Navy is compiling a digital model of the carrier, so subsequent projects will be designed and planned on computers. to help bring the shipyard’s carrier overhaul work in line with its digital design-and-manufacturing processes that are already speeding up construction and maintenance on newer vessels.
These digital shipbuilding concepts are revolutionizing the way ships are designed and built.
“We want to leverage technology, learn by doing and really drive it to the deck plates. This is the future. This isn’t about if. This is where we need to go.”
The technology workers use to design, build, and overhaul submarines and aircraft carriers is rapidly changing. Paper schematics are quickly becoming a thing of the past, being replaced by digital blueprints easily accessible to workers on handheld tablets.
“The new shipbuilders coming in, are not looking for you to hand them a 30-page or a 200-page drawing. “We’re really transitioning how we train workers and how we do things as far as getting them proficient.”
The technology is spreading beyond the shipbuilding sector. Contractors are using digital tools to design a new pilot training jet and an aerial refueling drone. Services are planning to evaluate new engines for planes that have been around for decades, using digital tools. The technology is allowing companies to build weapons faster than traditional manufacturing techniques.
Engineers are already using digital blueprints to design ships, but they plan to expand the use of the technology into manufacturing in the coming years. “We want to be able to leverage off all that data and use it. “There’s lots of things we can do with that data.” Data from the ship’s computerized blueprints are being fed into machines that fabricate parts.
In the future, even more of that data will be pumped directly into the manufacturing robots that cut and weld more and more of a ship’s steel parts.
“That’s the future. “No drawings. They get a tablet. They can visualize it. They can manipulate it, see what it looks like before they even build it.”
As shipyard workers are giving carriers a thorough working-over, they are using laser scanners to create digital blueprints of the ship. These digital blueprints are creating a more efficient workforce and reducing cutting as many as six months from a three-year overhaul,
The top of its massive island — where sailors drive the ship and control aircraft — has been sliced off. It will be rebuilt in the coming months with a new design that will give the crew a better view of the flight deck. The island already sports a new, sturdier mast that can hold larger antennas and sensors.
The yard is combining its digital ship designs with augmented reality gear to allow its designers and production crews to virtually “walk through” the ships spaces. This helped the yard figure out, for example, whether the ship’s sections were designed efficiently for maintenance.
In addition to robots, the additive manufacturing techniques, like 3D printing, could speed shipbuilding even more and reduce the Navy’s need for carrying spare parts on ships. For example, he Navy is testing a 3D-printed valve.
“It’s really not about reducing our workforce as much it is about doing more with the workforce we have. “We’re still going to hire people. We still have to ramp up. There’s still hands-on things that are always going to have to be done. But it definitely helps us with cycle time to be able to build things quicker” and “enable our workforce to be more efficient.
Two Navy Super Hornet squadrons have reduced maintenance turnaround times and are boosting aircraft readiness as part of naval aviation’s maintenance reform initiatives under the Naval Sustainment System [NSS]
The initiative leverages best practices from commercial industry to help reform aspects of naval aviation’s fleet readiness centers, organizational-level [O-level] maintenance, supply chain, engineering and maintenance organisations and administrative processes. Initially, the NSS is concentrating on getting the Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet healthy before rolling out the approach to every Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.
Fixes include assigning crew leads to manage the maintenance on each aircraft and reorganising hangar spaces, parts cages and tools.
The most significant change has been the delegation of ownership over each aircraft in for repairs from the squadrons’ maintenance material control officers, or MMCOs, to individual crew leads.
Traditionally, MMCOs must keep track of the status of each aircraft in for maintenance as well as the Sailors working on them, and that’s in addition to deciding what maintenance actions are required for each jet and which aircraft are safe to release for flight. Assigning junior-level crew leads to each jet removes some of that burden from the MMCOs and has led to improved communication and increased accountability.
“The crew leads are not making the maintenance decisions; that's still done by the maintenance controllers, but what it allows for is it sheds those maintenance control chiefs of having to know every status of every jet, of every person, all day long,”
Now the crew owns that process and know where the people are, know the status of the parts, and brief that up the line.” For those accustomed to doing their job a certain way, change did not come easy. But the benefits have been evident,
“At first the changes didn’t feel productive because we didn’t really understand it, but now that we’ve had some time with it, it’s definitely helped improve our processes and communication,”
Used to focusing exclusively on avionics, some workers said serving as a crew lead has forced them to approach the maintenance of his assigned aircraft more with benefit of the big picture. The increased responsibility of bringing an entire jet back online ultimately leads to a greater sense of accomplishment.
“Some aircraft are easy, and some are a struggle to get through. Rather than working on a jet for a couple hours to complete the one thing assigned to your shop and then moving on to the next jet, this way you take more ownership toward completing the whole thing.”
Having crew leads that can focus on individual jets — and communicate with the various maintenance shops — relieves maintenance control from having to keep near-constant track of as many as a dozen aircraft at a time.
“Crew leads have cut down on empty communication, so now maintainers aren’t stuck behind a maintenance control desk, can walk around to each shop and talk to them personally. There’s a lot more communication one-on-one, instead of one-to-one-to-one and then to maintenance control. It's definitely helped with communication and productivity with the jets.”
In tandem with the crew lead concept has been the utilisation of a whiteboard alongside each aircraft that informs anyone passing by as to the jet’s status. Information on the boards includes the names of the crew chief and additional personnel assigned to the aircraft, what maintenance is needed, and the expected completion date.
“If you physically walk through one of our hangars today, you can tell which ones have been updated and which ones haven't. “You know the exact status of that airplane, you know who's working on that airplane and when they expect that airplane to be up. There's going to be a crew lead who has that ownership.”
In addition, the two squadrons have begun treating the spaces around each Super Hornet in their hangars as dedicated workspaces, with all necessary tools and parts kept beside the aircraft rather than back in one of the various maintenance shops.
Now the tools for the jobs are right where they should be. What we're seeing with that sort of approach, having our tools next to the airplane, having our status board next to the airplane, everything is going to the point of action being around that airframe, and we're seeing a really significant improvement in our mission capable rates.”
Both squadrons have also begun keeping larger parts in a centralised “parts cage” in the hangar, dramatically reducing the amount of time Sailors spend traversing the hangar in search of equipment rather than with their hands on an aircraft.
“It may be five minutes here or five minutes there, but over the course of a day across all those technicians, that's a lot of time saved by having those parts close to where the job is being done,”
Many inefficiencies arose from work centers waiting on one another to be finished with an aircraft before beginning their own tasks. “There was a lot of waiting time in between.”.
Time management, communication and multitasking between shops have all improved following the O-level reform, Shops were encouraged to identify which of their tasks could be performed alongside another’s simultaneously. For instance, someone can check the lights in the cockpit from the side of the jet while someone from the avionics shop inspects instrumentation inside the cockpit.
“It cuts down a lot on worker hours, so we can minimise the time on the inspection.”
“It's been a tough pill to swallow, to see how inefficient we were in that position, even though we thought we were on point every single time. “To now look back and go, ‘Wow, there were a lot of places where we could have improved.’ So, that's what's made us believers, is being able to look in hindsight and realise there's tons of this stuff we wish we had earlier.
But even with all this progress, more than half of the military's repair and maintenance depots for major weapons systems are in poor condition, resulting in delays in getting assets from submarines to tanks back in the field, according to a GAO report.
Of the 21 depots that maintain, overhaul and repair complex weapons systems, 12 were listed in poor condition and operating with equipment past its expected service life, according to the report.
The result has been a "general decline in depot performance over the past 10 years" and delays in returning weapons systems to the field for operations and training, the report states. In addition, "the military services can't determine how much of the decline is due to facility and equipment problems.
The report states that poor conditions at the facilities "can make the overall repair process less efficient, as maintainers perform workarounds that can increase maintenance time and costs."
"Because the depots are generally operating with equipment past its expected useful life, the depots may be incurring costs related to operating aging equipment, including performing equipment repairs, procuring spare parts, and expending labor hours to repair equipment while at the same time delaying mission-related work.”
For example, at one depot a shortage of paint booths results in vehicles remaining unpainted and stored outside, but exposure can lead to rusting that increases maintenance time and cost.
In another example, officials at a depot had to re-inspect 10 years' of parts made in a single furnace, after it was discovered that the furnace's controls were reading incorrectly.
"According to officials at the depot, this is the result of years of incremental construction that did not allow them to optimise their workflow.”
Services are not consistently required to track maintenance delays caused by facility or equipment conditions. This lack of tracking limits the services’ ability to target investments to facility and equipment needs that would have the greatest effect on repair times or other performance goals.
By knowing how often facility and equipment conditions lead to work delays, the services could reduce the risk of investing in less critical facilities and equipment. They could also reduce the risk of more work stoppages caused by facility or equipment conditions.
Services’ plans are still in the initial stages, and each one is expected to lack key elements of a results-oriented management approach—including analytically based goals, results-oriented metrics, full identification of required resources and risks, and regular reporting on progress—that would help guide investment.
As the shipyard optimisation plan has demonstrated, the cost of optimisation may be high and, once defined, will require sustained management attention over many years to carry out successfully.
In addition, implementing a regular monitoring and reporting process to provide oversight and accountability over depot investments would further enhance DoD’s ability to attain improvements at the depots significant enough to reverse years of decline and reach the challenging goals set by SECCEF for improving mission capability rates and reducing operating and support costs.
Despite the negative effect that poor conditions can have on depot performance, the military services do not consistently track when facilities and equipment conditions lead to maintenance delays. Based on our analysis, the services each track a form of maintenance delay— specifically, work stoppages caused by either equipment or facility conditions.
Work stoppages are circumstances where maintenance can no longer proceed because the depot does not have everything it needs, including the facility space to begin additional work or equipment needed to perform a certain function.
Although the services have the ability to track work stoppages, they do not all track both facility and equipment-related maintenance delays across all their depots. Further, even within a service, the depots may use different methodologies. Different methodologies make it difficult to compare across depots and identify issues.
For example, according to Navy officials, the Navy aviation depots track work stoppages, but each depot uses different standards for determining which incidents are tracked. This means that an event counted as a work stoppage at one location might not be counted at another location.
The depots do not track maintenance delays caused by facility and equipment conditions, such as work stoppages more consistently because there is currently no requirement from their respective materiel commands to do so. Every year, the services spend millions of dollars on depot facilities and equipment to meet their minimum investment requirement.
Establishing measures and using them to track maintenance delays caused by facility and equipment conditions would help the services to make better investment decisions because they could target investments to facility and equipment needs that would have the greatest impact on repair times or other key performance goals.
Without knowing how often facility and equipment conditions lead to work delays, the services risk investing in less critical infrastructure and experiencing more work stoppages due to facility or equipment conditions.
The military services are developing optimisation plans for their depots, but these plans lack analytically-based goals, results-oriented metrics, a full accounting of the resources, risks, and stakeholders, and a process for reporting on progress. Including these elements could enhance the effectiveness of service depot investments. Furthermore, there is currently no process at the OSD level that monitors depot investment decisions or provides regular reporting to decision makers and Congress.
The services do not use the same performance metrics in managing their depots. The different performance metrics used in this analysis were: “Percent Completed On-Time” for Navy aviation and Air Force, “Days of Maintenance Delay” for Navy shipyards, and “Production to Plan” for Marine Corps. The Army depots use various schedule performance terms, though the most common is “Performance to Promise.“
Other performance metrics are collected by the depots, such as cost and labor hours. However, for the purposes of this review, we solicited the performance metrics from each service that they used to assess their own depot performance.
Depot performance metrics can be measured in terms of timeliness, though the specific manner may vary by depot. For example, some depots measure whether an individual repair was completed when expected and measure the days past the expected date the repair was actually completed. Other depots set a target number of repairs to complete in a certain period of time.
Depot performance metrics tied to output are generally measured in terms of timeliness, though the specific manner may vary. For example, some depots measure whether an individual repair was completed when expected and measure the number of days past the expected date when the repair was actually completed. Other depots set a target for the number of repairs to complete in a certain period of time and track how many are actually completed each month.
The service depots have generally experienced worsening performance in terms of completing maintenance on time or in the required amount over the past decade. The Navy aviation depots have seen decreases in their timely completion of maintenance for aircraft, engines and modules, and components.
For example, on-time performance for aircraft completed at the Navy’s three aviation depots has decreased from more than 50% percent a decade ago to about 30% in current fiscal year This occurred even though the number of aircraft scheduled for repair over that same time period declined by about 25%
DoD components were required to adopt a standardised process for facility condition assessments to ensure consistent and reliable data. Facility condition indexes were to be recorded using the standardised process For this analysis, we weighted the condition ratings by the replacement cost of the facility, also known as the plant replacement value. This is to ensure that costlier facilities are weighted more heavily in the condition ratings,
For this analysis, we weighted the condition ratings by the replacement cost of the facility, also known as the plant replacement value to to ensure the costlier facilities are weighted more heavily in the condition ratings, For example, an expensive shop plant is weighted as more important than an inexpensive guard shack. This is the same method used by the Navy to calculate their condition averages.
We are making the following recommendations to improve Depot Operations:
1. Establish measures for depots to rate facility or equipment condition
2. Ensure depots implement tracking of the condition assessment measures
3. Identify factors leading to maintenance delays
4. Identify when facility or equipment conditions lead to maintenance delays
5. Incorporate key result elements in its depot optimisation plan,
6. Include analytically-based goals and metrics
7. Identify required resources, risks, and stakeholders
8. Develop an approach for managing service depot investments
9. Include standards for management monitoring
10. Prepare regular reports to decision makers and Congress on progress.