When the military identifies an immediate need for new defensive equipment and vehicles, it pulls out the stops to rapidly field a solution. However, one challenge of rapid fielding is that often traditional documentation processes lag the production cycle, resulting in a lack of technical data packages (TDPs) detailing product fabrication requirements.
This was the case concerning soldiers’ critical need for mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. When circumstances required a vehicle that could defend against improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, explosively formed penetrators, and small arms fire, MRAP vehicles were speedily developed and fielded. But more recently, while restoring and standardizing the vehicle fleet, the MRAP project manager (PM) found that commercial power and signal cables for the fielded MRAP vehicles lacked a detailed TDP.
To overcome this challenge, the Army needed to develop the capability to quickly reverse engineer these cables from a physical sample. It turned to NCMS to help facilitate a solution through a CTMA collaboration, Power and Signal Cable Reverse Engineering and Development to Improve MRAP Maintenance and Readiness. This project brought together the engineering team for the US Army Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC)—now known as the Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC)— along with industry partner Unified Business Technologies.
The group focused on a specific cable assembly for which there was no complete, production-ready, USG-owned TDP. Restoring the fleet to readiness required the team to reverse engineer an example cable provided as government-furnished equipment. Additionally, the collaboration manufactured and tested cables to provide quality assurance.
The project accomplished five main objectives. First, the team developed processes and tools to reverse engineer electrical cable harnesses through physical inspection including destructive and non-destructive testing. Second, they conducted fabrication and test validation. Third, they validated a stable and repeatable manufacturing process. The team estimated that 800 cables were required to validate the stability of this manufacturing process.
Fourth, the team developed a complete, USG-owned, MBE-based TDP. They produced this TDP by inspecting a government-provided cable sample to determine mechanical and electrical characteristics such as length, materials, and pinout. Next, they further deconstructed the cable to ascertain the materials and methods used for the cable construction. This information enabled them to create a bill of materials (BOM) and 3D parametric computer aided design (CAD) model of the cable assembly. The parameters of the 3D CAD model allowed for variants to be constructed by simply altering the parameters of the model.
Most impactful, the team analyzed the costs and benefits of OEM-owned TDPs versus USG-owned TDPs. They found that, while purchasing the TDP may cost the government more money upfront, it provides ongoing benefits. By acquiring the TDP, the DOD gains more options when parts or maintenance are needed, thereby saving taxpayer money in the long run.
This project had additional benefits for the DOD. The team successfully reverse engineered and delivered a complete, modern, model-based, USG-owned TDP that can be more universally distributed across the services to ensure a source of supply for the subject assembly. This TDP can also be accessed for future reference in support of repair or maintenance activities.
With a CAD parametric model of a part available, the subject assembly can be easily reused or modified for different platforms. This can save many hours of labor that would otherwise be spent in generating a new cable model. The ability to recreate items as needed reduces the cost of long-term sustainment and eliminates the requirement to keep multiple versions of cables on reserve. Overall, this project will improve the readiness rates of the nation’s MRAP fleet, increase maintenance asset readiness, and significantly decrease the lifecycle cost of equipment through a reduction in asset management expenditures.
Moreover, the CAD tools used for this project enable future suppliers of the well-documented cables to have less up-front engineering effort, thereby lowering costs and ultimately prices. The ability of manufactures to produce small quantities of necessary cables on-demand, at inexpensive prices, will enable people to purchase only as much as they need, reducing the number of cables stored in warehouses that deteriorate over time and then must be disposed of, leading to better sustainability practices.