3D simulator targets need for improved forklift training

Apr 17, 2013

Every year in the United States forklift-related accidents kill around 85 people and injure nearly 20,000 more, those numbers have created demand for better training techniques, including a new 3D simulator developed in upstate New York.

Buffalo Area Director of Occupational Safety and Health Administration Art Dube says there have been several forklift-related deaths in Western New York. The most recent was back in February when a Buffalo man was crushed to death at a janitorial services company.

“When a forklift tips over if the operator is not connected to a seat belt and a seat belt is not connected and wrapped around them they fly out of the cab and what happens is the operator falls out just far enough where the forklift tilts on to them and hits them in their midsection and implodes all of their organs,” said Dube.

“If we find a serious hazard we must apply a penalty to it, a fine,” said Dube. “It’s determined by the severity of it, the probability of it.”

New York State legislation indicates that if there’s a forklift on a worksite everyone must be certified to use it and have to do refresher training every three years. Dube said if a company hires a new employee who’s already certified, they should still be retested. Marc Colluci of Buffalo Materials Handling trains people how to properly use forklifts.

“One of the first things that I’ll do is I will walk through the facility with the person in charge, take a look at his facility, observe an obstructions, any kind of hazards, anything I need to make note of during the class. The class consists of a video and we go through that video and anything that I may see in the facility that could relate to the safe operations of lift trucks I’ll bring that into the classroom and we’ll discuss their facility and things to look for,” Colluci said.

But does classroom training really work? University at Buffalo Professor and Co-founder of Tactus technologies Kesh Kesavedas and his colleagues don’t think so. Five years ago they set out to create a 3D forklift trainer to cut down training time, replacing the video and book portion.

“What we are saying is that watching video is not hands on and something that is sophisticated as a forklift, which has a danger of hitting people should be taught in a more hands on way, and that’s what this does,” said Kesavedas.

The program looks like a video game, but once the driver sits down and grabs the steering wheel they realize it’s no game. The 3D forklift trainer is designed to be OSHA-compliant, filled with obstacles, and tailored to replicate the factory the operator will actually be working in. Chief Scientist at Tactus technologies Youngseok Kim said it also monitors the driver, testing their awareness of their surroundings. 

“The aim of these applications is pretty serious. At the end of this application or training we hope that they will be more appreciative of the seriousness of this virtual environment and actual situations,” said Kim.

Tactus Chief Scientist Youngseok Kim using the 3D Forklift Simulator

Marc Colluci said the simulator sounds good, but nothing can replace real hours logged on a forklift. The Food Bank of Western New York’s Interim Warehouse Manager Jeffrey Williams agrees. They have their trucks professionally maintained every day, but believes most forklift accidents could be avoided if people just take to proper precautions.

“Because we are big on volunteer based community service, and people want to help we do have a lot of guests at our facility and our guys are very mindful knowing that on a typical 8 to 4 day you never know whose coming around that corner,” said Williams.

Kesh Kesavedas said Tactus is aiming to make the 3D forklift trainer available at a relatively low cost, producing the units in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst. He says many businesses across the country have already purchased their own simulator, including the Cummins engine plant in Jamestown.