Machine condition monitoring (MCM) is used to determine the condition of machinery whilst in operation.
It is a process of monitoring a parameter of health in a machine, to either AI, sensors or analytics, to identify a key variation which is symptomatic of an emerging fault. This allows maintenance teams to address issues that would normally shorten the life-span of a product, before they have the chance to develop into a major systems failure.
Having aircraft and vehicles out of service is very costly for the MOD. Financially speaking, there are exorbitant expenses related to machinery repair and replacement, along with consequential impacts to operational time-delays, downtime, and rescheduling. An inability to identify potential equipment failures may also lead to equipment failure during missions, putting the lives of active Service personnel at risk.
Historically, the servicing of a helicopter requires said aircraft to be taken out of service for a set-period, whilst a highly trained mechanical team assesses key operational components. Having mission critical technologies out of action over this period leads to excess economic and operational costs. The inefficiency of this methodology is further compounded, as it can remove machinery from operations when there is no need to do so (i.e. scheduled maintenance regardless of health).
In line with this, the RAF and MOD have started looking at ways of integrating MCM technologies into maintenance procedures. For example, on-board sensors can be connected to key helicopter components for a two-week monitoring period. This would allow analysts to see a multi-dimensional picture of how each of the differing measured variables performs in an operationally healthy system. From this, users can clearly see changes in the performance of individual components via regular feedback communications from the sensors. This allows maintenance teams to pre-empt component failures, helping to improve equipment availability and reduce support, secondary damage and production costs.
Within the general aviation sector, current figures show a 50% reduction in downtime due to technical faults, due to MCM technology. In a military context, this translates to not having to execute a mission with one fewer helicopter, or in a worst-case scenario, aborting a mission all together.
For the RAF, operational readiness is a critical factor. A large part of this relies on the successful maintenance of the machinery that supports the Air Force in its daily operations. Traditional preventive maintenance methods are becoming increasingly outdated and inefficient, especially in relation to the modern and complex technologies that the RAF now utilises. Standard methods are time consuming and require a significant investment of resources and man-power to be successful.
MCM technologies are therefore crucial for the RAF and MOD over the next decade. With lowering costs of condition monitoring systems, development strides in AI and analytics, improvements in direct communication processing, and faster processing functions, there are new and exciting areas of growth developing within the market.
Following on from their strategic review, the Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence want to be at the forefront of this development. In line with this, they are determined to understand and explore how leading organisations are disrupting and innovating within the sector, linking into how these technologies can be best adapted for military applications.