QinetiQ North America of McLean, Va., has been awarded a contract for a pilot program involving a new maintenance methodology in support of the U.S. Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) Life Cycle Management Command in Warren, Mich. The three-year contract is estimated to be worth $17 million.
The system, known as Condition-Based Maintenance Plus, will apply a range of analytical tools and logistics systems to more accurately detect and predict maintenance needs for some 2,000 tactical wheeled vehicles. These will be mostly noncombatant vehicles.
The goal is to give operators a more real-world view of the needs of their machines.
“They will be able to do maintenance based on the condition of the components, as opposed to what the operating manual says,” said David Shrum, executive vice present and general manager of QinetiQ North America’s Engineering and Life Cycle Management business unit.
The point of the program is to see whether sophisticated sensors can help operators understand potential problems before they occur. Reams of detailed data could help identify trends and suggest corrective actions, while predicting maintenance needs.
These analytics could help to bridge the gap between a vehicle’s operating manual and the actual usage experience in the field.
These vehicles “are experiencing a much higher [operations] tempo under harsher conditions than perhaps they were designed for,” Shrum said. Parts are wearing out faster than predicted. As a result, scheduled maintenance actions may be coming in too late or too infrequently.
That means trucks may underperform or may even wear out their usefulness faster than planned.
The pilot program will look at a number of factors in the effort to bring maintenance regimens in line with reality. Sensors will register such elements as temperature, vibrations and structural integrity.
If data can be used to drive analytics, Shrum said, this may cut back on the labor needed to keep vehicles in top form. It may also lighten the load on the supply chain, with inventories based on actual demand rather than on predicted needs.
QinetiQ will design digital data collectors, determine their most effective placement on the vehicles, install the sensors and harvest the raw data for review.
Shrum offers a number of analogies in describing the potential impact of a detailed sensor system on wheeled vehicles.
Take, for instance, the Blackhawk helicopter, whose precise blades were not designed with a sandy environment in mind. Operating in the desert, the copter’s rotor blades have eroded faster than expected, thus shifting maintenance needs.
Even a simple automobile tire may encounter similar trials. A tire designed for 30,000 street miles may underperform in deserts or freezing climates.
Sophisticated sensors could help identify and arrest such problems before they occur.
“If you know what normal looks like and you know what abnormal looks like, then you can know when you’ve got a problem that is about to happen down the road,” Shrum said.