AU756942B1 - Improved configuration management system - Google Patents

Improved configuration management system Download PDF

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AU756942B1
AU756942B1 AU16791/02A AU1679102A AU756942B1 AU 756942 B1 AU756942 B1 AU 756942B1 AU 16791/02 A AU16791/02 A AU 16791/02A AU 1679102 A AU1679102 A AU 1679102A AU 756942 B1 AU756942 B1 AU 756942B1
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information
task data
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materiel
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Carlyle Nagel
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Carlyle Nagel
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AUSTRALIA

Patents Act 1990 COMPLETE SPECIFICATION STANDARD PATENT Applicant(s): CARLYLE NAGEL Invention Title: IMPROVED CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM The following statement is a full description-of this invention, including the best method of performing it known to me/us: 2 IMPROVED CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM FIELD OF THE INVENTION The present invention relates to an improved configuration management system and process for managing information required for the support of materiel.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION The term materiel includes any "complex" article e.g.

an article which is made up of one or more assemblies.

Examples include machines, including vehicles e.g. tanks, automobiles, aeroplanes, ships etc. An automobile is a materiel item which includes a plurality of "assemblies", e.g. engine, transmission, suspension, chassis etc.

Configuration management is required for managing information for the support of materiel. This information must provide enough information to instruct support of assemblies which constitute the materiel item. E.g. a particular ship may require oil to be applied to the shaft of the prop daily, in order that the shaft and prop assembly can be maintained correctly. A maintenance engineer must be provided with this information, or the assembly and therefore the ship will not be properly maintained (leading to breakdown). Note that in this specification the term "support" is intended as a general term to cover any process which is required to keep a materiel item operating properly through its life time.

This includes maintenance, servicing, repair, but is not limited to just these processes.

3 The information presently available to enable TLS ("Through Life Support") of materiel is usually in the following form: (a) (b)

(C)

a parts book, which designates the parts that make up an item of materiel; a parts list which lists the parts and identifies them by, eg a manufacturer's number, to enable obtaining spare parts. The parts list may be separate from the parts book; a repair book, which provides instructions for taking apart, repairing, putting back together, etc, the materiel type; a service manual, which provides instructions on how to apply regular maintenance to the materiel, e.g. oil change; a user manual, providing instructions on use of the materiel; drawings and diagrams of the materiel.

1 n This information is- provided in a non-integrated ("Stove Pipe") form. That is, the repair book, service manual, parts list, parts book, user manual, etc. are all provided separately from each other. When modifications are made to materiel, they may not be entered in some of the publications required for maintaining the materiel.

Further, even where they are entered, usually new versions of the publications are not produced until a significant number of changes have occurred to justify the printing 4 costs. To properly support a materiel item, therefore, firstly the information for the particular item configuration must have been maintained, and, secondly, the operative must be able to locate the correct publication.

The correct support of an item of materiel throughout its life is therefore a difficult and complex matter. The operative must have access to the correct support information. Particularly where many different configurations of type of materiel have been implemented, it is quite unlikely that the operative will have access to the correct publications. Further, the operative may not be aware that original consumables are no longer available, and replacements must be located. This can lead to the item being supported incorrectly. It can lead to a lot of time being consumed to locate the proper information required for support. It can lead to breakdown of materiel, because the materiel cannot or has not been supported correctly.

The organisation and maintenance of the information for supporting materiel is termed "configuration management".

The present applicants have devised a system and process for improving configuration management. This configuration management system and process is disclosed in the applicants' earlier Australian patent number 730713, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.

The configuration management system includes a computer system which includes a storage means, such as a database for storing a plurality of items of "task data".

Each task data item includes information data providing information on the handling of an associated configuration 5 item of materiel for particular support process.

"Configuration item" is the term given to a fundamental unit of an assembly of a materiel item, being the "smallest" unit which requires support. The particular support process may affect a plurality of configuration items e.g. to repair a configuration item in the transmission of a vehicle may require removal of assemblies such as the engine and will therefore affect configuration items in the engine and information will be required by the operative to enable them to correctly deal with the configuration items that may be affected in gaining access to the relevant transmission configuration item. In the applicants' earlier invention, each task data item provides information on the handling of a configuration item of materiel for a particular support process and each task data item is also linked, by a link means, to other task data items, the associated configuration items of which may be affected by a support process of the configuration item associated with the task data item. Inquiry means accesses a storage means to extract information required for a support process affecting at least one configuration item, the inquiry means utilising the link means to extract information from task data items associated with configuration items which may be affected by the support process affecting the at least one configuration item, whereby information is provided giving instructions on the handling of all configuration items affected by a particular support process. Information is therefore provided to an operative which enables the operative to fully carry out a support process affecting a particular configuration item e.g. in the transmission of a vehicle, as information is provided from the links on the handling of all other 6 configuration items affected by the support process e.g.

other configuration items which may be affected in the engine of the vehicle.

The applicants' earlier invention therefore addresses some of the problems associated with the provision of the information required to support materiel.

Task data items in the system of applicants' earlier invention include information which enables an operative to carry out a support process for a particular configuration item e.g. a vehicle gearbox. The information will usually include instructions, drawings (as required) and also details of consumables that may required to be utilised during the support process.

Consumables include things that are "consumed" such as replacement parts and lubricants, as well as special tools that may be required to be used in the support process.

A replacement part, tool or other consumable will usually be associated with a "specification" which details its characteristics, including what function it is for, or configuration items it can be used with, and other details. The specification may not necessarily be included specifically in the task data, but somewhere a specification will exist.

Often, replacement parts or other consumables may be available for similar applications. That is, even though they may have somewhat different specifications, they may have the same "form-fit-function". In many cases,.

consumables with the same form-fit-function may be used interchangeably.

It would be useful if, in any configuration management system, information could be provided for consumables having interchangeable form-fit-functions for particular support processes. If for some reason a 7 particular consumable is not available for the support process, then it may be possible for the support operative to utilise an alternative consumable with the same formfit-function.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION In accordance with a first aspect, the present invention provides a system for managing information for the support of materiel, comprising a computing system including storage means storing a plurality of items of task data, each task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable which may be used in the support process, the alternative consumable having a similar form-fit-function to the specific consumable, such that the user may choose which consumable to utilize based on criteria such as availability.

The attribute data may include metadata, such as a manufacturer's reference, enabling an operative to order the referenced consumable.

Preferably, the attribute data also includes information ?n the affect of an alternative consumable on a process associated with the configuration item which may be, for example, a repair process. This may provide information on the affect of mean-time-to-repair or other logistics-statistics of the replacement with the alternative consumable.

Preferably, the system includes link means linking the task data items to one or more other task data items, the associated configuration item(s) of which may be affected by the support process of the configuration item associated with the task data item.

8 Preferably, the system is based on the system of the applicants' above-referenced patent. Preferably the system comprises the system of the applicants' abovereferenced patent with the inclusion of the attribute data on form-fit-function.

The inclusion of the attribute data on consumables having similar form-fit-function to consumables normally used in a particular support process, means that the support operative has easy access to information on alternative consumables to use should a particular consumable not be available.

In accordance with a second aspect, the present invention provides a method of managing information for the support of materiel, comprising the steps of storing a plurality of items of task data, each task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable having similar form-fit-function to a consumable to be used in the support process.

In accordance with a third aspect, the present invention provides a task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable which may be used in the support process if a specific consumable is not available, the alternative consumable having a similar form-fit-function to the specific consumable.

Preferably, the task data item is a task data item of the system of the first aspect of the present invention.

In accordance with a fourth aspect, the present invention provides a computer program arranged, when 9 loaded onto a computing system, to control the computing system to operate as the computing system of the first aspect of the present invention.

In accordance with a fifth aspect, the present invention provides a computer readable medium providing a computer program in accordance with the fourth aspect of the present invention.

In accordance with a sixth aspect, the present invention provides a computer program arranged, when loaded onto a computing system, to cause the computing system to implement a task data item in accordance with the third aspect of the present invention.

In accordance with a seventh aspect, the present invention provides a computer readable medium providing a 15 computer program in accordance with the fifth aspect of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS 0 3 3 Features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of an embodiment thereof, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which; Figure 1 is a schematic diagram of a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, and Figure 2 is an example display showing information provided by the system in accordance with Figure 1, for an example support process.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENT 10 Referring to Figure 1, a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention is schematically illustrated. The system includes a computing system having a storage means 1 which stores a plurality of items of task data, each task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data 6 providing information on alternative consumables which have a similar form-fit-function to the consumables specifically designated for the support process, and which can be used as alternatives to the specifically designated consumables.

In more detail, in this embodiment, the system comprises the configuration management system of the 15 applicants' earlier patent, the disclosure of which is included herewith as "Appendix with the addition of the attribute data 6 for consumables with similar formfit-function to the specifically designated consumables.

The configuration management system of which the storage means 1 is part is known as Continuous Acquisition and Lifetime Support or CALS. The CALS system manages and provides information required for support processes for configuration items of matertel. As is described in Appendix A, support processes are organised into a number of "task data items" which are linked by link means so that complete information for a particular support process can be provided. For example, an operative requiring information on a support process for a particular configuration item will be provided, by way of the linked task data items, with all the information required for the support process for that configuration item and also information that may be required because of the effect of the support process on other configuration items that need 11 to be affected in order to implement the support process for the particular configuration item. This system is fully described in Appendix A and no further description will be given here.

Each task data item includes detailed instructions on how to carry out a particular support process for an associated configuration item, and may include drawings of appropriate aspects of the configuration item, a list of tools and other consumables lubricants, washers, etc) that may be required to complete the particular task.

Referring to Figure 2, an example of a display output that may be provided to an operative to carry out a particular task, is illustrated. The task in this case is a "Crankpin Bearings Replace" task for a bicycle materiel item. It will be appreciated that this is an example only, and task data items for any materiel item and for any task may be provided by the system. It will also be appreciated that the format of the display of the task data item is not limited to the format shown in Figure 2.

Any convenient format may be implemented. The display output may be via computer screen, CD-ROM, hardcopy, or any other convenient medium.

The task data information provided includes a list of instructions 51 showing "how to" carry out the support process; a list of consumables required and parts required, 52, 53 and a list of special tools required, 54.

Note that the tools, consumables and parts may all be considered "consumables". The information also includes "equipment condition" information 62. Links 55, 56 are included which link to other task data items which may need to be consulted by the operative in order for them to complete the "Crankpin Bearings Replace" task. Links 57, 58 are also provided for procedures which are required 12 once the "Crankpin Bearings Replace" task has been completed.

In accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, attribute data 80 is included, giving information on the alternative consumables which have a similar form-fit-function to the consumables required for the task. These alternative consumables are identified (reference numeral 81) and if the specific consumables are not available, these alternative consumables can be used.

Links may be provided to the SDSS database 5 in order that an operative can assess the availability of consumables and alternative consumables. For example, an alternative consumable may be a item of superior quality. For example, a titanium bolt may be used in place of a steel one, or a better tolerance electrical resistor may be used to replace a worse tolerance electrical resistor which is normally specified for the task. Although the titanium bolt or better tolerance resistor may cost more, they have the same form-fit-function and are therefore suitable for the task.

It will be appreciated that the provision of the form-fit-function attribute data increases the versatility of the system. Where a particular consumable may have run out, or be in short supply, the information on alternative consumables enables an operative to nonetheless proceed in a satisfactory manner with the support process.

As well as including example information such as "Part Number" "Specific Consumable" "Description", the attribute information of the preferred embodiment also includes "Effects" information which gives information on the likely effect of using the replacement consumable on the mean-time-to-repair of the configuration item. For example, use of a titanium bolt instead of a steel bolt 13 may mean that a particular configuration item may require servicing at longer intervals than would be the case if a steel bolt were used as a replacement. This may effect servicing of the entire materiel item. If ten percent of the materiel items include titanium bolts instead of a steel bolt, those including the titanium bolt may only require servicing at intervals of one year instead of the standard interval of six months, for example. This may effect the configuration managers ordering of spare parts and other usage requirements. The "Effect" data may therefore provide the configuration manager with statistical data on usage changes for a fleet of materiel items. The "Effect" information may merely be a "flag" which flags to the configuration manager that this 15 particular configuration item (and this particular item of materiel) is "different" from the standard and therefore different processing may be required. Preferably, however, the "Effect" data includes information which advises the configuration manager of the likely effect of the change on the configuration item and the particular materiel item.

It will be appreciated that the system of the present invention is not limited to the materiel ite being a bicycle. The system can support any data for any type of materiel items, e.g. defence force fleets, airline fleets, public transport fleets, and others.

The task data items and attribute data of the embodiment as discussed above are implemented by way of a computing system. The computing system may comprise any convenient architecture e.g. networked architecture, mainframe, server/client, etc.

The invention need not necessarily be implemented by way of computer. For example, hardcopy journals of task 14 data items could be provided including the reference data which provides an appropriate enablement to obtain information on the part to be supported. I.E. it could be a reference to a handbook.

Modifications and variations as would be apparent to a skilled addressee are deemed to be within the scope of the present invention.

t, 15 APPENDIX A CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND PROCESS FIELD OF THE INVENTION The present invention relates to a configuration management system and process and particularly, but not exclusively, to a configuration management system and process for managing information required for the support of materiel.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION The term materiel includes any "complex" article eg an article which is made up of one or more assemblies.

Examples include machines including vehicles eg tanks, automobiles, aeroplanes, ships, etc. An automobile is a materiel item which includes a plurality of "subassemblies", eg engine, transmission, suspension, chassis etc.

Any materiel item will require support during its lifetime. To ensure that this is carried out correctly, information is required which will "teach" how to support the assemblies which constitute the materiel item. E.g. a particular ship may require oil to be applied to the shaft of the prop daily, in order that the shaft and prop .assembly can be maintained correctly. A maintenance engineer must be provided with this information, or the assembly and therefore the ship will not be properly maintained (leading to breakdown). Note that in the specification the term "support" is intended as a general term to cover any process which is required to keep-a material item operating properly through its life time.

16 This includes maintenance, servicing, repair, but is not limited to just these processes.

The preparation and upkeep of information for supporting any materiel is a very complex matter. In particular, a materiel type (ie make of vehicle) may go through many design changes and modifications from the initial materiel design (and these design changes may occur even before any materiel item has been manufactured ie during development and testing from the original design, never mind design changes which occur after a materiel type has first been manufactured). The usual process followed in the construction of any materiel is that first of all the materiel is designed and an Engineering Drawing Pack (EDP) is produced which instructs construction of the materiel. The process then moves on to manufacture of the materiel items. During this construction phase (and sometimes before construction of a single materiel item has been completed, as discussed ab6ve), it may be determined that modifications to the materiel design are desirable. Engineering Change Proposals (ECPs) will be made for changing various aspects of the design. These will be reviewed and if approved an Engineering Change Order (ECO) will issue ordering the change. The change is then entered in the EDP and the modification is then applied during construction of materiel items. ECOs may be made at any time during the lifetime of a particular "type" of materiel eg model of car. At any time during this lifetime ("life of type" LOT), materiel items may have already been manufactured and sold and a decision will be made for any particular design change whether to recall items in the field for a retrofit to incorporate the design change or whether to continue with the type in two or more "configurations" (ie 17 one configuration with the design modification, one without) For any materiel type, many ECOs may be made during the LOT. Defence equipment is a particular example. The life of some types of tanks and aeroplanes may extend over several decades. During this time, many modifications can be made, and as it is often complex and costly to apply retrofits for modifications, retrofits will tend to be avoided where at all possible. This results in the existence of many different configurations of the one type of materiel being in existence, all of which require information to be available for support, which information may vary from configuration to configuration.

o oco n I u, 0 u This leads to a significant problem in Through Life 15 Support (TLS) of materiel throughout its LOT (Through Life Support TLS). As any particular item may be one of any number of configurations, it is difficult for the operative maintenance engineer) to access the correct information to enable them to support the materiel 20 item. In some cases the information for the particular configuration may not even be available at all, as the information may not have been kept'up to date.

The information presently available to enable TLS of materiel is usually in the following form: A a parts book, which designates the parts that make up an item of materiel; a parts list which lists the parts and identifies them by, eg a manufacturer's number, to enable obtaining spare parts. The parts list may be separate from the parts book; Q 18 a repair book, which provides instructions for taking apart, repairing, putting back together, etc, the materiel type; a service manual, which provides instructions on how to apply regular maintenance to the materiel, e.g. oil change; a user manual, providing instructions on use of the materiel; drawings and diagrams of the material.

This information is provided in a non-integrated ("Stove Pipe") form. That is, the repair book, service manual, parts list, parts book, user manual, etc. are all provided separately from each other. When modifications are made to materiel, they may not be entered in some of the publications required from maintaining the materiel.

Further, even where they are entered, usually new versions of the publications are not produced until a significant number of changes have occurred to justify the printing costs. To properly support a materiel item, therefore, firstly the information for the particular item configuration must have been maintained, and, secondly, the operative must be able to locate the correct publication.

Yet another problem arises in relation-to "consumables" which are required for support of materiel.

Consumables include materiels which are utilised during support, such as replacement parts, fluids required for service (eg type of oil). Over the LOT of materiel, original consumables may become unavailable (eg the originally specified replacement part may no longer be 19 manufactured), and it will be necessary for the operative to, firstly, be aware that the consumable is no longer available and, secondly, locate a suitable replacement.

Further, the replacement may require a different method of handling, eg it may require installation in a different way. It is unlikely that the information on the replacement consumable will be included in any of the publications discussed above. Indeed it is unlikely that the operative engineer will even be aware that the consumable is unavailable until an attempt to obtain a replacement is made, due to the "stove pipe" nature of the information available to the operative.

The correct support of an item of materiel throughout its life is therefore a difficult and complex matter. The operative must have access to the correct support information. Particularly where many different configurations of type of materiel have-been implemented, it is quite unlikely that the operative will have access to the correct publications. Further, the operative may not be aware that original consumables are no longer available, and replacements must be located. This can lead to the item being supported incorrectly. It can lead to a lot of time being consumed to locate the proper information required for support. It can lead to breakdown of materiel, because the materiel cannot or has not been supported correctly.

Yet a further problem is that even where an operative may have access to the correct publications the information required for a particular support process may not be presented in a convenient manner. A support process will affect at least one "configuration item".

Configuration item is the term given to a fundamental unit 20 of an assembly of a materiel item, being the "smallest" unit which requires support (anything "smaller" is merely replaced eg a rocker-cover gasket is not a configuration item because it is replaceable, not supportable, but the rocker-box itself requires repair and maintenance). A particular support process may affect a plurality of configuration items, eg to repair a configuration item in the transmission of a vehicle may require removal of assemblies such as the engine and will therefore affect configuration items in the engine and information will be required by the operative to enable them to correctly deal with the configuration items that may be affected in gaining access to the relevant transmission configuration item. Information on all the configuration items which are likely to be affected will not be presented in a convenient manner in the publications the operative presently has access to, and they will have to search through the publications to locate all the information that is required. It may often be difficult to do this and often all the required information may not be located, leading to error, leading to incorrect support.

C I .00 o 00 Note that the technical terminology used-above (EDP, EGO, etc) applies particularly to materiel in the Defence industry. The processes discussed apply generically, however, to any materiel, and the present configuration is not limited to materiel used in Defence.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION The present invention provides a system for managing information required for the support of materiel, comprising a Computer system including storage means storing a plurality of items of task data, each task data 21 item including information data providing information on the handling of an associated-configuration item of materiel for a particular support process, each task data item also including link means linking to another task data item the associated configuration item of which may be affected by a support process of the configuration item associated with the task data item, and enquiry means for accessing the storage means to extract information required for a support process affecting at least one configuration item, the enquiry means utilising the link means to extract information of task data items associated with configuration items which may be affected by the support process affecting the at least one configuration item, whereby information may be provided giving instructions on the handling of all configuration items affected by a particular support process.

Information may preferably, therefore, be provided to an operative which enables the operative to fully carry out a support process affecting 'a particular configuration item eg in the transmission of a vehicle, as information Soa is provided from the links on the handling of all other configuration items affected by the support process, e.g.

on the configuration items which may be affected in the engine of the vehicle.

Links may be automated, for example, in the form of "hyperlinks". Alternatively, the link means may include a pointer to another task data item or items, requiring, for example, manual action, such as pressing of the key on a computer keyboard to locate and obtain the link task data item. In some cases, the link may link to an external task data item, which is external of the computer system, eg stored in hard copy, and the link provides pointer 22 information which enables the operative to locate the hard copy. Preferably, metadata may be associated with the task data items as one method of linking the task data items eg. using an index of the metadata to look up the task data items which may be associated for a particular support process.

Note that configuration items are usually defined by official standards for particular materiel types, and the system of the present invention preferably utilises these definitions. Where these are not available, definitions may be made for the system.

The task data items are preferably separated into different types of tasks, and a plurality of task data items may be associated with each configuration item. The types of task data item may preferably include: an "inspection" task data item. This provides the information required to enable inspection of a particular configuration item; a "repair" task data item. This provides information necessary to repair a particular configuration item; a "disassembly" task data item. This provides information necessary to disassemble a particular configuration item; a "assembly" task data item. This provides information necessary to assemble a particular configuration item; 23 a "maintenance" task data item. This provides information necessary to maintain a particular configuration item; a "remove" task data item, including information necessary to remove a particular configuration item; a "replace" task data item, including information necessary to replace a particular configuration item.

Other task data item types may be included in the system, depending on the requirements of a particular materiel type and support processes that are required by the type. Further task data item types include calibrate; fault locate; operate; adjust; overhaul; preserve; handle; shipping; adjust; align; bleed; calibrate; clean; fault diagnose; function; test; install; lubricate; modify; operate; overhaul; preserve; purge; service; table; test; time; etc. so that task data items are preferably provided as discrete entities including information instructing an operative to handle a particular configuration item for any support process that may be required for that configuration item. It will be understood that the present invention is not limited to the above list of task data item types.

In operation if, for example, inspection of a particular configuration item is required then the system will access the inspection task data item for that configuration item in order to provide the required information for that task. It will also enable access to task data items linked to the inspection task data item," to provide information which may be required to operate on other configuration items that may need to be operated on to enable the inspection process. For example, 24 disassembly of configuration items which are "in the way" may be required before inspection of the configuration item can proceed. The inspection task data item will therefore be linked to disassembly task data items for the configuration items that have to be disassembled. Also, once the inspection process has been completed it will be necessary to assemble the configuration items, and task data items for assembly will also be accessed by the system. The operative undertaking the inspection task will therefore be provided with all the information they need to carry out the task, including information on configuration items which are affected by the inspection and need to be disassembled to enable the inspection, and then assembled to complete the support process.

The information may be presented as a print out from the computer system, on a CD, may be accessed over a computer network such as the Internet, or may be presented in any other convenient manner. As discussed above, some task data items may be provided in hard copy.

The enquiry means preferably accesses the storage means by utilising addressing information based on standard assembly information definedifor the particular materiel type. As discussed above, any materiel can be -broken down into constituent assemblies, each of which can be broken down into constituent configuration items. The assembly information may be defined by standards-(eg the US military standards applicable to Defence equipment) or the definitions may, alternatively, be devised for the system. For example, if an engineer wishes to maintain an assembly of a particular configuration of materiel, the system is accessed by designating the materiel type (eg Stinger Missile), the configuration of the type (eg mark 3 25 Stinger Missile), the assembly (Rocket Engine) and that maintenance information that is required. The system will then access the maintenance task data items associated with the configuration items constituting the mark 3 Stinger Missile rocket engine and provide the maintenance information requested together with any information from linked task data items associated with configuration items affected by the maintenance process. The links may be by any known means, but preferably metadata associated with task data items as utilised to link task data items.

The information provided for support preferably includes a series of process steps, together with a list of consumables that will be consumed during the process and also, preferably, a list of tools that will be required, so as to provide the operative with all the information required to carry out the process.

Consumables, as discussed above, are items that are required to carry out a support process. They may include replacement parts, replacement tool parts and in some cases replacement tools. Generally, consumables include any item that is "consumed" during the support process (note tha-t consumables may also include materials, such as oil, which may be consumed during a support process). For the purpose of this document, the term "consumables" may also include tools, such as special tools, which may be required to completea task but which are not actually "consumed" during completion of the task (ie they may then be returned to the supplier or kept for a later occasion).

Preferably, the system also includes consumable locater means which is arranged to access a consumable database containing availability information on consumables, and to locate the information and determine whether the 26 consumables are available, and to indicate availability in the information provided to the operative carrying out the process. In some cases, as discussed above, a consumable may not be available eg it may no longer be being manufactured. In such a case, the consumable database usually designates an alternative consumable. Preferably, the consumable locater means includes means for flagging the task data item that a particular consumable is not available and also to provide information data on the alternative consumable, so that the alternative consumable may be included in the list of consumables provided by the system. Preferably, impact processing means is arranged to locate other task data items which require a consumable which is no longer available or for which a replacement has been designated, and to flag those task data items to indicate this. Preferably, this is done by way of linking consumable item data in the system, so that all the consumable items affected by the change can be located.

In this way the system can be kept up to date, preferably automatically, maintaining the latest list of o available parts, tools etc for support of a materiel type.

Preferably, the impact processing means is also arranged to locate task data items which require the affected consumable across different materiel types. It is thus possible to establish the impact of a consumable change across different materiel types, e.g. if a pump consumable is changed out of the manufacturer supply point, this may.affect a truck and a car which share the common consumable item. The impact processing means preferably flags this change.

27 Preferably, as the information required for a particular process is being built, the consumable locater means is arranged to generate the list of consumable as a separate list "on the fly", so that the operative is provided with a list of process steps, information on how to carry out the process, and a separate list of parts and tools required.

Databases are maintained of parts and tools required for the maintenance and repair of materiel. These include the "Standard Defence Supply System" (SDSS)(a military supply system database) for military equipment. The system of the present configuration is able to access such systems, in the preferred embodiment, so that the consumable locater means can access the available information. Where such databases do not already exist they may be constructed to serve the system of the present invention.

Update of the information data stored in the storage means of the system of the present invention is preferably a substantially continuous process. Information will be input any time configurations of materiel are changed,.

from ECOs, EDPs and other information available, including information provided by skilled people such as skilled engineers. This information can be obtained from the appropriate sources, eg Defence contractors where the system is a configuration management system for Defence materiel.

The present invention further provides a system for managing information required for the support of materiel, comprising a computer system including storage means for storing task data items including information data 28 providing information on the handling of configuration items of materiel for a support process, the information data including consumable data including information on consumables required for the handling of configuration items for a support process, and consumable locater means for accessing a consumable data base containing availability information on the availability of consumables, and to indicate the consumable availability in information provided to a user of the system accessing the system to obtain information on how to carry out a support process of a configuration item.

Preferably, where the consumable database indicates that a consumable is no longer available, the system is arranged to flag this in the information provided to the user. Preferably, where the consumer database indicates that an alternative consumable is available, information on the alternative is provided to the user, and, preferably impact processing means is arranged to locate consumable data in the storage means which relate to consumables which are no longer available and to flag this, and preferably provide data on any alternatives available, in order to-maintain relevance of the system.

The system of this aspect of the invention may have any or all of the features of the aspect discussed above.

The present invention further provides a method of managing information required for the support of materiel, comprising the steps of storing a plurality of items of task data in a storage means, each task data item including information data providing information on the handling. of an associated configuration item of materiel through a particular support process, linking each task 29 data item to other task data items, the associated configuration items of which may be affected by a support process of the configuration item associated with each task data item, whereby the storage means may be accessed to extract information required for a support process affecting at least one configuration item, the link means being utilised to extract information of a task data item associated with configuration items which may be affected by the support process affecting the at least one configuration item, whereby to provide information giving instructions on the handling of all configuration items affected by a particular support process.

The present invention yet further provides a method of managing information required for the support of materiel, comprising the steps of storing task data items including information data providing information on the handling of configuration items of materiel for a support process, including the step of storing consumable data including information on consumables required for the handling of configuration items for a support process, and providing consumable locator means for accessing a consumable database containing availability information on the availability of consumables, whereby to enable indication of the consumable availability in information provided to an operative.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS.

Features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of an embodiment thereof, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which: 30 Figure 1 is a schematic diagram of a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, showing links to another system; Figure 2 is a schematic diagram showing part of a database structure in accordance with an example embodiment of the present invention; Figure 3 is a schematic diagram, illustrating how assembly information for a particular materiel may be defined; Figures 4 and 5 are "print-outs" showing information provided by a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention for an example materiel process.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENT Figure 1 schematically illustrates an example embodiment of the present invention. Reference numeral 1 indicates a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention comprising a system database which is S.termed "continuous acquisition and lifetime support" (CALS S Compatible Database) for materiel. Although not shown separately in the drawing, it will be appreciated that the CALS Compatible Database system will be supported by a computer hardware system which may be in the form of a central "mainframe' computer or computers with attached terminals for input 2 and output 3, or, more preferably, comprise a distributed architecture including a plurality of networked computing devices, preferably with one or more server computing devices, and including input means for inputs 2 and output means for outputs 3. The system 1 may be connectable to an extended computer network, such as the Internet, for both input 2 and output 3. The 31 database may include a standard relational database engine, such as ORACLE TM.

In accordance with this embodiment of the present invention, the system 1 includes storage means (computer memory in this case storing a plurality of task data items which include information on how to carry out support of configuration items of materiel. This particular embodiment is particularly for support of Defence equipment, but it will be appreciated that other embodiments may support any materiel. In order to obtain from CALS Compatible Database 1 the information required for carrying out a support process, which may affect more than a single configuration item, the task data items are linked within the database 1, so that if support of one particular configuration item requires that other configuration items be affected, then the linked task data items-for the affected configuration items will also be accessed and the appropriate information will be output 3 giving the operative the information required to carry out the particular support process. The engineer will be provided with the entire "story" to enable them to carry out the support process, which story will have been assembled by the system 1 from a plurality of discrete task data items linked to each other depending on the support process being queried by inputs 2.

The contents of task data items (the information provided) will be discussed in more detail later. As well as including data on "how to" (ie how to perform a particular process), data is included identifying "consumables" required to carry out a particular process.

Consumables include fluids required to be consumed during a service process (eg oils), replacement parts that may be 32 required (eg bolts of specially hardened materiel), replacement tool parts-required, any special tools that may be required, and generally anything that will need to be "consumed" to carry out the support process. A communications link 4, which may be any type of communications link, eg dedicated line, computer network, Internet, is provided from CALS Compatible Database 1 to the Standard Defence Supply System (A standard supply system database) 5. This database provides information on the availability and identification of consumables (each consumable included in this database has an identification token, such as a reference number, associated with it), so that an operative has all the information required to be able to requisition and obtain the consumables. CALS Compatible Database 1 includes a consumable locater means which is arranged to query the SDSS 5 for information on consumables required to carry out a particular support process, via communications link 4, so that the "story" provided as an output 3 includes the appropriate consumable information to enable the operative to be able to requisition the consumables required for the process.

The consumable locater means includes a suitable software engine to drivo the SDSS 5 query process.

During the LOT of a particular materiel, consumables may cease to be available eg they may go out of production. The SDSS 5 is kept up to date as much as possible with the availability of consumables and, if particular consumables are no longer available, includes information on consumables that may be utilised as replacements. Where the consumable locater means identifies that a particular consumable is no longer available, an impact processing means of the system 1 is arranged to scan CALS Compatible Database to locate all 33 task data items the associated tasks of which require the use of that particular consumable, and to flag the task data items so that when they are accessed the output 3 will advise that the consumable is no longer available.

Where a replacement consumable is identified the impact processing means is arranged to provide information data on the replacement and include it in the task data. The impact processing means includes a suitable software engine to carry out this process.

Figure 2 illustrates an example of how CALS Compatible Database 1 is organised for an example materiel, in this case being a tank assembly. Referring to Figure 3, the US military standard for configuration management of Defence equipment sets down standards for the "breakdown" of materiel into "assemblies". A hierarchical structure is provided for each materiel type covered by the standard. In this example the materiel is a type of tank (note that the type of tank is not specifiedthe Figure 3 example is a mere schematic to illustrate the structure of the US mil standard, and is not an actual example of an actual materiel). At the top of the hierarchy is the tank assembly 10. This is the assembly of all the components of the tank. Step down in the hierarchy from the tank assembly 10 are the major assemblies that make up the tank assembly 10, including, for example, the power p.lant assembly 11, chassis assembly 12 and gun assembly 13. Other assemblies will exist here for a tank, but are not shown, for purposes of clarity.

Ghost lines 14, 15 indicate the existence of further assemblies. Further down in the hierarchy from these major assemblies are further assemblies (termed in Figure 3 as sub-assemblies 16, but they are considered assemblies in their own right). These may include such assemblies as e. 0 34 the engine 17 and turbocharger 18. Yet further down the hierarchy (and there may be any number of steps) are the configuration items 19, which sit at the bottom of the hierarchy. Ghost lines 20, 21 indicate the existence of further steps in the hierarchy.

Each assembly in the hierarchy has associated-with it an identifier, which may be a token such as a reference number, so that each assembly can be separately designated. The GALS Compatible Database system 1 is organised and addressable utilising the US mil system.

Referring to Figure 2, there is illustrated a schematic "snapshot" of the GALS Compatible Database 1 database, organised in accordance with the US mil system. The snapshot is for the tank assembly 30 example. In the left hand column, identifiers 31 are illustrated. It can be seen that the identifier's 31 are logically structured in accordance with the assembly hierarchy from identifier "1" (the tank assembly) through for major assemblies, through I.X.Y for assemblies stepped down from these assemblies, etc. The final configuration items (being at the bottom of the assembly hierarchy) eg turbocharger 32 each have task data items 33 associated with them andstored in memory accessible via an addressing system based on the logical structure of the hierarchy. A plurality of task data items 33 may be associated with each configuration item, such as, for example, a repair task data item 34, a maintain task data item 35, a disassemble task data item 36 and an inspection task data item 37.

Each task data item includes data providing information on how to carry out-support processes on the associated configuration item, as will be discussed in more detail later.

35 As well, within the data structure, each task data item 34, 35, 36 and 37 may include one or more links 38, linking to other task data items associated with configuration items which will be affected by a particular support process on the configuration item. Links may be effected utilising metadata associated with the task data items, in a known manner. For example, in order to carry out a repair task 34 on the turbocharger 32 it may be necessary to access other components of the engine to disassemble them, for example, before the turbocharger 32 can be accessed. If an engineer requests information to enable repair 34 of the turbocharger for example, the system 1 accesses the repair task data item 34 for the turbocharger and also accesses task data items linked 38 to the repair task data item 34, to extract all the data required to enable the process.

In operation, therefore, an operative may require all the information necessary to service the engine of the tank assembly 30. The system 1 accesses all the maintain task data items for the configuration items of the engine and all the task data items linked to those task data items, to return all the information necessary to carry out this support process. In addition, by way of the consumable locater means, all consumables required for the process are identified and a separate consumables list is generated listing the consumables required for the process, together with the information required for their requisition.

The information provided by a task data item may include the following: 36- "How to" information, giving process instructions on how to carry out a particular task (eg in the form of series of steps for the engineer to perform): images eg engineering diagrams enabling analysis of materiel structures; labour cost information. Eg to give an idea of the likely cost of carrying out a particular task; MTTR (mean time to repair) information, giving an estimate of the likely time that may be required to carry out the task; staff required, e.g. what skills are required to carry out the particular task eg what type of engineer is required; consumable information (information on the consumables required for a particular task); tools required (some of these may be included in consumables, eg. where special tools are required which will need to be obtained from, for example, the SDSS); link data to other task data items requiring action in order to carry out this particular task (note that this link data may be termed "associations"). The link data may be in the form of metadata associated with the link data items.

references: these are to highlight particular aspects of a task that may require particular processing eg emphasising particular characteristics of components, such that the component gets very hot so that due care must be exercised when handling the component.

37 Task data may include other information and is not limited to the above list.

Note that link means may also link to "external" task data items. Some task data items may not be stored in the CALS compatible database, but may in fact be stored manually, eg in a library (which in effect can be considered as an extension of the GALS compatible database). In this case, the link means includes pointers or references in the task data item leading the operative to the external task data item.

The link means may operate to link task data items in any known manner. For example, within the GALS compatible database, the link means may include "hyperlinks" providing a jump to the stored data for the linked task data item. Alternatively, manual operation of the computer keyboard may be required to locate the linked task data item from a pointer provided in the task data item. Alternatively, the process may be completely automated and a software engine tracks links and provides the total "story" including all the task data items, as an output. Further, as discussed above, the link means may include pointers to external task data items.

Alternatively, as discussed above, link means may utilise metadata.

Referring to Figures 4 and 5, an example print-out is shown for a "crank pin bearings remove" process and "crank pin bearings replace" process for a hypothetical vehicle.

The information provided includes a list of instructions 51 showing "how to" carry out the processes; links 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 and 58; the list of consumables required 38 59, 60 (which include "special tools" and "parts"), and "equipment condition" information 61, 62.

The links 53 through 58 are in this case hyperlinks and when an operative "clicks" on these links, then the associated task data items are located and output.

The consumables required are identified by "Part Number", the "NSN" serial number which shows that the parts are available (from access to the SDSS database), a "Description" and "Quantity".

The system 1 produces an entire story from the task data extracted from GALS Compatible Database 1 for any particular process, together with a separate list of consumables.

To maintain the system 1, particularly to ensure that the correct data is added to the system if or materiel with a long lifetime and in different configurations, constant acquisition of the appropriate information-to input 2 to the system 1 is generally required. The:input information may include information from EDPs, ECOs, legacy information from publications relating to materiel, the skill and knowledge of engineers who are aware of how to carry out particular tasks, etc. Input such as this for Defence materiel may be made available from Defence contractors.

The above description is of an embodiment for use with the maintenance and repair of Defence materiel. It will be appreciated that embodiments could be built for the maintenance and repair of any materiel, e.g. domestic vehicles (automobiles) 39 As well as the advantages discussed in the preamble of the specification, there.is a further advantage of the present system in that it leads to an improvement in health and safety, particularly where "reference" information highlights particular aspects of a task such as, for example, that a component gets very hot.

Information is therefore provided which preferably assists with safe handling of a configuration item.

It will be appreciated by persons skilled in the art that numerous variations and/or modifications may be made to the configuration as shown in the specific embodiments without departing from the spirit or scope of the configuration as broadly described. The present embodiments are, therefore, to be considered in all respects as illustrative and not restrictive.

Claims (13)

1. A system for managing information for the support of materiel, comprising a computing system including storage means storing a plurality of items of task data, each task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable which may be used in the support process, the alternative consumable having a similar form-fit-function to the specific consumable, such that the user may choose which consumable to utilize based on criteria such as availability.
2. A system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the attribute data includes a link to a supplier system to enable supply of the alternative consumable.
3. A system in accordance with claim 1 or claim 2, wherein the attribute data includes effect information, providing information on the effect of utilising the alternative consumable on the handling of the configuration item.
4. A system in accordance with claim 1, 2 or 3, the system including link means linking the task data items to one or more other task data items, the associated configuration item(s)of which may be affected by the support process of the configuration item associated with the task data item.
A method of managing information for the support of materiel, comprising the steps of storing a plurality of items of task data, each task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable which may be used in the support process if a 41 specific consumable is not available, the alternative consumable having similar form-fit-function to a consumable to be used in the support process.
6. A method in accordance with claim 5 wherein the attribute data includes a link to a supplier system, whereby to facilitate supply of the alternative consumable.
7. A method in accordance with claim 4 or claim 5, the attribute data including effect data, providing information on the effect of utilising the alternative consumable on the handling of the associated configuration item of materiel.
8. A method in accordance with claim 4,5 or 6, comprising the further step of linking the task data items to one or more other task data items, the associated configuration item(s)of which may be affected by the support process of the configuration item associated with the task data item.
9. A task data item including information on the handling of an associated configuration item of materiel for a support process, and including attribute data including information on an alternative consumable which may be used in the support process if a specific consumable is not available, the alternative consumable having -a similar form-fit function to the specific consumable.
A task data item in accordance with claim 7, wherein the task data item is a task data item of the system of any one of claims 1 to 3.
11. A task data item in accordance with claim 7 or 8, implemented by a computing system.
12. A computing program arranged, when loaded onto a computing system, to control the computing system to 42 operate as the computing system of any one of claims 1 to 3.
13. A computer readable medium providing a computer program in accordance with claim
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Citations (1)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
EP0810558A2 (en) * 1996-05-30 1997-12-03 He Holdings, Inc. Advanced maintenance system for aircraft and military weapons

Patent Citations (1)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
EP0810558A2 (en) * 1996-05-30 1997-12-03 He Holdings, Inc. Advanced maintenance system for aircraft and military weapons

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