If it Ain’t Broke…Fix It?

cbm 2Militaries around the world today face a challenging confluence of two factors: declining budgets for readiness and maintenance activities, and platforms being kept in the field well past their intended service lives. The key to navigating this new normal of increasing maintenance demand and decreasing resources is to search relentlessly for efficiencies and new tools to maintain readiness.

Some efficiency can be derived from combining facilities, leaning out processes and workforce training. At the end of the day, however, any successful efficiencies push is going to require changes in the frequency and timing of maintenance downtime. The good news is that proven tools and technologies from the heavy industrial sector can directly apply to military maintainers and bring renewed affordability and real impact to the maintenance challenge.

Predictive analytics and industrial Big Data will be the needed shot in the arm for future military maintenance requirements. These analytics and Big Data technologies have already proven themselves in multiple commercial industries and applications. As John Moubray notes in his seminal work Reliability-Centered Maintenance, for most of human history, maintenance was something we did when a machine broke; the fancy name here being “event-driven” maintenance. In the fifties and sixties, the evolution of management systems and the advent of computers in the workplace led to time- or schedule-based maintenance, wherein a part was replaced or system overhauled when the reliability analysis said it needed to be done, despite actual equipment condition.

In recent decades, industrial (and, more recently, military) equipment operators have adopted techniques of condition-based maintenance (CBM), which allows maintainers to repair assets based on the actual condition of its components, rather than an estimate of what that condition might be. More efficient embedded computing and ever-shrinking sensors have made this revolution possible. CBM has been a boon to industrial efficiency, keeping working assets in the field longer, getting failing assets in the shop sooner, and reducing the scourge of unplanned downtime as a result.

So how can it get better than CBM? Is it really possible to improve beyond having a sensor in your engine telling you that a critical value limit has been reached and repair is necessary?

It can - and it has...

GE Intelligent Platforms created a product known as Proficy SmartSignal that can actually predict, up to several  weeks ahead of other monitoring  technologies , when a critical failure might occur. By collecting and analyzing historical data from both a specific system and other deployed systems like it, SmartSignal can let the user know when a piece of equipment has a pending failure or performance reduction given the value  of sensor data. The sensor data can be simple or complex and leverages mature similarity based modeling methodologies - and Big Data now amplifies the power of these predictive analytical tools.

The temperature exiting an M-1 Abrams tank diesel turbine engine exhaust, for example, might still be well within the acceptable limits set by the manufacturer. But SmartSignal will know, giventhe ambient temperature, fuel line pressure, traveling speed, radiator temperature, and a host of other sensor values, that the engine temperature reading is a sign of negative change in the system that requires attention. And the SmartSignal team, or SmartSignal-enabled operations center, will let the user know - not necessarily by setting alarms, but by messaging regular reports of priority concerns to the maintenance team, including proposed causes prepared by expert consultants. They’ll then follow up with a call to see if any issues were examined further and what was learned. Maybe the user team will decide to wait another week and see what happens. Maybe they’ll decide to look inside the motor during the next scheduled maintenance session.  Maybe they will be advised to take immediate action and prevent further damage or loss of a critical asset.

Whatever the decision, the user has gotten an invaluable heads-up  and ample time  to make maintenance  decisions with insurance against  potential critical failures.

CBM 3What is most appealing to Department of Defense customers is that this capability can be had without necessarily adding new hardware to platforms: SmartSignal can do its job using existing sensors, regardless of the OEM. These tools, which already manage thousands of other critical industrial assets,  can  take the data right from existing sensor feeds or from integrated diagnostic systems already on the vehicle. Condition  information can even travel to SmartSignal-enabled remote monitoring centers via simple email, precluding the need to link large data sets in many cases.

Sign up for SmartSignal’s Catch of the Week to see how the team is adding value for its customers every day. Imagine the benefit of weeks of lead time for a critical failure. Imagine what this comprehensive insight could do to our military readiness posture. And think about the ability to provide real impactful CBM and realized cost savings that are really what the process is supposed to be about.

To find out more, visit http://www.ge-ip.com/library/whitepapers and download the white paper “Smart Affordable Condition Based Maintenance Tools, Technology and Services."


Todd Stiefler

Todd joined GE from the world of Washington politics, and in no time at all has moved on to his second assignment, which sees him managing business development for the services GE is increasingly looking to offer to customers, including the Proficy SmartSignal predictive analytics software.

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