ROBINS AFB, Ga. --- Turns out a crystal ball isn’t necessary for seeing the future. Certainly not in the 402nd Software Maintenance Group where modern software tools are enabling units of the group to predict when an aircraft part will fail before it actually happens.
The art is called preventive maintenance. The idea: parts wear out, so why wait until they break? The objective: determine the typical lifespan of a part so it can be replaced in a timely fashion.
The 402nd SMXG has been working with various means of preventive maintenance for the C-5 Galaxy for many years. Now, the group is looking to boost its successes by adding new tools to the mix.
Cliff Diaz, a 578th Software Maintenance Squadronan electronics engineer, explains that preventive maintenance for the C-5 begins inflight. The laptop carried onboard by the flight engineer is loaded with the Embedded Diagnostic System or EDS. The EDS file records all information and signals about the plane inflight.
After the aircraft lands, information from the EDS is uploaded to one of two organically developed post-flight analysis software products - the Data Analysis and Redistribution Tool, or DART, and the Embedded Diagnostic System Data Analysis Tool, EDAT. C-5 engineers and maintainers can access the data on the web and use the information to troubleshoot and maintain the C-5 fleet.
Diaz, the DART project manager, and Shep Ladson, the EDAT project manager in the 578th SMXS, said the software written by their teams provides the C-5 community with the capability to analyze more than 700 test points.
In explaining the usefulness of DART, Diaz uses an automobile’s computerized assessment features. “It’s kind of like when the car ‘check engine’ light comes on,” he said. “DART is like the computer the dealership uses. With DART, you can see what’s going on with the airplane.”
Diaz said DART can show up to 18 months of data on the C-5, while EDAT looks at just one flight at a time. Another predictive tool used by the 581st SMXS, the Aging Fleet Integrity and Reliability Management application, or AFIRM, is the weapon system integrity program system of record for the C-5 System Program Office.
All three software systems are solid evidence of the value of preventive maintenance, Diaz said, again using a privately-owned vehicle analogy.
“If a car breaks down on the road, a mechanic has to come, you have to haul the vehicle in and parts have to be ordered. It takes hours and hours to get the car back on the road,” Diaz said. “When you can predict when a part is going to break, you can replace that part and you won’t break down in the desert or somewhere there is a lack of support.”
Diaz said the predictive measures made possible by 578th SMXG’s software analysis allows for timely, planned maintenance processes. Time and money are saved while safety is greatly enhanced.
A powerful new toolkit soon to be added into DART - Condition Based Maintenance Plus, or CBM+ - will further decrease aircraft downtime and maintenance times.
By leveraging the past 10 years of C-5 flight data stored in DART, CBM+ algorithms can establish a part's health and accurately predict when that part will fail, Diaz said. Before failure, maintenance crews will be alerted that the part is near the end of its life and can prepare for its replacement. Thus, all parts and personnel needed for maintenance can be acquired and in place at a scheduled maintenance date, not after the part has broken and left the plane stranded.
With CBM+ data from DART, the plane can be flown to the chosen maintenance station under its own power before failure, rather than having to scramble needed parts and maintenance personnel to wherever the plane has broken down. The plane can then be repaired and put into service in a vastly shorter timeframe. This saves valuable time, money and resources in an effort to keep the C-5 fleet healthy and supporting its mission.
EDAT is used by the C-5 System Program Office engineers to diagnose aircraft issues by graphically displaying EDS data.
Ladson said the data provided by EDAT reduces the diagnostic process from three days to 10 minutes.
The most current iteration of EDAT includes a signal validation tool that shows the user which signals are exhibiting non-standard behavior for the engine bleed air system.
As the CBM+ tools are expanded, EDAT will include modules for thrust reverser, air cycle refrigeration subsystem and cabin pressure control.
Jennifer Willis, element chief in the 581st SMXS, said AFIRM has been maintained by the 402nd SMXG since 2010 and contains fleet status and utilization.
In January, 578th SMXG began coordination with Air Mobility Command to rapidly develop an Enhanced Reliability Centered Maintenance, or eRCM, tool to be housed within AFIRM, Willis said. The eRCM tool employs maintenance and usage data already available in AFIRM to identify projected part failures for the high-driver work unit codes.
Willis said the tool will enable maintainers to identify the optimal time to replace parts before failure and ensure that both field maintainers and supply are aware of upcoming demands.
Diaz said for the engineers and maintainers, the advent of newer and enhanced preventive maintenance measures is “exciting.”
“You can look into the future a little bit and see how (the aircraft) does,” he said. “It saves you a lot of headaches.”
Diaz recognizes CBM+ as continuous process improvement, an invaluable asset for mission success.
“There’s a call in the field for this,” he said, “and we’re here to make it happen.”