Schematics for future weapons to be rendered in 3-D
Feb 3, 2013 - If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a 3-D picture worth?
Engineers at Picatinny Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., are working on a project to find out. They plan to reap a daisy chain of dollar savings by developing technologies that will be at the center of a revolution in how the Army meets its constantly changing needs for equipment.
Manufacturers use the data packages to set up their shops for the production of a wide range of parts to meet the Army's needs -- trigger assemblies, cannon breeches, turret parts and grenade safety pins -- everything from new to improved parts or parts to replace depleted inventories.
The reason for the added cost is added work. The manufacturers must take the Army's 2-D technical data package and convert it into a 3-D computer-aided design, or CAD, format, which is the language used by modern machine tools. That conversion can occupy a team for a week or even longer, depending on the complexity of the parts.
"They're not going to swallow the cost of translating the data from 2-D to 3-D," Parimi said of manufacturers. "They're going to pass on that cost and risk to the government."
The risk, he explained, is making a mistake during the data translation.
The Army does not provide official product representations in a 3-D format for several reasons. Until recently, the Army had no way of validating 3-D CAD data. Also, the Army had not adopted the use of a "neutral" standards-based CAD format that would allow vendors to use CAD data, regardless of which CAD platform their business used.
Teams from two of the Army Research Development and Engineering Command's organizations -- Picatinny Arsenal's ARDEC and Aberdeen Proving Ground's Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, had both been working on projects that sought to modernize the Army's technical data packages.
"It made sense to join forces and put a more comprehensive program together," said Paul Huang, a materials engineer who is the project lead for models-based enterprise activities at ARL. He added that they are all part of the same Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) team working multiple projects in the "same space."
In its current form, CAD vendors do not support the translation of STEP without some critically important data on how to manufacture the product. Consequently, the Army does not provide its official product representation in STEP.
Another approach would have been to pursue changes to STEP that supported the Army's needs, but since the STEP is based on agreement across an international body, that process would not have moved fast enough, Huang said.
Team members investigated the common Portable Document Format, commonly known as a PDF, which allows viewing in 3-D and is readable on standard personal computers without additional cost. However, it does not support extracting the data needed by the CAD software.
Current technical data packages, commonly called TDPs, include every detail about the finished part, but no information about how to make the part. The team envisioned a TDP that would have not only the 3-D PDF documents that interoperate with CAD, but would also include step-by-step "how to" data, including video-like sequential illustrations that explain how various tools can be used to fashion parts.
Creating odd and distinctive shapes that require instructions is especially important, and typical, in gun manufacturing, according to Parimi. The Army must figure out how it will be manufactured, thus it makes sense for the Army to relay that knowledge to the people who will do the job.
"It saves money, and it saves time," said Parimi. "By providing the data, we're positioning (manufacturers) further along in the learning curve. They don't have to spend as much money figuring out how to manufacture the part."
The team is also developing a way of representing "systems integration data." Translation: A guide that explains how to assemble an assortment of individual parts into a working system.
That data would be valuable over a system's service life, Parimi explained. After an Army weapon comes off the assembly line, it may remain in service for decades exposed to the Army's brutal operating environments. During that lifetime of service, a system is likely to be shipped to depots for replacement parts, upgrades or modifications several times.
Maintaining both the assembly information and the parts data means that Army depots would never again have to pay for planning parts-making or assembly. All the data would remain a part of the 3-D data package.
Parimi characterized the current version of the 3-D data package as "somewhat mature."
3-D TECHNICAL DATA PACKAGES -- ONE PIECE IN A LARGER EFFICIENCY PUZZLE
After their efforts merged, however, they have set their sights on a much bigger prize: "providing knowledge and functionality to provide better procurement packages to the DLA," said Huang, referring to the Defense Logistics Agency, which is the central focus for obtaining parts across the Department of Defense.
"Another goal is to provide better procurement packages for the Army's contracting centers," added Parimi.
For example, a Soldier may have an idea for a how to improve a product based on combat experience. The Soldier could submit the suggestion via the PDMS.
An Army engineer in the U.S. could review the suggestion and begin refining it, then prototype it, test it and submit the new design as change proposal that leverages the 3-D format. If the Army approved the improved part, it would then be the official representation of the part and available for production.
There are multiple variations of that example, explained Parimi.
A 3-D IETM allows Soldiers to disassemble and re-assemble virtual models of a system. The 3-D feature allows them to rotate components in the model to view them from different angles or "zoom in" to get a better view of small parts.
The 3-D data is also used to provide video-like assembly and disassembly instructions and is incorporated into self-paced tests, all to improve a Soldier's maintenance skills.
Parimi is developing plans to deploy 3-D PDF, PDMS and IETM elements.
He is working with their customers in Project Manager Soldier Weapons and Project Manager Close Combat Systems to bring the technology to fruition in a way that would support actual products being used by Soldiers.
One such project with PM Soldier Weapons includes developing 3-D digital work instructions to save time and money in the conversion of M2 .50 caliber machine guns into the upgraded M2A1 variant that was announced last year as an Army Greatest Invention of 2011.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Huang.
If that's true, then wouldn't a 3-D picture be worth one thousand words to the third power: a billion words?
If not, the ManTech team may just have to settle for billions of dollars in savings.
"That is why we see a huge impact with this technology," said Huang.
Modified from materials provided by US Army
Original writer: By Timothy Rider, RDECOM
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