How MEWP Training is Evolving in the Digital Age

March 9, 2022
Digital technology became an absolute necessity for rental companies and professional contracting businesses to manage day-to-day operations — including how to specifically address MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) training.

By Rick Smith; Photos by JLG

How training can evolve with today’s technological advancements is a hot topic in the industry. The quest to develop more digital tools for customers began before the pandemic as mobile usage rapidly increased. Still, when COVID-19 hit, digital technology became an absolute necessity for rental companies and professional contracting businesses to manage day-to-day operations — including how to specifically address MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) training.

And with much of today’s workforce shifting to remote locations, traditional 9 to 5 workdays are fading, requiring more flexible learning opportunities.

Another big challenge for rental companies is ensuring that customers allow people with the right level of training to operate the equipment rented. Untrained operators can not only put themselves and other workers in danger, but they also increase the odds of property and equipment damage.

So, how can a rental company help customers address the need for training more proactively in today’s digital age? By using new technologies and innovative training platforms, like virtual reality simulators, augmented reality apps and access control, as well as online events and virtual learning environments, companies can supplement, as well as enhance, their current training offerings.

Virtual reality training

The digital age provides us with tremendous opportunities to deliver unique training experiences using virtual reality (VR) simulators, allowing trainees to effectively build the hands-on skills they need to succeed in real-world work scenarios.

Many VR simulators can also be programmed for users of all skill levels, covering everything from controls familiarization to advanced machine operation. And this type of technology can also enable instructors to create their own scenarios designed to test various skills and select the criteria for user performance evaluation. From there, scenarios can be sequenced in a “playlist” that walks users through various exercises.

Offering realistic simulations, performance monitoring capabilities and the ability to customize training scenarios have made using VR simulators, like the JLG AccessReady XR Fusion, effective tools for building confidence in machine operation while decreasing the time to proficiently train users.

Augmented reality assistance

Digital aids, like augmented reality (AR) apps, help train equipment users to visualize job sites more accurately to better plan projects and manage equipment onsite.

Every jobsite has its unique specifications and requirements, so selecting the right MEWP and accessories for the application can often be challenging. Choosing the right machine and tools can lead to a more productive day’s work, whereas having the wrong machine on site can lead to unexpected delays or inefficiencies.

And once the equipment is selected, an AR app can improve the operator’s experience with the machine before work begins. For example, virtual decal viewers enable users to scan the MEWP’s safety decals to get the current information on ISO symbols. And, AR apps can also allow users to see an overlay of a machine’s control panel with explanations of control functions prior to machine operation.

Also, AR apps can offer control familiarization, which provides immediate, on-site assistance to operators who have maintained certifications on equipment they don’t operate every day. For example, using the JLG AR app, operators can walk over to a machine, pull out their smartphone, load the control familiarization tool in the AR app and select the exact model from the list of machines, then enter the product variant code from the machine’s serial number plate. Once this happens, operators enter the platform and point their phones at the control panel to scan and identify the specific controls. Operators can also zoom in on any of the controls, and the app will display a short explanation about its functionality. Within minutes, operators can be reminded of each controls function. Operators can also select starting procedures from the tools menu to review the proper steps to safely start a machine and prepare it for the day’s work.

When it comes to MEWP training, the most significant advantage of using AR is that this technology gives all users the ability to visualize the equipment, when and where they need it.

Access control authorization

In its most basic form, access control is a solution that can be programmed to either grant or deny a person access to something — like a system, an area or a location. We already encounter access control a lot in our everyday lives, from unlocking our cars and homes to gaining access to a parking garage or a hotel room.

With this understanding, it’s easy to see how access control can be applied to equipment fleets. This technology can allow fleet managers to minimize the risk of unauthorized personnel accessing equipment by only granting access to employees who have been qualified and approved to operate the machine.

For example, authorized machine operators receive a unique ID number or RFID card that allows them to access the equipment they are authorized to operate via a keypad on the machine. The RFID cards, produced by JLG, the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), and other aerial lift manufacturers contain operator training data and a list of machine types they are qualified to operate — such as Group 3B, Type 3 MEWP — it also indicates when each qualification expires. Without proper authentication, the machine cannot be started or operated.

In addition to granting (or denying) operator access to the machine, access control can also be used to track an operator's time in and out of the machine, which helps everyone involved get a better idea of who is operating each machine and when. This type of data can provide rental companies and their customers with information on who needs training — and what type of training is needed.

Soon, it may even be possible for fleet managers to establish a profile of best-operating practices and then compare that to the telematics data from each machine. This could provide key insights into each operator’s true level of proficiency. For example, are the operators attempting to move the machine without using the proper interlocks? Do they forget to hit the enable switch? Are they using the footswitch properly? Are they exceeding the machine’s maximum slope capabilities? Is the machine generating alarms that indicate they’re pushing the limits of the machine’s capacity when performing lifts?

Through technologies like access control, fleet managers could soon be able to provide operators with customized training programs that are focused on improving individuals’ performance in areas where they may need some help.

Online events

During the COVID lockdowns, many OEMs introduced a variety of online learning opportunities for customers. For example, at JLG, we hosted a series of live technical webinars, which we also recorded for ongoing use. The webinars were very popular, and we are expanding them as we move forward.

We also piloted some distance-learning programs during the pandemic, with mixed results. Some participants provided very positive feedback on the programs, while other participants found them extremely challenging.

Virtual environments

Though digital technology has become essential for companies to function given the pandemic, it has also become a bit tiresome when video calls and events try to merely replicate in-person events.

That’s why JLG launched its “Access Your World” experience, a free, on-demand virtual environment that offers dynamic, engaging, life-like experiences, through the use of detailed 3-D access equipment models being used in realistic scenarios, to enable site visitors to educate and train themselves on JLG products in a variety of job sites in order to better understand specific applications and uses of the equipment.

A look to the future

As you can see, we are already using digital technologies to aid in training MEWP users, but honestly, we are only skimming the surface of what is possible today. We anticipate an increase, and evolution, of these types of digital training tools, in both the near-term and long term.

But will online training ever be a complete substitute for person-to-person training? The answer is: There are many factors to consider when designing any learning program that adheres to industry standards.

Some learning objectives are easily achieved in an online environment; other learning objectives are best suited to a face-to-face environment. For example, the theory component of operator training can be accomplished online or in-person. The hands-on practical training requirement of operator training must be accomplished in-person.

For these reasons, at JLG, we don’t believe online training will be a complete substitute for face-to-face training. That said, opportunities to expand the use of digital tools to deliver, as well as to enhance, high-quality, training is ever increasing.

Rick Smith is director of global product training, JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa.