AUTOMATIC IDENTIFICATION TECHNOLOGY AND MAINTENANCE MANAGEMENT
By Mike Foster, Oxley Systems
Maintenance managers within the armed forces face increasing demands to support a wide range of equipment of varying ages and complexity, whist continually being challenged to increase equipment availability. Coupled with budget constraints and personnel shortages the prospect of providing effective and comprehensive equipment maintenance for operations around the world is challenging. This challenge is now also being taken-up by industry as we enter an age of defence equipment Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) whereby MoD are transferring liability and risk for equipment reliability and supportability to the OEM.
The development and application of Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) is set to play a significant role in equipment support for the maintenance community. Benefits will include increased operational readiness, reduced cost of ownership and improved maintainer productivity.
The overall objectives in the implementation of automatic identification technologies is that those that have a requirement for information have immediate access to data about the appropriate equipment. In a fully integrated AIT application, maintenance personnel create and use accurate information about the equipment they use. This information is available on demand and is easily updated by the maintainer. The information provides specific equipment performance histories, links to appropriate technical data and comprehensive configuration information. In addition, other support personnel have access to the information for any related support activities.
The potential benefits of AIT to the maintenance community are now being recognised. In the UK the BOWMAN communication systems, being developed by General Dynamics UK is the first of the UK Army’s equipment to have automatic identification components integrated into the equipment during manufacture. These tags will enable the configuration and maintenance of the key BOWMAN assets to be recorded with the equipment – from manufacturing “birth”, throughout it’s “life” in-service , to its “death”, reutilisation or disposal. This information will be stored on over 250,000 contact memory tags being fitted to maintenance significant items within the systems.
Figure 1. Maintenance significant items of the British Army Bowman communication systems will be fitted with Oxley e-tag contact memory buttons for electronic engineering asset management.
AIT uses a collection of data storage technologies or “tags”, that enable information to be captured. These devices enhance the ability to identify, track, document, maintain and control equipment maintenance histories. AIT encompasses a number of technologies, including: contact memory tags; “smart” cards; radio frequency ID tags and bar codes. The devices are interrogated using a range of electrical contact, laser or radio frequency techniques. The information obtained from the electronic ‘tag’ can be sent to information systems that integrate with various military logistics and asset management IT systems.
Some interesting figures published by the US Army  details the quantity of equipment involved and the level of maintenance carried out on equipment.
* The US Army has more than 460,000,000 repairable items, with a unit price at least $1,000 on Army end items.
* 382 million products are either recoverable or reparable and the various maintenance support centres
* The US army identified more than 260,000 products for which 560,000 modification works orders were applied over a 5 year period with a program value of $28 billion.
* The Army records more than 940,000 non-depot maintenance work orders annually
* Maintenance facilities repair, overhaul, or modify more than 400,000 products annually.
* More than 500,000 new records are established annually for airworthiness related flight-critical parts.