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Test Systems Sustainment Division relentlessly improving, sustaining the complex

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

Sustainment. According to the Oxford Dictionary, sustainment is the support or maintenance of military equipment.

We’ve heard in the AFMC We Need surveys that we need to invest more in sustaining our test infrastructure and do a better job of maintaining the equipment we have.  One survey respondent wrote that we need to properly maintain our ground test infrastructure and keep the test facilities from falling into disrepair. I, and the other AEDC senior leaders, wholeheartedly agree.

In his AEDC Strategy 2020, AEDC Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty established three priorities for the complex leadership to focus on in the coming year. Those priorities are Pursue Mission Excellence, Invest in our People, and Improve and Sustain the Complex. He wrote, “Together with our national defense partners, we will improve and sustain the Complex relentlessly, to bolster our security perpetually.”

With annual sustainment budgets from Congress relatively flat over the last decade, aging infrastructure and increased test load; sustaining the Complex relentlessly is going to be difficult, but the Test Systems Sustainment Division (TSS) along with our mission partner National Aerospace Solutions, LLC (NAS) are up to the challenge.

While we can’t increase our annual budget allocation, stop the aging process, or turn away test customers; we need to focus on those areas where we do have a modicum of control. One of those areas is our test asset sustainment program.

Sustainment is more than fixing what breaks. Rather than being reactive when things go wrong, a solid sustainment program relies on planning, process, rigor and data to be proactive and perform maintenance at a time of our choosing before a major equipment failure.

The powerhouse team of TSS and NAS’s Asset Health Assurance (AHA) group have built, implemented and are continuously improving a program that enables data driven maintenance decisions that ultimately reduce cost and improve asset availability. The AHA team uses an approach that relies on aspects of Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) and Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) to increase the chances of detecting potential failures early. 

RCM uses various data sources to analyze test assets and determine the most effective maintenance program. Implementation of CBM as a result of RCM often reduces the amount and frequency of inspections which has the added benefit of reducing cost. CBM utilizes equipment mounted sensors to capture operational data such as temperature, vibration and pressure for trend analysis and equipment condition assessment. The CBM network is currently utilized to monitor vibrations in some of AEDC’s largest rotating machinery in the Propulsion Wind Tunnels and Engine Test Facilities.

As we expand the CBM network and add wireless capability, we reduce reliance on physical routes to collect data from wired sensors and gain increased frequency of data collection. Additionally, wireless CBM networks allow us to remotely monitor motors, pumps, and valves that are difficult and unsafe to reach in person. Recent implementation of wireless CBM equipment in the steam traps increased data availability from once every six months to having data every 30 minutes. It also eliminates the need for confined space entry to collect the data thereby reducing labor cost and improving personnel safety.

This approach of utilizing condition based and reliability centered maintenance to reduce inspection frequency and only perform maintenance as needed is similar to what automobile manufacturers have done with our oil changes. Gone are the days when we change our oil every three months or 3,000 miles. Now our automobiles have sensors to monitor your engine temperature and driving habits to determine the frequency of an oil change. The cost avoided by reducing those oil changes adds up to big savings in your pocket. Similarly, the implementation of a data driven sustainment program has saved AEDC over $11.5 million since fiscal year 2016.

Every day, our TSS/NAS team collect and analyze inspection and condition data in an effort to right-size the maintenance program which will in-turn reduce maintenance cost, reduce failures and improve reliability. More reliable systems enable us to stretch our budget further. Stretching our budget allows us to do more. Increased reliability, reduced cost and better sustainment, these are exactly the things our personnel have communicated a need for, what our customers deserve and what our leadership demands. Improve and Sustain the Complex (relentlessly)… we’re on it!