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‘Virtual Maintenance’ Promises Big Savings 


by Helene B. Anderson and Daniel W. Miles 

The U.S. Navy can reduce future fleet operations and support costs increasingly by automating maintenance and repair tasks.

Under a concept called “net-centric maintenance,” both land- and sea-based systems would help remotely diagnose and repair equipment on ships around the world. This often is referred to as distance support.

Conventional maintenance and warfare functions currently are performed by humans interfacing with humans. But under a proposed net-centric maintenance scenario, a sailor will interface with a smart test box, identify maintenance problems and conduct repairs remotely with technical support from a shore site.

Currently, most programs indicate that 30 percent of costs are in the development and delivery of a system, while the other 70 percent are in operation and support.

Experts estimate that the use of net-centric maintenance may help reduce the O&S cost by 60 percent.

The net-centric maintenance ultimately will lead to “virtual maintenance,” with smart boxes talking to smart boxes. This is expected to further reduce O&S costs.

The hub necessary to support this concept is envisioned as a so-called “FORCEnet Integrated Maintenance Response Center,” or FIMRC. The center would streamline the maintenance functions of all subsystems.

Following is an example of how a sea-based installation would be executed.

A submarine, the USS Texas, needs an acoustic update kit while at sea, during a deployment. An update kit contains the hardware and logistics materials to support the removal of two unit drawers and installation of new drawers.

The FIMRC contacts an autonomous underwater robotic platform, called AUP-27. Another robotic platform, the MRUUV-54 Mission Reconfigurable Unmanned Undersea Vehicle, deploys with the hardware to Point Alpha, to support the acoustic installation on the USS Texas.

USS Texas approaches Point Alpha for an undersea docking with MRUUV-54. Besides the update kit, additional materials are transferred, including components to support the microcircuit card repairs, previously reported via CASREP (casualty report).

A training package and installation instructions are downloaded from the MRUUV-54 to the USS Texas. E-mail messages, audio and visual clips from home are downloaded for crew distribution. Crew e-mail messages, audio and visual clips are uploaded to MRUUV-54.

USS Texas redeploys MRUUV-54 to return to AUP-27.

The USS Texas crew installs the new drawers in accordance with electronic documentation provided in the update kit. Once the installation is completed, test cards from the Net Centric Maintenance smart test box are used to validate the installation success.

Other crewmembers repair microcircuit cards using components delivered by MRUUV-54. The USS Texas crew email messages, audio and video clips are uploaded to AUP-27.

The FIMRC contacts AUP-27 to deploy MRUUV- 54 for rendezvous with a high-speed logistics support vehicle.

AUP-27 deploys MRUUV-54 and transmits crew email messages, audio and video clips to FIMRC.

USS Texas contacts FIMRC to inform of the installation completion and requests system sensors parameters be reprogrammed to support the new installation. FIMRC connects USS Texas to the reach back cell for remote calibration and grooming. The cell adjusts the USS Texas sensor parameters and conducts diagnostics to assure new system specifications are met. Concurrently, the FIMRC provides updates to electronic system documentation to USS Texas.

The actual “smart box” in this net-centric maintenance concept is being developed by General Physics Corporation. The company is expecting to receive a contract in the coming months to conduct a functionality demonstration of the concept. The goal is to, eventually, conduct a sea-based installation with the autonomous underwater platform, designed by a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts and Dartmouth.

Louis Goodman, professor and research director of the Intercampus Graduate School of Marine Sciences and Technology, University of Massachusetts, explained that the AUP is a device designed to provide docking with other types of marine vehicles, for the purpose of material and data transfer.

The proposed net-centric maintenance system will provide remote access to AUP maintenance data. The AUP will be able to query both military and commercial marine vehicles to determine their maintenance posture and transmit that information to the vehicle owner. Eventually, the AUP will provide vehicle owners a remote repair capability.

Helene Anderson is a project engineer in the Submarine Electromagnetic Department at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Newport, R.I. Daniel W. Miles is a senior project control specialist at General Physics Corporation.

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