A new forklift simulator, complete with virtual reality goggles and a two-sided screen, allows for those in forklift training aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany to see what they would see – and perform the same maneuvers – as if they were on a real forklift.
Now in a dedicated space in the base’s Garrison Mobile Equipment branch, it provides a way to train forklift drivers with an added layer of safety.
“It reduces accidents and eases their fears,” Kitras Thomas, training instructor and licensing officer, GME, MCLB Albany, said. “(Installation Safety Manager) Merrill (Dickinson) always did an audit on this program and saw that this being a Voluntary Protection Program site, we would benefit.”
MCLB Albany was designated a VPP Star Site in 2015 as part of an effort to further enhance the base’s commitment to safety.
Dickinson was instrumental in securing the $35,000 in funding for the simulator. He said installation officials learned of it during a visit to Trident Refit Facility in Kings Bay, Georgia in November 2019 while helping TRF prepare for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration VPP evaluation.
Dickinson and another safety professional visiting the TRF saw the simulator and observed some scenarios. The question came up on the way back to Albany as to why there was not a simulator already in place for MCLB’s forklift training program.
“We have the largest warehousing operation in the Marine Corps,” Dickinson said. We have more forklifts and more forklift operators than any other Marine base. I decided to lead the effort.”
Dickinson started working with the forklift simulator company to learn what models and features were available. He got a few quotes and sent a justification to the Marine Corps Installations Command safety director to see if he could fund it.
“It took some time but he found some reprogrammed funds and committed to providing the resources,” Dickinson said. “He asked I do two things: I had to do the work, and I had to buy three systems -- one for Albany and one each for Blount Island Command and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. I agreed.”
Dickinson contacted the Regional Contracting Office at Camp Lejeune to get the process going, and the work continues. A team effort including the base’s Communications and Information Systems Division and Marine Corps Logistics Command led to outreaches to Marine Corps Installations East, MCICOM and Headquarters Marine Corps to push the process forward.
“We did in eight weeks what normally takes a year,” Dickinson said.
The MCIEAST Regional Contracting Office awarded the contract in August 2020. The simulators shipped in early April.
Integrated into current National Safety Council Forklift training curriculum, the simulators have high employee acceptance and use state-of-the art virtual reality technology. Having an alternative to the outdoor environment allows for a greater portion of the program to be completed indoors so adverse weather conditions do not impede training.
“We can use the simulator when there is heat, rain and other weather problems,” Cpl. Alexander Aldridge, senior instructor and licensing non-commissioned officer, GME, MCLB Albany, said.
Aldridge and Thomas spent a month learning the simulator themselves before incorporating it into the training. It has been in two of the regular monthly courses aboard MCLB Albany.
“We have gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Aldridge said. “In the first class, half had not operated a forklift and the others were fairly experienced. Both groups responded positively.”
“The more experienced ones said they wished they had this while they were learning,” Aldridge added.
Staff Sgt. Venecom Griffin, staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge, Supply Chain Management Center, a subordinate to MARCORLOGCOM, is a diesel technician by trade and is familiar with forklifts. He was in the most recent class to complete training.
“I feel it is a good asset, a good tool, for the students to get comfortable before practical application,” Griffin said of the new simulator.
The staff sergeant did not have virtual reality technology available to him when he was first learning to operate a forklift. He said, especially for those who have not operated forklifts, it does offer a safer environment for them to learn.
“It helps with motor skills and overall operations,” Griffin said. “Virtual reality is a new technology to the Marine Corps. It is a good refresher before putting them on a dangerous piece of equipment.”
The simulator is fully compliant with OSHA training, refresher and retraining requirements, and saves fuel and wear-and-tear while providing a risk-free training environment. It offers quantitative performance metrics and scoring, and a learning management system to track employee training using 42 different scenarios involving elements such as bays, ramps and spills.
The simulator can re-create scenarios for mishap investigations and identifies specific operator behaviors. Trainees may review via the simulator techniques they may not have thought of at the time of their accident.
“If there is an issue, we can reset the simulator according to the issue,” Aldridge said. “If they have an accident in the simulator, they are not going to damage equipment or injure personnel. They can learn from mistakes before they become a big deal.”
A yearlong software license is included with the simulator, which includes service, support and upgrades.
“We can update the technology in the simulator as time goes on,” Aldridge said. “It is not going to be stuck in time. It can update and expand.”
MCLB Albany trains reservists on their two-week active-duty training, Department of Defense civilians and service members coming from other bases. Personnel undergo refresher training every three years.
The current operator course is 40 hours, including six classroom hours and 34 behind-the-wheel hours.
The most recent training class graduation took place on June 25 in conjunction with the ribbon cutting for the new simulator. Col. Michael Fitzgerald, commanding officer, MCLB Albany, remarked at the event on why offering this training is so critical.
“One of the common things you see is a forklift on its side. The purpose of this course is to prevent this from happening,” Fitzgerald said.
Most trainees are getting four hours on the simulator.
“Some are getting more depending on how comfortable they are with the technology and how they are behind the wheel,” Aldridge said.
The two-sided screen allows other students and the instructors to see what the trainee sees when they are on the simulator.
“If they hit something, we can see where their eyes were,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge received the Commander’s Safety Coin from Fitzgerald at the simulator’s ribbon cutting, recognizing him for his time and energy in onboarding the simulator into the forklift training.
The simulator will be a valuable asset for MCLB Albany moving forward.
“Virtual reality training forklift training is the standard in private industry,” Dickinson said. “In addition to eliminating personal injury or property damage, the training is realistic, cost-effective, adaptive to different methods of learning and enjoyable for the operator. A real benefit is that successful training in a virtual reality environment creates operator confidence when operating a real forklift.”
“VPP Star sites get better every day at preventing mishaps and the forklift simulator is a perfect example of our commitment to mishap prevention,” Dickinson added. “We were able to secure funding for the simulator because of our strong reputation and credibility as a safety leader in the Marine Corps. I am thrilled to see we are offering our operators the safest and most effective forklift training available.”