The Automation Future: Smart Technology On Board the Navy’s Newest Ship

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The next wave of automation technology is turning some of the most routine tasks—organizing a digital photo collection or adjusting the temperature in your home—into a fine-tuned experience. By automating household maintenance, we can streamline daily tasks and save time that could be better spent elsewhere.

But imagine if your job was to maintain a ship the size of a football field. These routine, maintenance tasks could add up to thousands of man hours and millions of dollars wasted on regular up-keep.

“On older-design ships, many sailors would need to monitor and maintain the ship across several different machinery spaces using many different systems,” said Lockheed Martin’s Scott Hoyle. “With the littoral combat ship design, we have sensors across the ship that feed all of the information to one place where it is automatically provided to crews. We can immediately take action on any level of problem that might exist.”

On July 18, the Navy christened its newest littoral combat ship (LCS), the future USS Little Rock. In 2016, it will join four other Freedom-class variants in patrolling the world’s shorelines and open seas.

On each of these ships, onboard automation is essential to keeping machines healthy and crews happy. Read on for three technologies that engineers are applying to the LCS design to simplify life at sea. 

DIGITAL TUNE-UP

The sensors under the hood of your car can provide some data on your vehicle’s health, like fluid levels, and save you money by alerting you to potential problems long before they become serious – and expensive.

LaserNet Fines-Online on board the littoral combat ship takes that principle much further because it is assessing machinery health to alert crews to potential malfunctions. The fewer the problems, the longer the ship is carrying out its mission.

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How it Works

LaserNet Fines uses laser technology embedded into fluid systems to provide on-the-spot analysis of machinery health by detecting, counting, classifying and even trending fluid contamination.

“The LaserNet Fines technology built into the monitoring system gives the ship’s crew a real-time look at how various contaminants in the fuel, lube or hydraulic fluids might be affecting our particular ship system," said Dave Bethel, the business development lead for Laser Net Fines-Online and Controls and Automation.

Lockheed Martin developed the technology in partnership with the Office of Naval Research.

While a car mechanic typically needs to pull the dipstick to check your car’s oil, LaserNet Fines works in real time so crews can track and measure fluids from any laptop or remote monitoring station to determine how clean the fluid is and instantly analyzes any contaminants that may exist.

Even better, the technology isn’t specific to just a Navy ship. Many large engines or thrusters can use this technology as well.

A FLOATING POWER PLANT

When it comes to electricity, the LCS is like a floating power plant. Its engines produce enough power to propel the ship through the water at speeds of nearly 45 knots – making it one of the fastest ships in the Navy’s fleet.

Behind the scenes, a software system called Axis™ is constantly managing the ship’s propulsion, electric plant, auxiliaries and engineering casualty/damage control systems.

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How it Works

Axis is a plant management system that uses distributed processing, in which a single program runs simultaneously at various locations. Axis also features fault tolerance, meaning each operation is performed on more than one system. If one fails, another takes over. And Axis saves money with powerful applications that reduce the costs of implementation and maintenance, while improving overall system performance, reliability and flexibility.

With Axis, Lockheed Martin has created a brand of modern, modular controls and automation products that work together seamlessly.

COLLECTING DATA

Spanning the 378-foot length of the littoral combat ship, thousands of sensors are collecting and feeding massive amounts of data through a tool called Visionary™ to predict mechanical issues and determine root cause.  

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How it Works

Visionary uses nearly 7,000 sensors placed throughout the ship to monitor and collect data from major electrical and mechanical systems. The readings are fed from the equipment hourly to satellites and beamed to Navy and industry teams for analysis.

The Visionary monitoring system also serves as a data historian, compiling all the data for trend analysis and helping determine what changes may be needed.

Like LaserNet Fines, Visionary isn’t just for the littoral combat ship. The technology can be applied to a range of applications to monitor mechanical and electrical systems.

“The Navy wants to put fewer sailors in harm's way,” Bethel said. “To do that requires reducing manpower while increasing automation. That’s where Lockheed Martin comes in. We’re able to provide the engineering expertise that allows the Navy to maintain its commitment to national security. The advanced technology on board the littoral combat ship is the perfect example of how we are engineering a better tomorrow.”