Although we’re not finished, this article closes the loop on what we started more than a year ago. This was written by someone in NAVSEA and is kind of an interesting take on our research.
To: Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer
From: Mark B. Thompson; T2/IP Coordinator; NSWC PHD – Office of Technology
Re: Research on Digital Twins for Modernized In-Service Engineering, and Naval Maintenance
Throughout history, the races that the world forever remembers are not necessarily those of a person or vehicle’s speed around a course, but rather those of an entity’s dominance of ingenuity. Think of the Arms Race prior to the outbreak of the First World War, or the Space Race launched under President Kennedy. What the victors of these events have in common is their swift and successful capitalization of emerging technologies on a maximum scale. They who can recognize, harness, and implement the value of such technologies for their cause will accelerate their progress, and ultimately be the victor.
One cog in the technological wheel of today’s race is the application of unmanned aerial systems (UASs), and the utilization of their collected data for military uses. The division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center located at Port Hueneme, CA (NSWC PHD) has taken great stridesin the recognition, and effective capitalization, of UAS applications through their efforts with Aerial Alchemy,under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), signed in June of 2018. Aerial Alchemy is a UAS and data collection service company local to the Command, and familiarized with the needs of the Navy through participation in multiple Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) iterations. Their attention to detail in the back-end quality and security of the collected data especially caught the Navy’s attention. NSWC PHD and Aerial Alchemy are now refining their methods of UASdata collection through relevant and increased testing to align with the Command’s Strategic Objective of accelerating deployment of new capabilities to the fleet. In the terminology of the agreement itself, the purpose of the prescribed research is to “investigate the feasibility of utilizing unmanned aerial systems in the realm of naval and shipboard repair, maintenance and special use situations to ensure the readiness of naval and combat systems” (NCRADA-NSWC PHD-18-0004).
As a naval facility dedicated to in-service engineering, NSWC PHD seeks effective and efficient methods to reduce maintenance costs and improve maintenance methods. Aerial Alchemy proposed they could producedigital twins of U.S. Navy vessels and assets, using combined aerial and ground (onboard) photogrammetry with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), in such exceptional detail that a 3-D model could be used to view an individual flake of rust. And through repeated ventures aboard the Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s (NAVFAC’s) research and testing vessel the M/V Independence, they have done just that. This form of digital engineering lends itself to Navy preventative maintenance needs by allowing engineers and maintenance personnel to compare scans of a ship and observe corrosion degradation to key combat (or other) systems in unprecedented clarity.
Research under the CRADA has insofar shown the notable potential for reduced maintenance costs by producing a resultant data set that can be shared and viewed by multiple experts and inspectors remotely. These experts can potentially call for repairs on a particular system before it degrades to the point of failure without ever having stepped foot on that respective vessel. The procedure also reduces human error and negligence issues that can arise from the repetition and fatigue associated with many manual inspection routines. The accuracy and reliability of any identified and reportedquandary onboard can also be substantiated when accompanied by evidence from the 3-D model. This would stand to reduce miscommunications, and therefore long-term logistical costs for the Navy. Since the summer of 2018, research has largely moved past proving that a UAS survey can be successful, and shifted towards filling other holes in the Navy value chain. The innumerableprofessional applications of such time-based, geotagged,metadata-dense models are only beginning to materialize.
Another use for data compiled in the form of a digital twin is in the realm of digital engineering, separate from corrosion monitoring. While blueprints perhaps show what a vessel should be, a scan of the ship its true status, and is thus a more actionable representation of the ship. Prior to entering into the CRADA, the NSWC PHD Office of Research and Technology Application (ORTA) Manager,Mr. Alan Jaeger, personally observed the conduct and results of Aerial Alchemy’s scans of power substationsacross California. It was observed that their team’s process succeeded in beginning to modernize the engineering methods of public utility infrastructure, and it was recognized that the U.S. Navy stands to benefit from a comparable modernization.
Digital Engineering was announced as an official Department of Defense (DoD) initiative in June of 2018, the same month this CRADA took effect. The DoD’s subsidiary Office for Research and Engineering recognizes the need to “stay ahead of demands” to “address long-standing challenges associated with complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change in deploying and using U.S. defense systems.” This ongoing work between NSWC PHD and Aerial Alchemy additionally serves to fulfil all five points of the DoD’s Digital Engineering Strategy, most notably, to “formalize the development, integration, and use of models to inform enterprise and program decision making” (Digital Engineering Strategy, 2018).
Perhaps the big race of our day is, in fact, the contest of gaining a mastery of the utilization of unmanned systems and their invaluable data. The advantage this gives NSWC PHD, the U.S. Navy, and Department of Defense as a whole has yet to be seen in its entirety, yet the research demonstrated under the CRADA betweenAerial Alchemy and the laboratory of Port Hueneme Division continues to offer a leg-up to the United States by manifesting the beginnings of an effective long-term maintenance system. The unparalleled accuracy of corrosion tracking and digital twin engineering capabilitiesgenerated during this research stand to reducemaintenance costs and be among the most innovative new capabilities to the fleet. In conclusion, consider this quote from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defenseand its relevance to this undertaking: “By providing a more agile and responsive development environment, digital engineering supports engineering excellence and provides a foundation to fight and win the wars of the future.”
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering. “Digital Engineering Goals and Focus Areas.” Digital Engineering Strategy, June 2018, https://www.acq.osd.mil/se/initiatives/init_de.html.
“Services.” Aerial Alchemy, https://aerialalchemy.com/services/.
United States, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme, Navy Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. NCRADA-NSWC PHD-18-0004, 2018