Army Advances Key Sustainment Goals with CTMA

The US Army has long recognized the benefits of a strong partnership with NCMS. To achieve its goal of modernizing maintenance and sustainment (M&S) operations, the Army has repeatedly turned to the CTMA Program to enable rapid demonstration, evaluation, and validation of innovative technologies and processes to address key challenges. By collaborating with the NCMS network of proven industry and academic partners within the CTMA framework, Army leadership can determine how to meet its requirements prior to acquisition, securing the most effective solutions at best value and lowest risk. What follows are highlights from recent successes advanced through CTMA projects for Army M&S operations.

Condition-Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+)

CBM+ is the DOD’s latest maintenance philosophy that employs tools, processes, and technologies to more efficiently and accurately maintain vehicle assets based on both their current condition and their predicted near-term condition. Also known as prognostics and predictive maintenance (PPMx), the strategy is designed to improve the availability of DOD systems through a more efficient, need-based, predictive sustainment approach, enabled by the analysis of collected platform data and the integration of algorithms capable of predicting when systems or components may fail. These algorithms and data proactively and intelligently manage and schedule maintenance activities.

An ongoing CTMA initiative with industry partners Ricardo Defense and Oshkosh Defense has been directly involved in supporting the Army’s CBM+ efforts. Each partner worked on parallel paths to achieve multiple objectives, with Oshkosh utilizing original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components and Ricardo using an organically developed system.

Oshkosh focused on two vehicle types from the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV): the A1P2 in Phase I, and the palletized load system (PLS) A1 in Phase II. For each phase, the team utilized an OEM kit of CBM components for each platform, which included:

  • Engine and hydraulic oil degradation sensors
  • Engine oil filter
  • Data logger/telematics module and cellular antenna
  • Input/output module and harnesses
  • Mounting hardware and fittings

The team installed these kits on 29 FMTVs and 10 PLS vehicle platforms at a designated motor pool in Fort Irwin, CA. Soldiers operated the vehicles as before and performed maintenance as required. Raw data was collected and securely transferred from each vehicle and deposited in the Oshkosh data repository. It was then put into a form for analytics and reporting, and securely passed back, via a web-based portal, for management to act on.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Defense was building an infrastructure into their digital logbook (DLB) software for use with individual tablets, to allow linking to the specific vehicle systems on which Oshkosh was working. In this way, Ricardo Defense enabled use of the Army’s organically developed system components, Logistics Enterprise Network, and predictive logistics analytics capabilities. The goal was to orchestrate a new data architectural design that would streamline migration of data from an individual vehicle to an individually assigned or registered stakeholder. The new structural concept was intended to reduce limitations to the network’s bandwidth during daily operations at the tactical level while retaining the top-tier data migration to the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A). In conjunction, it improved capabilities of the motor pool network through centralization of the software logic, driving wireless downloads rather than forcing every individual tablet to perform those operations.

Both OEM-based and organic paths achieved their objective benefits while complimenting one another’s statement-of-work goals. Moving forward, military commanders and leaders will be able to almost see into the future with the needs of their equipment. Accurate and authoritative maintenance data at one’s fingertips reduces errors, increases productivity and visibility, enables planning based on the availability of repair parts, and informs maintenance personnel resourcing, significantly reducing overall repair costs and increasing fleet readiness.

Ultrasonic Vapor Degreasing Technology

Common work for mechanics in most industries is the replacement and servicing of parts that require lubrication in order to function properly. Typically, when a maintainer prepares for a part’s replacement, they’ll unpackage the new item and find it covered in protective grease and other substances. They’re forced to take extra time to disassemble the unit and thoroughly clean it before installing it. Then more lubrication must be applied, just after installation, and again periodically according to specification and service schedules. Over time these lubricants build up and create thick, heavy deposits that ultimately end up impeding the proper operation of the assets. The challenge of degreasing and reclaiming these parts is amplified in military settings, where severe conditions, including extreme hot and cold temperatures, dust, dirt, and sandy environments degrade the lubrication.

Army maintainers have found that current steam cleaning or aqueous degreasing processes often make little progress, requiring them to further dismantle the equipment and manually clean it using harsh solvents and other methods. These labor-intensive and time-consuming processes, which often employ hazardous chemicals, result in delayed return to service and higher maintainer protection and environmental disposal costs.

Ultrasonic vapor degreasing technology, which is widely used by NASA, offers a more efficient, safer, and more environmentally friendly alternative to current manual cleaning processes. In cooperation with the US Army Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems and Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), NCMS partnered with NCA Solutions and Baron Blakeslee to purchase and install two ultrasonic vapor degreasers at ANAD to demonstrate their utility for removing thick layers of grease and dirt from large parts such as road arms, as well as small firearms.

The first of these ultrasonic vapor degreasers has been installed at ANAD and is currently being evaluated on a number of parts. The team is conducting testing and documenting benefits, compared to current depot and arsenal processes, costs, and impacts to maintainer health and the environment. Based on the results, the business case and recommendations will be used to facilitate deployment to other Army depots and arsenals, as well as more broadly across the DOD.

Friction Stir Welding Technology

It’s no secret that vehicle lightweighting is a national priority. In the commercial sector, increasing fuel-efficiency requirements are being driven by both federal and state regulations and consumer demand. Lightweighting is also vital for military vehicles because, in addition to reducing fuel consumption, lowering vehicle weight is needed to offset increased payloads and added armor requirements. High vehicle weight also decreases the fleet’s ability to be expeditionary, limits global mobility, increases cost, and challenges sustainment. Lightweighting is also key to achieving efficiency requirements in the ever-growing electric vehicle segment.

Manufacturers have been developing many innovative, lightweight, and high-performance materials for vehicle construction. However, immediate implementation of these advanced materials is often impeded by the significant technical challenges and high costs posed by joining dissimilar materials.

In cooperation with the US Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), NCMS is partnering with North Dakota State University to further develop a technology known as friction stir welding (FSW) for advanced multi-material joining.

FSW is a solid-state joining process that has been identified as a viable joining solution for many materials, including multi-materials—many of which are traditionally non-weldable. FSW uses a third-body tool to join two dissimilar mating surfaces. The frictional heat generated between the tool and material softens the material to allow tool movement. As the tool travels along the weld seam, the material behind the tool is forged under pressure and consolidates to form a bond from the mixing effects caused by the rotational forces of the tool.

Although this technology is well-established in the automotive industry, primarily on aluminum alloys, extending FSW to other metallic materials, alloys, and composites requires that the FSW tooling maintain strength and toughness at elevated temperatures. Currently, H13 or MP159 steel is used for FSW of low-temperature alloys and tungsten-based alloys, with the addition of lanthanum or rhenium and hafnium carbide for welding high-temperature materials. But FSW tools made with these materials exhibit a short service life, and the process to create tooling with specific alloy characteristics is time-consuming and costly. The CTMA project’s goal is to develop a low-cost FSW tooling system with increased service life.

Additive manufacturing and thermal spraying technologies are being employed to develop a new generation of FSW tools with deposition of a special coating system that features superior mechanical characteristics suitable for elevated temperatures. This will improve performance, reduce cost, and increase the service life of FSW tools. As part of this project, the team has done extensive work to select the most suitable coating materials and the most appropriate deposition technologies, as well as to better characterize the microstructure of the coatings. Ultimately, successful results from this initiative will advance the ability to employ lighter weight composite materials in vehicle manufacturing and sustainment.

Circuit Card Repair and Remanufacture

All modern vehicles make extensive use of electronics to govern key operational functions, such as engine controls, airbag sensors, anti-lock brake management, and GPS support. Modern military vehicles rely even more heavily on electronic components. For example, electronics in armored fighting vehicles help operate hull and turret processing units (TPUs) for fire control, command and control, digital maps, and navigation. These electronic components often take the form of printed circuit boards, also known as circuit cards: compact multi-layered assemblies that enable signals and power to be routed between physical electronic devices. These cards have benefited from advances in manufacturing technology and are increasingly more complex, thinner, and less bulky. Such advances allow circuit cards to be constructed as a multi-card assembly, enabling individual cards to be replaced for repairs and upgrades.

Although these circuit card assemblies are far more durable than their predecessor devices, they are still prone to failure, especially in the rugged, dirty, and corrosive environments and temperature/humidity extremes experienced during military training and forward operations. Faulty circuit cards are commonly dealt with by swapping them out with functionally-identical replacements, but this is not always possible. The circuit cards, along with the components used to produce them, are increasingly subject to supply chain issues, which became an area of increased focus in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In cooperation with the Army Program Executive Office, Ground Combat Systems, NCMS is partnering with US Technologies to conduct a pilot program to improve circuit card repair and remanufacture methods. In this program, US Technologies will develop and document the processes necessary to accurately diagnose faulty circuit cards, repair them to functioning, and recertify them for return to service.

The team will focus on methods for diagnosing a circuit card’s failure source, to determine whether repair is a viable option, and identify the nature of the needed repair. Further, the team will establish when a simple resoldering of faulty connections is needed, and when chips or other components must be replaced. Finally, specific procedures for performing the repair will need to be developed. Lessons learned from this program will provide government and commercial maintenance organizations with evidence to expand repair of circuit cards as a viable option, rather than relying on new circuit cards.

On multiple fronts focused on a wide range of M&S challenges, the CTMA Program continues to deliver great value for the US Army. Through the NCMS advanced network of innovators, our Army partners recognize they have a path to success for their modernization needs.