Voice Inspection Helps Maintainers Keep on Task

When an inspection takes place on the enormous C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft, the maintenance technician may need to manually log over a thousand narratives and checklists into the data system. This can result in inadvertent errors. What the technicians dreamed about was the ability to speak into a device that would translate their voice in real-time into records in the inspection data system, leaving their hands free to use tools for maintenance instead of pen and notebook.

Back in 2015, the initial request was made to investigate innovative technologies that could perform this function. Today, thanks to Honeywell’s win at the 2016 CTMA Technology Competition and a CTMA partnership between Honeywell and Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, that dream is very close to becoming reality.

“Currently, the technicians need to write their findings down as a summary [and] take it back to the computer to enter the information into the database,” says Frank Zahiri, a U.S. Air Force Technology Development and Acquisition Engineer. “With the Voice Inspection Maintenance System (VIMS), there is a new way to provide information at the point of inspection or maintenance activity. This gives the mechanics their hands back, so they can turn a wrench instead of taking notes.”
Because of their expertise in this technology, Honeywell was brought in to test whether their Vocollect™ System might be modified to meet the Air Force’s needs. What the Air Force wanted was a way to capture real-time information electronically so that it could be seamlessly inserted into the current data system.

“The Vocollect technology has been around since 1987 and is used in many retail warehouses and over 80 percent of major grocery store chains for picking, put-aways, replenishments, cycle counting, and other warehouse functions. In the public sector, it has been successfully used in Army and Air Force Exchanges (AAFES), Defense Commissary Agency (DECA), and Lawrence Livermore National Labs. With an Authority to Operate (ATO), this technology can go deeper,” says Corey Sawatzky, a Senior Business Consultant at Honeywell Scanning & Mobility. “I feel confident that with this technology, the maintainers will be able to reduce the inspection time by 30 percent and improve the accuracy of the data.”

The testing for the proof-of-concept phase has been completed, with the technology certified with a greater than 99 percent accuracy rate. The project will now move to the next phase to validate the Bluetooth encryption to ensure the headsets are working properly and are secure, during which it will receive Interim Authority to Test (IATT). The last phase will be an ATO that will give the green light to update the current back-end system and begin the inputting process.

It takes about two hours to train the maintainers on the VIMS technology. The system needs to learn to recognize individual accents and speech patterns. But the over 200 various inspection steps and orders are already set up, and all the maintainer has to do is answer system-prompted questions.

“Our maintainers can record findings step-by-step and get the results immediately populated into the system,” says Zahiri. “One of the best things about this project is that the maintainers were the ones who requested it to the senior management.  It has been a real bottom-up process that has moved forward.”

Once the technology is completely validated and running on the C-5 platform, the testing may begin on the C-130 transport aircraft and F-15 Eagle fighter. “This project has been great!” says Sawatzky. “The project manager at CTMA has helped make the project successful and keeps us on track.”