Marines, start your engines!
OnStar-like technology drafted for combat
- By Doug Beizer
- Oct 12, 2007
Trouble with the family car's alternator usually means an inconvenient trip to a mechanic and a costly repair bill.
For Marines operating in Iraq, a faulty part on a vehicle could precipitate a life-or-death situation.
Technology that has been successful in monitoring the health of aircraft is now being adapted for Marine Corps ground vehicles to avert dangerous breakdowns.
The project, known as the Embedded Platform Logistics System, is expected to make vehicle maintenance more efficient and less expensive.
"Currently," said Lt. Geraldine Carey, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, "we repair things when they break. EPLS will allow us to shift from a reactive to proactive approach to support weapon systems; [that is], fixing prior to breaking."
Additionally, EPLS removes the paper process of reporting and tracking
platform information and makes it a paperless system."
Ensuring that vehicles are ready for service and not idle in a motor pool waiting for parts or repairs is critical to fulfilling Marine Corps missions.
"Studies have shown that operators and maintenance personnel are more efficient when they have the technical data in front of them," Carey said. "EPLS not only provides the technical data but automates diagnostic routines, embedded training and electronic requests for service."
As the Marines satisfy increased demands and missions, and as budgets get tighter, the efficiency that the logistics system offers becomes critical.
Lockheed Martin Corp. is the prime contractor on the $144.8 million contract. Debra Palmer, vice president at Lockheed Martin's Enterprise Logistics Solutions business unit, compared the technology to the OnStar system available in General Motors cars.
"It allows visibility or access to what's going on in the vehicle at any point in time," Palmer said. "EPLS provide sensors at multiple locations on the vehicle, and those sensors then monitor things like heat or amperage, and it sends that information to an on-board computer."
The computer alerts the driver and crew of potential problems. The system also accounts for the vehicle's location. If, for example, an armored vehicle is on a mission in the Iraq desert, a high operating temperature would be expected.
At specified times, the system will transfer data to headquarters' networks for analysis to determine when certain maintenance is necessary.
That kind of automation and analysis isn't available today.
"Many times, just because of the massive [number] of vehicles and the limited support staff the corps has, they do maintenance based on time as opposed to based on an event," Palmer said. "That can be pretty inefficient."
Under the current manual system, a vehicle's tires, for example, could be changed prematurely based on how old they are rather than how many miles are on them.
The system also will allow the Marine Corps to reduce inventories of spare parts because EPLS will provide a more accurate picture of needed parts at any given time.
"That's the goal of EPLS, we don't want to wait until things break down, we want to understand how they're being used," said Doug Bowman, Lockheed Martin's program director of EPLS. "We are augmenting sensors already on the vehicle so we can do some of that trending."From clipboard to laptop
The system also assists drivers and crews in checking vehicles before missions. Today, a paper-based check of every vehicle occurs before a mission.
With the EPLS kit, drivers will use laptop PCs as they walk around a vehicle and make the checks electronically. The laptop and software also will be used during checks after missions.
For trucks carrying cargo, the technology replaces paper-based logistics with a scanner/bar code system.
Crews get an electronic receipt when they scan cargo and load it onto a truck. And when they get to the delivery site, they get another electronic receipt.
"And should they choose, they can hook it up to the radio so that information can be transmitted for better asset visibility," Bowman said.
If a base camp needs to deliver ammunition to an outlying camp, a driver is assigned the mission and a vehicle.
The driver goes to the motor pool for a preoperational check using the laptop.
If the vehicle needs fuel, for example, the system alerts the driver. When the vehicle is filled, the system's sensors note that and update the data.
Then the driver and crew use a bar code reader to scan the pallets of ammunition loaded on the truck.
If the vehicle has a weapon mounted on it, the system monitors how much ammo is available for it and if any is used during the trip.
During the trip to the remote camp, the system monitors the vehicle in real time. If the voltage on the electrical system drops, the system may send a warning.
"Then EPLS goes one step further and looks at the other conditions," Bowman said. "Is there a problem, or is there an increased demand on the electrical system?"
The system helps the crew decide whether they need to stop or if they can continue with the mission.
It then taps into the supply chain, locating the needed spare parts before the mission is complete.
"That means you may be able to continue on with the mission, but at the next stop, we will have a mechanic and the spares waiting for you to deal with the situation," Bowman said.Staff writer Doug Beizer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.