Ship maintenance

Navy tests robots for ship maintenance

SEPTEMBER 13, 2022 – A variety of robots crawling in, on and under a decommissioned US Navy destroyer, along with spare parts additively manufactured on site, was only a small part of the activity which took place during the first-ever US Navy Repair Technology Exercise, or REPTX, held from August 22 to September 22. 1 at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) in Ventura County, California.

Teams from various companies as well as university and government labs arrived from around the world with their technology applications to perform demonstrations and field experiments aboard the decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer, known as the test ship of self-defense (SDTS). The vessel is operated by personnel from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) in Port Hueneme, Calif., a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) field activity and located at NBVC.

NAVSEA’s Naval Systems Engineering and Logistics Branch Technology Office (NAVSEA 05T) sponsored REPTX 2022, which was hosted by NSWC PHD and held both at the dock and at aboard the SDTS, which set sail for the second week of the event.

The purpose of the inaugural exercise was to see if the technology can tackle real-world fleet maintenance and repairs related to ship battle damage while operating in a real maritime environment – building capacity of the Navy to keep ships at sea by helping sailors make necessary repairs.

“The format provides a realistic commissioning environment, both at the dock and underway, allowing teams to commission, adjust, learn and retest their solutions,” said Janice Bryant, Head of support technology program at NAVSEA 05T.

“REPTX not only showcased the technology, but applied it to solve Navy challenges,” Bryant added. “It was an issue-focused event that fostered collaboration rather than competition. Many problems require a complex solution, and several participants have independent elements of that solution. »

The more than 60 REPTX attendees showcased technologies designed to address four areas of interest: visualization, command and control aids, advanced manufacturing, and expeditionary maintenance.

The technology also had to be capable of taking on “day work” – in other words, serving a purpose that adds value to Navy ships and crew on a routine basis. And, it must be user-friendly enough for a ship’s crew to learn quickly.

“Our priorities as a warfare center are to deliver and maintain readiness, modernize and maintain the current fleet, and field the surface fleet of the future,” said Captain Andrew Hoffman, Commander of NSWC PHD. “REPTX demonstrates these priorities by enabling both industry, government and academia to work side-by-side while exploring innovative maintenance concepts that we can quickly deliver to our forward deployed combatants.”

About 20 reservists from the Navy’s Surge Maintenance (SurgeMain) program provided perspective from the ship’s crew as they familiarized themselves with much of the technology, learning to use remote-controlled robotics, wearing augmented reality headsets (AR) to display repair instructions. and videos, measuring corrosion on the SDTS deck plate, and more.

“SurgeMain sailors don’t usually have such opportunities to provide information on new technologies, so it was extremely important for them to have this opportunity,” said Suzie Simms, REPTX project manager. “At the end of the event, all of the SurgeMain sailors who participated said they wanted to be involved again next year.”

Scenarios where reservists were able to remotely control robots included identifying unknown objects on the side of the ship’s hull, untangling a fouled propeller, measuring the depth of metal wastage due to corrosion using ultrasonic waves and inspecting tight spaces that would be difficult or dangerous for a human to enter.

Several companies have brought AR technology to the SDTS, providing both real-time communications and visuals during simulated battle damage assessment scenarios, as well as repair work instructions and videos that can be viewed via the helmet while simultaneously looking at the damaged area.

Additive manufacturing technology installed in compact shipping containers both dockside and aboard the SDTS has enabled spare parts to be 3D printed as needed in a variety of materials.

Other scenarios involved ship-to-shore communication systems, inspection and repair tools, and viewing devices above and below water.

Technology providers helped SurgeMain reservists use and demonstrate the technology aboard the SDTS during week two – this time in a real maritime environment as the ship sailed off Port Hueneme. Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators had the chance to fly their camera-equipped drones around the vessel to inspect it.

The main objectives of the UAV demonstrations during REPTX were to identify problems such as corrosion and misplaced items and to test the capabilities of UAVs to aid in combat damage assessment and repair – an area key for the Navy – quickly creating digital models, among other things.

In one scenario, a flange with a leaking gasket was the subject of a collaborative effort on the last day in progress of REPTX. The SDTS crew had identified the problem in the ship’s cabin, and several technology vendors worked on a fix with SurgeMain sailors.

A reservist used an AR headset during the scenario to connect remotely with a subject matter expert elsewhere to help inspect and measure the faulty flange.

Armed with the measurements from the flange assembly, two additive manufacturing companies participating in REPTX then 3D printed parts that could be used to replace the flange and gasket in the ceremonial cabin.

Other ongoing demonstrations tested, repaired and monitored the ship’s vital equipment.

Attendees and organizers agreed that some of the best things to come out of REPTX were the spontaneous collaborations between the organizations in attendance that revealed more effective uses of their individual technologies when used together.

In addition to emphasizing collaboration, organizers designed the event to be educational for everyone involved.

“REPTX has facilitated learning on both the government side and the participants,” said Jason Bickford, research director at NSWC PHD. “We heard unanimous positive feedback from attendees that this was a valuable experience for them.”

The learning experience was impactful in that it was hands-on, operations-based, and held aboard an active vessel.

Bryant said the next steps are figuring out how to invest $2 million in follow-on funding to further develop the technologies to field in the fleet. The REPTX team will also release a full after-action report on the event to the public.

In the meantime, discussions are underway for a sequel.

“Events like REPTX allow NAVSEA to be more nimble and competitive in the future fight,” Bryant said. “Access to Navy assets, crew and issues enables traditional and non-traditional players to engage together quickly and effectively. Ongoing efforts like REPTX are essential as the Navy seeks to build a more resilient, sustainable fleet and an innovative, responsive industrial base.

Additional photos and videos of the exercise are available at https://www.dvidshub.net, keyword: REPTX.

Story of Teri Carnicelli and Thomas McMahon
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division