Ship maintenance

How digital twins keep the Navy one step ahead of ship maintenance


With a digital twin of a ship, the Navy can perform repairs and maintenance aboard the ship at sea, ensuring combat systems readiness without the need to dock.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Port Hueneme, Calif., Worked with Aerial Alchemy, an unmanned aerial systems company, to research ways to use digital twins and UASs for this purpose. A cooperative research and development agreement signed in June 2018 defined the details and the company produced a digital twin of the research vessel “Independence”.

The original plan was to create a digital twin of the ship so that surface warfare center maintenance engineers could more quickly identify damage, corrosion and alignment issues and be more proactive on maintenance when the ship arrives at the ship. port, Chuck Spaulding, Founder and CEO of Aerial Alchemy. noted.

Traditionally, ship inspections have been carried out manually, which often means that the ships have to be in port. With a digital twin, however, sensor data collected by drones can be distributed to colleagues on land – or vice versa – for inspection. Alternatively, the Navy can make sure that when the ship arrives in port the right people and the right tools are available to fix what’s broken.

“Because it’s the Navy, things happen at sea where maybe something is damaged, maybe something fails,” Spaulding said. “That way, they can start pulling that information back to maintenance orders faster, and then have a tool – a digital twin – that they can now evaluate. “

According to the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, analyzes from drones and on-board photogrammetry have been used to create temporal, geolocated, and metadata-dense models of Independence, which are much more actionable datasets for individuals. maintenance engineers. Having this digital twin reduces maintenance costs and human error, as experts on board and ashore can view the same reliable data and make decisions before degradation reaches the point of failure.

“Our ability as in-service engineers to support the fleet currently requires a large number of on-site personnel to identify configuration, damage, corrosion and other mechanical issues,” Alan Jaeger, director of the applications office at Naval Sea Systems Command’s research and technology department, said in a statement. “The concept of ‘digital twin’ or as-built surface vessel models offers many opportunities to better serve the fleet. Imagine not only being able to collect valuable information without placing maintenance personnel in potentially dangerous situations, but also doing so with the vessel underway while getting better and more accurate data in the process. “

When creating a digital twin, the company begins with a discovery phase to determine the appropriate remote sensing technologies and design a specially designed UAS to collect the most useful data in the most convenient way. The company uses LiDAR and hyperspectral imaging, which analyzes information from across the electromagnetic spectrum and can detect corrosion because paint reflects radiation differently if there is underlying rust, Spaulding said.

The digital twin also creates a unique source of truth about the ship. “When you renovate a house, you’ll notice you have a prime contractor and four or five subcontractors,” he said. “If you pay attention to the shots they’re looking at, they’re not all the same. They look at different variations of the same depending on when they got it. It’s a way to keep it all in sync so everyone knows they’re all communicating about the same issues.

“3D scanning is fundamentally important for digital engineering to support naval readiness,” Don Brutzman, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said in an email to GCN.

“The combination of the custom of Aerial Alchemy [unmanned aerial vehicles], high-resolution scanning sensors and computation-intensive post-processing are innovative and unique, ”he said. “Increased cooperation between government and industry is needed to make these achievements replicable and reusable throughout program lifecycles. “

The project is part of NSWC’s innovative naval science and engineering research into technologies that can advance the future of in-service engineering. The Federal Law on Technology Transfer of 1986 allows war centers and research laboratories to collaborate with industry and academics in the fields of research, engineering and technological development.