In November 2013, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation provided NORCAT with $1 million to help purchase the simulator.
Jason Bubba, NORCAT's director of training and development, said the simulator provides the closest experience to actually operating the equipment in an underground mine.
“The technology has essentially grown to the point where it's very realistic and very effective,” he said.
The simulator is in a moveable trailer, and includes a computer for the trainer, and interchangeable controls that replicate a number of machines.
The controls sit atop a metal platform that moves as a machine would in a mine thanks to three electric motors, much like a theme park ride.
The recreated cab is surrounded by high definition screens that show the operator a graphical representation of his machine from a first-person perspective, like a modern video game.
After a training session, the supervisor can collect pages of data and graphs on the operators every move and how they performed.
Even things that would not be easy to notice in person, such as how heavy-footed a driver is on their brakes, can be analyzed in perfect detail.
Bubba said the simulator allows the operators to get comfortable with a piece of equipment before they even set foot in a mine.
“It's very expensive to train people underground,” he said.
Underground training takes equipment away from production, and can inflict extra wear and tear from inexperienced operators.
Once they've mastered the machinery in the simulator, they can graduate to NORCAT's underground training facility in Onaping Falls.
Bubba added the ThoroughTec simulator can recreate situations that would be too dangerous to attempt with real equipment.
A trainee can learn how to react when their brakes fail, for example, or how to put out a fire underground.
Tom White, NORCAT's manager of simulation training, said he typically trains four operators at a time over a four-day period.
In that time each person gets about seven hours of hands-on simulation experience with their respective piece of equipment.
By the end of the training program he typically sees a big performance improvements from each operator, he said.
Simulation training has long been an accepted practice in aviation, medicine and the military. While it is newer in mining, White is no stranger to the technology.
Before joining NORCAT he was the simulation trainer for Sandvik.
He has worked with simulators from South Africa-based ThoroughTec before, but said NORCAT's CYBERMINE4 simulator has all the latest bells and whistles.
Sudbury's major mining companies have already reserved time with the simulator over the next few years.
NORCAT plans to start touring the simulator to mine sites across Northern Ontario in 2015.