Since 1963, NSWC Port Hueneme has been providing the US Navy with highly skilled personnel and state-of-the-art facilities to develop warfare systems—systems such as warships, airships, and amphibious vehicles.
The organization focuses much of its technical capabilities on keeping the US Navy’s crucial machinery running, with next generation in-service engineering and 24/7 fleet support and service documentation.
As part of its vision to provide the most reliable systems possible, Port Hueneme began exploring “model-based definition” (MBD) in 2007. Ten years ago, most forward-thinking organizations engineered parts and assemblies in 3D CAD systems. But they still put important product manufacturing information (PMI), like tolerances and materials, in a separate 2D drawing to send over to the shop floor.
With MBD, engineers put all that PMI directly on the geometry, creating a “single source of truth” for product designs. By adopting MBD throughout the organization, Port Hueneme became an early example of a successful model-based enterprise.
The consequences have been far-reaching, impacting not just manufacturing, but also training and service. Best of all, it positioned the group to quickly incorporate more data into their models as the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR) evolved in recent years.
If you’ve ever watched old naval military footage or movies, you know the way ships work. Teams of people work in concert to maintain day-to-day operations. Engineers aboard the ship manually inspect systems to monitor status, perform tests, and rely on their instincts to detect failures.
But the IoT is quickly changing that picture. As the fleet becomes smarter and more connected, the data on 3D models becomes exponentially richer. Monitoring, and even optimization, can now take place from a central location. The data streaming in from IoT-enabled devices throughout the ship runs through analytics systems to detect failures, even before they arise. The system then sends out alerts, such as automated messages, when a system needs maintenance. It can even deliver insights about asset use and performance. Equipped with this rich data, sailors can then make more informed decisions.
Add in AR, and team members don’t just read numbers, they can visualize data like never before. Sailors can also receive instruction and training, and interact with the systems aboard the ship. That’s why the Navy plans to leverage all of the new and enhanced capabilities AR has to offer.
Training is a major expense for the Navy, especially because systems and processes change so often. In today’s training, sailors often find themselves encumbered with paper-based textbooks and static images and diagrams of the environments and assets they’re learning about.
Then by the time they deploy, their training often only serves as a metaphor for what they experience. For example, a sailor may learn to repair the drive train of an engine only to find out that, in real life, the actual warship drive train has been re-engineered.
With AR, they don’t have to call in an expert or find updated training and documentation. Instead, they simply use an augmented reality experience to visualize the updated information about the actual environments and assets they work with.
The system can display safety alerts based on machine data, too. By visualizing this information in context, sailors make better decisions quickly and safely.
Augmented reality is poised to transform the way sailors are instructed on tasks or repairs during deployment to provide experience on demand. Today, phone-based expert assistance or paper manuals help sailors learn new tasks and receive real-time guidance. In the case of repair of warfare systems, technicians often use paper-based schematics to understand how to perform a repair on an asset they may not have been trained on.
Port Hueneme estimates updates to these static systems could take up to 18 months. This means that a sailor must call a technical engineer for expertise. These expert requests can cause downtime the fleet cannot afford and create bottlenecks that result in further downtime.
With AR, the transfer of knowledge takes place in real-time, at scale, by updating 3D digital schematics and instructions with the click of a mouse as soon as Port Hueneme’s systems engineers and documentation teams make changes.
With an aging workforce and rapidly changing warfare systems, this transfer of knowledge from human-to-human will prove more important than ever to avoid losing the experience of seasoned sailors. With real-time expert guidance, technical engineers can sit in centralized locations and see what the sailor on-site can see, using annotations directly in the sailor’s field of view to help guide them through a repair or maintenance task.
As smart, connected warfare systems revolutionize the way the Navy detects problems and dispatches technicians, and with AR, the way those technicians learn to support assets, Port Hueneme will maximize the value of the Navy’s asset, its workers, and the information systems that connect the two.
In the new digital world, feedback remains a core tenet of lean, agile operations. Today, most experts collect feedback by way of surveys and word of mouth. But that may prove to be too little, too late, especially on ships. AR will provide new capabilities for Port Hueneme to capture data to improve decisions about design, use, and service of the warfare systems—all without any inexact questionnaires or listening sessions.
Port Hueneme believes instead that AR solutions could interact with the user’s environment to analyze maintenance and operational procedures. In turn, engineers will better understand how the warfare ships they design and create documentation for are used in the field. In addition, they’ll leverage this data for quality assurance and compliance purposes.
For Port Hueneme, smart, connected products now produce large amounts of data, which may deliver benefits across the value chain. The key to extracting value from this data lies in the ability to deliver it to the right people in the right place in a way that can be interpreted quickly and accurately.
Drawing on product design that serves as a single source of truth, the organization can now use AR information from smart, connected products to inform decision-making by providing contextually relevant information in a spatial and natural way. Continuously improving its world-class fleet, the US Navy at Port Hueneme is poised to capitalize on the opportunity offered by combining IoT and AR in a model-based enterprise to transform human decision making.
Learn more about how AR is extending digital transformation initiatives like MBD and IoT in “A Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality.”