names, including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Albian Oil Sands, De Beers and many of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers. The company also recently negotiated sales to Kalgoorlie Consolidation and Argyle Diamonds.
With 64 staff currently employed, Immersive Technologies CEO Peter Salfinger said the company was looking to employ a further 10 before the end of the year and hoped to grow staff numbers to 200 in the next five years.
Mr Salfinger said the product had been sold in 10 countries – Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, India, Chile, Peru, the US and Canada.
He said Immersive Technologies opened an office in the US at the beginning of last year and a Canadian office earlier this year.
Mr Salfinger said there were cost savings to be made for companies who use the simulators.
In addition to the costs associated with burning fuel and the potential wear and tear on machinery, there is also a risk of injury to an inexperienced operator, Mr Salfinger said.
He said the simulators could significantly reduce training times, while increasing the level and efficiency of the training.
“We realised there needed to be something in between CBT and putting a trainee into a large piece of machinery,” Mr Salfinger said.
He said Immersive Technologies point of difference was its relative maturity in the market compared with competitors.
Partnerships with manufacturers also were important.
“We definitely have the most developed product available, which is helped by the manufacturers we are in partnerships with,” Mr Salfinger said.
Immersive worked directly with major mining equipment manufacturers to produce the Advanced Equipment Simulators (AES), Mr Salfinger said, which accurately replicated more than 55 different manufacturer specific machine models.
Already available for dump trucks, hydraulic excavators, front-end loaders, shovels and dozers, Mr Salifinger said there were plans to increase the product line.
The simulator has inter-changeable machine controls called ‘conversion kits’ that allow it to replicate the controls of different machines, with training staff able to swap from one machine to another in minutes using these clip on/off machine controls.
The operator is then able to sit in a cabin with real functional controls and displays.
The simulator is designed to train heavy equipment operators in a range of real life and emergency situations in various environmental conditions.