Arnold engineers implement Condition-Based Maintenance Wireless Network AEDC pilot program achieves AFMC first

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – An innovative pilot project at Arnold Air Force Base is providing a potential solution to improving the condition-based maintenance, or CBM, program for Arnold Engineering Development Complex assets.

In a unique industrial environment such as Arnold AFB, obtaining the necessary measurements for CBM decisions can be challenging. A secure and reliable network of wireless instrumentation may prove to be the solution.

Arnold was the first to request an authority to operate, or ATO, for a CBM network with wireless instrumentation within the Air Force Materiel Command. The project received the ATO certifying that the rigorous security requirements to allow its use are met.

“It’s important to note that the CBM Network is a stand-alone network and only collects wired and wireless instrumentation data that monitors the health of plant and utility assets,” said Donna Spry, the AEDC Condition-Based Maintenance project manager.

The stand-alone CBM Network consists of a wireless “field” network and a wired network connected to servers and human-machine interfaces.

CBM is a maintenance program based upon assessing the health of equipment by monitoring key indicators in order to schedule maintenance when needed, instead of on set time-based intervals. Measurements and techniques include vibration, ultrasound, oil analysis, motor testing and others.

“CBM increases efficiency by conducting maintenance as needed, avoiding unnecessary down-time and pre-empting problems identified between what would have been the typical maintenance schedule,” said Justin Garrard, a reliability engineer with the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, or TOS, National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, for the CBM Section.

Brent Morris, a TOS Instrumentation, Data and Controls reliability engineer, added, “A lot of the equipment that needs to be monitored is isolated, making it difficult and costly to install wired instrumentation.

Instrumentation that is not wired into the network must be monitored manually.

“We would have to send craftsmen out with a piece of instrumentation and a data collector to manually take readings,” Garrard said.

The isolated locations pose elevated safety risks, such as confined spaces and heights.

“Wireless opens the door to monitoring these locations in a cost-effective and safer manner,” Morris said. “This is an important project going forward to addressing these issues.”

Data from the wireless network is in the process of being validated by continuing manual readings at the pilot project instrumentation sites. Ceasing manual readings will offer man-hour cost savings and more importantly lower the safety risk. At one of the pilot locations it will mean six fewer times per year a craftsmen must enter a confined space.

Wireless monitoring provides additional benefits, such as continual monitoring. Manual readings provide point-in-time data, weeks or months apart. Wireless instrumentation sends data back on a more frequent basis, allowing engineers to see trends that may occur in shorter timeframes.

“For a system engineer to be able to remotely monitor asset health in real time in their office space, versus having the CBM group collect and analyze data biannually, will certainly prove beneficial,” Spry said. “Being alerted to potential failures early on will undoubtedly be less costly to correct and reduce downtime for the asset.”

The wireless instrumentation being used is an off-the-shelf product. National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, purchased the equipment as a part of commitment in the TOS contract to invest company funds in innovations and efficiencies at AEDC.

“The nice thing about using a CBM wireless network, is instrumentation can be set up fairly quickly and the data is available to us whenever the equipment does run,” Garrard said.

When equipment is operated intermittently, it can be difficult to schedule readings at times it is operational. Some of the instrumentation purchased is being used in a portable manner for monitoring equipment in such situations.

The project team selected a variety of wireless instrumentation for the pilot program to provide a broad assessment of the potential for the solution, including flow, temperature, water level, vibration and pressure.

Monitoring and diagnostics software was also implemented as part of the project. One of the programs has built-in features to help diagnose problems and provide data to help schedule maintenance in a more efficient manner. Equipment health and status alerts will be generated that are based on industry best practices and standards.

“Wirelessly collecting asset health data is the future of sustainment and will play a significant role in decreasing maintenance costs by only performing intrusive maintenance tasks when the condition health data indicates it’s necessary,” Spry said.

The project has been underway for more than a year, with personnel from multiple organizations on base working together to obtain the ATO. Instrumentation was first installed in September. Two locations were selected for the pilot project, with multiple wireless instruments installed at each location.

“We had a great team working together that consisted of government and contractor personnel,” Spry said. “Everyone involved played an integral part in launching the vision of wireless data collection into reality.”

Garrard said the system has already proved beneficial, resulting in maintenance initiated prior to when scheduled maintenance would have been conducted.

“It’s actually gone really well,” Garrard said. “There is always a learning curve, but I think we’ve done a good job negotiating that, and now we are getting actionable data.”

Justin Garrard, an AEDC reliability engineer, demonstrates the software interface for the instrumentation on the Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM) Wireless Network, Feb. 11, 2020, at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. The CBM Wireless Network has been installed in a limited capacity as a pilot project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

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