Home » News & Analysis » Maintenance Planning Summit Recommends Time-Based Maintenance, ‘Tighter Learning Circle’

Maintenance Planning Summit Recommends Time-Based Maintenance, ‘Tighter Learning Circle’

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) arrives pierside at Naval Base Kitsap Bremerton prior to a planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. US Navy photo.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) arrives pierside at Naval Base Kitsap Bremerton prior to a planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. US Navy photo.

The Navy may have swung too far from time-based maintenance towards condition-based maintenance, service officials say, and are discussing reversing course to help get through maintenance periods on a shorter timeline.

With the Navy’s four public shipyards unable to keep up with the demand for maintenance from aircraft carriers and submarines, those in the maintenance, engineering and fleet communities are looking for any solutions to help ease the backlog of work. And while better advance planning alone won’t solve the problem, the officials say, the situation cannot be resolved without improvements in planning.

To that end, a maintenance planning summit earlier this month brought together carrier, submarine and surface ship maintenance planners to discuss best practices – and Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore told reporters that a move back towards time-based maintenance may be one outcome of the Feb. 9 summit.

“Over the last 20 to 30 years we’ve tended to go more towards a condition-based maintenance approach, where, hey, we don’t do maintenance in a time-directed basis. And that was done for good reason because it’s, in time-directed you’re spending a lot of money,” Moore said after a speech at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Technologies, Systems and Ships event.
“But I think what we’ve seen over the last 20 to 30 years is the pendulum, as it often does, has maybe swung a little bit too far. So one of the [action items from the planning summit] is to go back and look at, are we in some cases doing too much condition-based maintenance and is there an opportunity to come back and do a little bit more time-directed.

“I’ll give you an example: tanks, for instance. I have enough data to know that when this type of ship comes in for this type of availability and the age of the ship is this, I statistically know I’m probably going to have to go work on X number of tanks,” Moore continued.
“Today what I do is I say, go inspect the tanks, and then I go open them up and I find, oh I’ve got to go work on them. That means the shipbuilder has to go get material and do the engineering work and I start the work late. What I’m saying is, we know we’re going to work on – we might not know exactly which 25 tanks, but you know there’s going to be probably 25 tanks, so buy the material up front, do the engineering, load those resources into your plan, and then if you get in there and it’s not 25 tanks, it’s 20, okay, fine.”

Capt. John Markowicz, program manager for in-service aircraft carriers at the Program Executive Office for Aircraft Carriers, said at the same conference that PEO Carriers was working hard to improve their contracting process, getting requirements for work and materials to the shipyards farther in advance.

“We are also attempting to improve our forecasting for material procurement. So we want to buy our supplies and work with the [Naval Supply Systems Command] to forecast our material needs earlier and order earlier,” Markowicz told USNI News.
“So that will help, including developing a rotatable pool of equipment. So instead of removing a component from a ship like a electrical breaker, remove it and repair it – instead of doing that, just remove it and replace it with a new breaker or a refurbished breaker.”

Markowicz said the PEO is also paying closer attention to the resources available at the yards compared to the resources required to complete an availability on time. The office has implemented “weekly, if not daily reviews of maintenance availabilities with senior leadership at NAVSEA in the effort to ensure we have the right resources applied when needed to execute these availabilities on time at the shipyards. And where we don’t have these resources, we’ve been reaching out to our industry partners and contracting – whether it’s Huntington Ingalls in the propulsion plant or NASSCO as one of the lead maintenance providers topside in non-nuclear domain – we’ve been reaching out to industry to shore up resources in yards during availabilities to deliver on time.”

Moore said a second key idea that came out of the planning summit was to create a faster feedback loop to inform technical foundation papers that inform each ship class’s maintenance plans.

“I need a tighter learning circle,” Moore said.

NAVSEA spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke told USNI News that the technical foundation papers would be updated – and completed, in the case of the Virginia-class attack submarine – and reviewed each year in coordination with the budget process. The carrier, submarine and surface ship planning organizations will also work together to ensure real-time information-sharing as they improve their own planning efforts, and they will meet quarterly to share lessons and measure progress.

Moore said planning would never be 100-percent accurate, but that the data exists to make more informed decisions than the Navy is making today.

“We may not be able to predict everything, but we’re off 25 to 30 percent today and that is unacceptable,” he said.

  • NavySubNuke

    This isn’t exactly rocket science so I’m glad to see the Navy returning to this idea. Yes it costs extra money but the idea of delivering “just in time” maintenance services has been shown to be a failure over and over and over. It looks great on paper but in practice it just means longer delays, longer maintenance backlogs, and ultimately higher costs.

  • Duane

    I would hope the Navy would not take this as a sign to go totally the opposite direction of all time-based where a lot of needless work is performed.

    The most correct approach is a risk based approach, where the risk of failure of a given system or component is evaluated, along with the risk of schedule delay inherent in waiting until it either breaks or needs overhaul at an inconvenient point in time. Both are quantifiable risks, and if both are evaluated with up to date real world data, then an optimum maintenance cycle can be designed and implemented.

  • jdolbow

    How did we do maintenance during World War II and the Cold War? WE won both so lets go with what worked.

    • Gen. Buck Turgidson

      My ex industry almost eliminated maintinance after a hundred years as a practice,,as with the railroads to “cut costs’,,the expense ,,lost time and problems later have been ever since,,,they talk billions for bullit trains while wrecks are common on old track,,,after dissasters its “wait for the out of town gypsys to restore power etc,”,

    • Bobby

      At the peak of WW2 the US spent over 40% of GDP on the military with a mobilized war economy. Between the end of WW2 and the end of the Vietnam War the US spent 10% of GDP on average. During that entire period the US utilized several concepts of conscription as part of the Selective Service. From the end of Vietnam until the present the Selective Service has not been used and the percentage of GDP spent on military expenditures has gone from nearly 8% to under 4%. Even with a much larger GDP which grew exponentially during the same period, the tradeoff was the percentage of military expenditures spent on manpower which along with Active Pay has to pay for Retiree pay, as well as Dependent expenses which has skyrocketed. The ‘disposable’ income portion of the military budget is chump change. So to say “lets do what we did during WW2” is beyond a misunderstanding of the problem.

      • jdolbow

        Taking Lessons learned from World War II is not a misunderstanding of today’s maintenance woes.

        • Bobby

          Taking lessons learned is one thing but just doing what we did in WW2 isnt the same. Again if we had unlimited amounts of money to throw at it sure its a model to follow. We dont have those kinds of budgets however. So yes its a misunderstanding.

  • Ed L

    Whatever happen to SIMA (shore intermediated maintenance area and RSG (ready support groups)? are they still around

    • airider

      Not the way you remember.

  • airider

    Any of the maintenance techniques work if implemented properly. Condition Based Maintenance works great in the civilian airline industry because they use it properly. For example, after every flight they download the data and see how the engines are wearing out and in what areas. When an engine needs something fixed, before it fails, they pull it and fix it.

    The Navy knows about this already, but haven’t implemented CBM anywhere close to what the civilian sector has. So guess what, they are failing to reap the rewards. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

    Moving back to time-based maintenance can work too, but it tends to waste time and change out parts that are no where close to their design life.

    Pick your poison since the investment needs to be made somewhere. The question is are we willing to keep paying the recurring costs associated with time-based maintenance or are we going to invest in the infrastructure to do CBM the correct way. A full commitment to one or the other has to be made. Half-assing it will result in failures either way.

    • Bobby

      2 things make it impossible to apply civilian side thinking to this problem:
      #1 – Real World Operations. Delta airlines can plan for the upcoming holidays or predict budget shortfalls. COMNAVSURFLANT can’t say the same thing for any of its CSGs or ARGs.
      #2 – Bid based dynamics. American can regulate and maintain its own maintainers. The Navy has to rely on contracts that the gov’t intentionally sets up competitions looking for the lowest bidder. When the ability to get an ‘Availability’ for yard time relies upon Congressional infighting for what company will get what contract than its going to be a clusterfvck.

      Unless we remove the competition rat race, these problems will remain. The powers that be also have to do a better job of figuring out ‘technology map’ of where we want to head. Building DDGs with no ‘Mount 21′ so we can think about what to put there in the future is well bs. Not putting Harpoons on flight IIas is another bogus move from the genius’ in the E-Ring. Its decisions like those that handcuff proactive efforts. The gatekeepers with the red tape also need to stop making the movers and shakers paranoid. Like they have done with the Navy side of the F-35. They are so paranoid of cuts that they withhold on problems out of fear. Leading to this issue with the forward landing gear and the hard carrier launches.

      • airider

        Good points. Getting Sailors on shore tour back aboard within the IMA design we used to have could go along way toward reducing the impact of all these contracting efforts. We had solutions to this before but threw it away. Guess it was all part of the “peace dividend” that did nothing but make our military forces a hollow shell of what they used to be in the name of “business” efficiency. Problem is, this business model only works well in peacetime. Falls completely apart when the shooting starts and lasts any length of time (i.e. longer than a budget cycle).

        • Bobby

          There was a time when SIMA could repair most of what was on a ship. But by the dawn of the big 21, SIMA ended up capable of very little. I mean in the right now what can they do? Weight testing, weld testing and QA, crane support and a few other things. One big problem is that we have gone to systems that no one on the deck plates can even work on let alone fix. AIMD used to be able to do just about everything on a Tomcat that a Squadron couldn’t. With the Hornet and Super Bug it was down to about 60/40. With the F-35, neither Squadron maintainers nor AIMD can even touch anything on the airframe. Many other systems are much the same from the newer Gas Turbine Modules and related engineering components to even non-skid deck coverings. We have taken sailors out of the comprehensive roles of their craft and made them custodians. As soon as PMS becomes more than applying grease through a Zerk Fitting than the next check is to call for tech reps. NAVSEA and NAVAIR are huge contributors to this. By trying to run the Navy like say Microsoft, they have made the Navy much too reliant on civilian support. Which would be tolerable without a high OPTempo. However with todays near complete lack of a Inter-deployment training cycle for many ships its not sustainable.

          Potentially taking some lessons and form from the SUBSAFE program is in my opinion may be a great way to address this. SUBSAFE ensures that sailors are completely tied into maintenance, from PMS to yard time.

  • If by “condition based maintenance” they mean let the whole thing turn to running rust before you lift a finger, it is pretty clear based on the material condition of the ships I’ve visited lately that the program has been in full swing for quite some time. I would say that the program has indeed achieved the intended result; and it is about time that the penny wise pound foolish practices that Navy management embarked upon be called out for the disaster that they have become.
    In the end it all comes down to the sailors, but the sailors need leadership more than anything else. When the leadership is more concerned with PC feel good rather than the warrior ethos, your war fighting capacity is left to atrophy. This is has been pointed out many times before by others who frequent this site; suffice it to say that a return to 3M will do little to remedy the situation until the real problem is addressed.
    I sincerely hope that will not take the spectacle of a burning, sinking CBG in the South China Sea for the US Navy to come around to recognize what their primary mission is.

  • Jack R Nicholas, Jr.

    Deja vu all over again! So, we are learning again how to do maintenance with proper planning and support. During the 1980’s Navy conducted extended refit periods at operating sites instead of shipyard periods. In the case of SSBNs over one hundred 45 to 60 day periods were conducted on schedule and within budget by careful planning and manpower allocation (some from shipyards), rotatable pools of assets such as circuit breakers so that you removed one and immediately replaced it with a refurbished, pretested unit and sent the replaced unit back for refurbishment and storage until the next planned replacement on another ship. In between these extended refits (conducted at 2-1/2 to 3 year periods), the Navy conducted condition monitoring and predictive analysis using up to 26 predictive technologies and dedicated teams of systems engineers to do the predictive analysis. That routinely allowed 3-6 months of advanced warning for planning corrective action. This was done for subs and surface warships. Carriers were the exception here because only vibration analysis was done using predictive condition monitoring approach. At that time there were some analyses done that allowed us to forecast for any given period how many of certain types of repairs would be required on given assets so that planning could be done and parts and plans put in place. Once specific assets were identified for work there was little or no delay waiting for plans and parts.

    The analysis and planning groups were discontinued in the 1990’s and Navy adopted an approach that turned over maintenance to civilian contractors, especially for surface ships. Now, (as indicated in a recent article in Naval Institute Proceedings) a simple (rather small) steam valve repair on a destroyer can cost $10,000 instead of a few hundred. It’s no wonder that the Navy has run out of money and has such a large backlog of work and no one in the fleet able to do much about it.

    By the way, that approach described above, as verified by GAO audit reduced life-cycle maintenance cost (over shipyard “overhauls”) by over 10%, increased ship mission availability by 15-18% and in some cases for subs allowed life extension by almost 50%. (36 years vice nominal 25 in one case).

    Jack Nicholas
    Deputy Program Manager Submarine Maintenance Monitoring and Support Program (1982-1988)