Expanded ultrasound at the Kennedy Space Center

Jacobs Engineering shares the wisdom at Ultrasound World X.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

“At the Kennedy Space Center, we put the emphasis on ‘centered’ in our reliability-centered maintenance [RCM] program, because we plan to go much farther with it and build a reliability culture,” said Lorna Hall, maintenance and reliability engineer at Jacobs Technologies, speaking at the 2014 Ultrasound World X conference in Clearwater Beach, Florida, hosted by UE Systems.

Ultrasound WorldHall summarized the past, present, and future of ultrasound at the Kennedy Space Center. She has more than a decade of experience in the aerospace industry working on space shuttle and space launch systems. When NASA’s shuttle program was retired, she transitioned to Jacobs to develop a reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) program at the Space Center.

Lorna Hall, maintenance and reliability engineer at Jacobs Technologies, has more than a decade of experience working on the NASA space shuttle and space launch systems. When NASA’s shuttle program was retired, she transitioned to Jacobs where to develop a RCM program at the Space Center.

Although RCM is a relatively new focus for Hall, she has a wealth of experience dealing with the conditions and equipment at stake in RCM. The facility is situated in the lightning capital of the world close to the Atlantic Ocean, a highly corrosive environment. Key assets serviced at the site include Saturn V, the space shuttle, International Space Station, space launch systems, and more.

The recent transition from flight operations to ground operations puts the Space Launch Services (SLS) organization in charge of keeping the assets from deteriorating and ensuring they’re available and reliable when flights are needed. The organization currently supports the processing of launch vehicles or flight hardware for the International Space Station and other exploration and planetary missions, commercial, and otherwise.

Hall discovered that the limited ultrasound equipment inherited from NASA at the Space Center was used for troubleshooting only. No data was collected. If there was an audible noise, the technician usually would listen to diagnose the source. To get up to speed, she and her team went out for ultrasound Level 1 training. Some vibration equipment and two oil labs with equipment were also inherited, and the RCM processes in effect were recognized by NASA as best practice at the time, but largely time-based.

Another challenge was the decline in resources. “The shuttle program was people- and process-heavy, and the headcount dropped from 7,000 employees to fewer than 500 when the program was retired,” Hall said.

“We needed to take NASA’s great preventive maintenance processes, but move them from time-based to condition-based (CBM) and start predictive-based maintenance (PdM) testing, with fewer resources,” she explained. In March 2013, no CBM was performed, but by March 2017, the goal is 40% of their preventive maintenance will be condition-based in nature. As of March 2014, they were already at 16%.

Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at sheila@addcomm.com.

The equipment involved is one of a kind. “We have things like 325-ton cranes and 500-ft-tall doors. But, when you break down the equipment into pieces, it’s all common items. Our crawler is really just a lot of bearings, pumps, motors, and compressed-air systems,” Hall said. “I realized that we can apply the CBM technology to just about anything.” One of the first implementations of ultrasound was on the Space Center’s massive cranes.

The team soon found that its RCM practices had to be adjusted for the new mission. For example, it discovered that some motors were over-greased because they were still being treated as often as they were when the shuttles were flying and moving around every couple of months.

Aging equipment also is a concern. “The average age of government assets is 40 to 45 years old, and we are no different. Pieces of steel parked in the yard since 2009 were found to have corrosion issues,” she noted.

Funding is a concern because most of the budget is going into building and testing the assets, not on equipment maintenance. Nevertheless, the RCM program is improving. “We are in downtime now, so it’s the best time to set up testing procedures and to train the technicians,” explained Hall.

Progress is already underway. In one hour, $8,000 worth of leaks was found during the ultrasound Level 1 class. The team wrote a work order and fixed the leaks. Now they will finish a walkdown of the rest of the facility, build a route, and complete it. Baselines will be established to do trending, and procedures will be documented for consistency.

“We will try to do more with a lot less,” said Hall. “We purchased upgraded CBM equipment already, and we’re moving into electrical testing. We are performing lube testing and getting grease caddies to cut down on bearing failures. We are also working with the enterprise asset management system team to implement performance measures and expanding our team of technicians and engineers.”

Kennedy Space Center is where history was and is made. “It’s about time we step up our game and set the new best practice,” adds Hall. “There are 100 technicians in my department, each with 10 to 30 years of experience, and we are capitalizing on that and giving them the tools to make a better program. My belief is that we should all continue learning and enjoy the journey to maintenance excellence.”

Tomas Gil, Spectra Solutions