Army researchers exploring prognostics and diagnostics solutions to find and fix military and commercial maintenance problems

July 05, 2012

Story Highlights

  • ARL is exploring new technologies for a maintenance concept that's been around for decades.
  • Condition-based maintenance (CBM) is giving the Army a more effective way of predicting when a part is in trouble, and ARL technologies are helping to fill a 20-year maintenance solution gap.
  • ARL Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate, are not only developing advanced sensor capabilities for use in CBM schemes.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is exploring new technologies for a maintenance concept that's been around for decades that when fully implemented will replace the time-scheduled maintenance with a process used to repair or replace parts and systems only when they need to be fixed, removed, and replaced.

Condition-based maintenance (CBM) is giving the Army a more effective way of predicting when a part, like a helicopter bearing, or a component, like a helicopter tail rotor shaft, is in trouble, and ARL experts say its sciences and technologies are helping to fill a 20-year maintenance solution gap.

Dy Le, ARL's chief of the Mechanics Division from the Vehicle Technology Directorate said that ARL's research would establish the science and technology used to diagnose these kinds of problems, predict the potential failure of those parts or components, and to determine their remaining useful 'life'. To that end, ARL is supporting the establishment of new military maintenance process.

He said ARL supports the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on developing and validating CBM methodologies, and once matured, those methodologies would help the FAA certify the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for use on commercial aircraft. In 2007, Le began coordinating the installation of HUMS technology and accessories like sensors on a Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Blackhawk helicopter at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

He said recent horrifying tragedies like Aloha Airlines' Boeing 737 that the National Transportation and Safety Board cited as maintenance program failure could have been prevented had a mature CBM program been in place to find and fix the problems before the aircraft departed.

Fixing these problems will require prognostic and diagnostic capabilities – that ARL is developing – to first, pull data from state-of-the-art data acquisitions systems, such as HUMS or another type of damage detection monitoring device.

"HUMS is used to monitor the current condition or health of helicopter parts or components, and it can also be used to determine how the helicopter is being flown," Le said.

ARL research scientists, from the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate at ARL, are not only developing advanced sensor capabilities for use in CBM schemes, they're developing the analysis technology to translate data from existing sensor capabilities.

As part of ARL's studies, sensors are strategically installed on certain areas of the aircraft – like on the tail rotor output shaft that's connected to the transmission, main rotor, bearing housing, or wing structures to sense the condition of the monitored components.

These sensors generate critical information such as vibration levels or damage characteristics, which are recorded in real time using a HUMS box. When the maintainer and engineer analyze the collected data, they will be able to determine the condition of the components being monitor.

"Knowing the condition of the aircraft helps the Soldiers avoid potential fatalities due to helicopter critical component failure," Le said.

In the past, the ARL Prognostics and Diagnostics Team assisted the Army's Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, located at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., in analyzing the HUMS data collected from the Apache helicopter. The analysis of collected data revealed a faulty bearing and resulted in the grounding of that particular Apache helicopter for inspection. Consequently, the inspection result confirmed that the Apache helicopter tail rotor swashplate bearing was substantially degraded, he said.

Had the aircraft not been grounded, two Soldiers' lives would have been lost right along with a $15 million weapon system due to the bearing failure.

While CBM gets safe aircraft back in the air faster, it can also increase the Army weapon system readiness and result in huge maintenance costs savings for the Army. If CBM is fully implemented, the Army can save about $9.3 million per year in eliminating many maintenance test flights on the Apache, for example, on a direct reimbursable basis. For the UH-60 Blackhawk, it's a savings of about $2.6 million per year.

Within ARL's CBM research relies on the Vehicle Technology Directorate's expertise to establish prognostic and diagnostic technologies to predict the remaining "life" of Army weapon systems.

The Computational and Information Sciences Directorate can help establish capabilities to combine all information, collected from sensors, to produce an accurate picture of how an Army weapon system is functioning.

The Weapons and Materials Research Directorate can assist in the establishment of full understanding of ways that materials, which are used on Army weapon systems, may fail.

Under the ARL CBM research, ARL scientists and engineers also work with researchers from other Government agencies, including the U.S. Air Force; U.S. Navy; and FAA, academia, including University of California-Irvine; University of Maryland, and industry, including Acellent Technologies Inc.; Sikorsky Aircraft Company; and Boeing Aircraft.

For more information on ARL's research in science and technology advancements in CBM, visit http://www.youtube.com/user/ARLTVNews.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: July 5, 2012