An opportunity to get commercial off-the-shelf technology in front of 200+ DoD decision-makers is rare. But at the Maintenance Innovation Challenge (MIC) that is exactly what takes place. As part of the DoD Maintenance Symposium, six presenters will have 15 minutes to highlight their technologies in front of the MIC audience.
A memo from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense reinforces the critical nature of this event saying, “The Importance of sustainment innovation is increasingly relevant as we accelerate materiel availability improvement and improve the viability of our organic industrial base. The annual Maintenance Innovation Challenge (MIC) raises the awareness of our community of technologies and innovative processes that present the best opportunities. Industry, academia, military services, and defense agencies are all actively pursuing innovative technologies and processes that are improving maintenance effectiveness.”
From over 80 submissions, the following six were chosen as finalists by a panel of judges. We congratulate all six finalist entries. Please find highlights of the finalists’ abstracts below:
Atmospheric Plasma Coating Removal (APCR)
Atmospheric Plasma Solutions, Inc. (see their PlasmaBlast technology at the NCMS Booth #517)
As stated in the National Defense Strategy, “we cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons or equipment.” The DoD has been using antiquated maintenance technologies such as grit blasting and needle guns for over 50 years. Current coating removal techniques have serious shortcomings.
APCR is a media and chemical-free process that can improve cycle time, lower cost, reduce injuries and increase environmental safety. Applicable to all service branches, APCR has demonstrated effectiveness while significantly reducing costs in labor, waste disposal, and personnel safety.
The APCR process converts a significant portion of the removed organic coating into water vapor and carbon dioxide, leaving a small volume of solids to be safely collected with a HEPA vacuum. There is no requirement for containment or clean up. The existing profile of the substrate is revealed, not changed. Independent laboratory testing coordinated by NAVSEA 05 documented that APCR doesn’t cause changes to the substrate metallurgy.
Fully Organic Repair of Air Force Assets via Cold Spray
U.S. Air Force, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex (OC-ALC)
As the Air Force extends the service life of legacy weapons systems beyond the original planned lifetime, certain components become scarce and irreplaceable. Air Force Materiel Command has struggled to be able to adequately sustain these weapons systems due to the combination of: (1) a lack of available new parts (due to retired manufacturing sources), (2) components being repaired more times than originally anticipated, and (3) technical data that uses only repair technologies that were available at the time of manufacture. This has led to constraints for certain parts, particularly cast magnesium housings.
The Air Force Sustainment Center, Air Force Lifecycle Management, and the Air Force Research Laboratory have worked together to test, develop, and publish technical data for cold spray repair of these housings, and to replace the outdated weld repairs that existed in the depot level technical orders.
OC-ALC has retrofitted an existing thermal spray booth to have the dual capability to include cold spray and has become a qualified source for cold spray repair of these housings using entirely organic Air Force personnel. Cold spray can be used to add near net shape material, reducing the amount of post-machining required. In addition, cold spray reduces recycle and condemnation rates because it does not cause deformation and warping of the part as with welding.
Finally, the cold spray being conducted at the OC-ALC is entirely robot controlled, reducing process variance compared to artisan welding processes.
Injection Procedure for Applying Radar Absorbent Material
Application of Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) is a cumbersome process performed on several top readiness degraders at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW). The application method on a specific component utilizes a hybrid technique where an artisan first trowels on and then sprays RAM. This lengthy five-day process induces significant rework and has a high rate of quality verification failures that result in delays averaging ten days in length.
To alleviate these issues, FRCSW Materials Engineering investigated an injection mold procedure, which is a more consistent method of applying RAM. To instill confidence in the injected coatings, Materials Engineering developed a quality verification technique using injectable witness panels. Immediately before applying RAM to the component, artisans inject RAM coating into the witness panel. Materials Engineering analyzes the injected coating’s properties to confirm it meets the same quality metrics as sprayed coatings. The resultant injected coatings have lower porosity than sprayed coatings, thus achieving a much lower reject rate and eliminating rework delays.
Joint Robotics Organization for Building Organic Technologies (JROBOT)
Industry advances in robotics have largely not been harnessed by DoD maintainers with an impact directly affecting readiness. Similarly, robotic advancements made by the DoD’s research institutes have not traditionally focused on maintenance as part of the operational continuum. Inputs from the maintainer community into both industry and the DoD research groups have not been coordinated providing isolated solutions for a few forward-thinking activities.
Accelerations in robotics capabilities and fielding worldwide (e.g., Made in China 2025) require appropriate focus to enable resilient and agile logistics for the DoD. Inter-agency and allied partners are also seeking maintenance solutions to meet similar requirements.
In March 2019 the inaugural “Joint Summit: Robotics in Sustainment” was held. The summit gleaned inputs from the maintainer and research communities within the federal government (e.g., across the DoD, U.S. Coast Guard, National Aeronautical Space Administration, and the Department of Energy) and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. The summit provided a roadmap for continued coordination and fielding for governmental agencies. Since the summit, ongoing monthly discussions with the attendees have drafted a charter for approval, provided workforce development insight from various services, and also put form to the next summit that will include industry partners.
MELD: A Novel Solid-State Technology for Sustainment
MELD Manufacturing Corporation
Sustainment challenges continue to emerge in the dynamic environments in which we operate while engaging our adversaries. The ability of our nation’s warfighters to maintain and repair strategic assets in the field or at sea not only improves operational efficiency but also reduces overall cost and logistics overhead. There is a need to enable these types of sustainment activities for materials that are not compatible with traditional repair strategies, such as high-strength aluminum alloys used in aircraft landing gears, armor plating for lightweight ground vehicles, and structural components of LCS watercraft.
The MELD process has unique benefits. It creates fully-dense products with little-to-no distortion at deposition rates orders of magnitude faster than other metal additive processes. MELD is a solid-state no-melt process, which yields near net shape parts with superior mechanical properties, meaning there is potential for parts to go from the machine to the field. MELD is an open-atmosphere process and is not restricted to vacuum chambers or powder beds, allowing for extreme scalability to make or repair large structures.
Over the last decade, this technology has been matured and repairs have been demonstrated while working with partners, including ONR, NAVSEA, TARDEC, and AIR FORCE, and is now commercially available. Types of repairs demonstrated include cracks, simulated ballistics damage, and corrosion pitting.
Printed Circuit Board Reverse Engineering/Prototyping Suite (PCB-REPS)
WR-ALC 402 EMXG REARM
Avionics repair is challenging when circuit card assemblies are no longer available from original equipment manufacturers, especially when no technical data exists. Current processes for reverse engineering and manufacture of printed circuit boards (PCBs) are time-consuming and costly due to manual development of schematics, parts lists, computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) data, and engineering drawings. Procurement delays and PCB manufacturing process time also increase flow time. Our innovation, PCB-REPS, addresses this problem by increasing the efficiency of reverse engineering and prototyping PCBs using software technology and additive manufacturing.
The 402 Electronics Maintenance Group’s Reverse Engineering Avionics Redesign and Manufacturing (REARM) Innovation Center has assembled a suite of technology and processes to rapidly reverse engineer, document, and prototype circuit card assemblies (CCA) with little or no technical data available. The suite consists of four elements: a material removal system, a PCB scanning system, industry-standard PCB CAD software, and an additive PCB manufacturing system.
Facing a shortage of multiple two-layer CCA’s necessary for the overhaul of the MHU-196 Munitions Handling Cart Main Control Unit, the REARM team developed Form-Fit-Function replacement circuit cards.