How can the availability of the Cougar helicopter go up and how can deployment be more flexible from a maintenance perspective? And what lessons do we take to the successor of the Cougar? These questions were central to the practical case of the Royal Air Force during the twelfth WCM Summer School.
This year’s study week at the barracks in Stroe concluded on 4 August with the election of the best solution. The five student teams with a total of 27 participants of different nationalities are diverse in composition. Asset owners like Shell and NS and knowledge institutions like Avans Hogeschool, University of Twente and University of Hasselt are represented, as well as service providers like Spie and Ilias. Staff from the Ministry of Defence are also taking part. Today, the teams will present their proposal to defence representatives and the public.
Before that, Jan Braaksma, director of the WCM Summer School, opened the closing ceremony by explaining the WCM Summer School. The summer study week on smart maintenance is a partnership of seven Dutch universities, the Ministry of Defence and World Class Maintenance (WCM). The target group consists of young professionals with up to 10 years of work experience, supplemented by college and university students who are in the final part of their studies. WCM Summer School is open to members and non-members of WCM.
Connecting theory to practice
Braaksma: “The Summer School is not for profit. By collaborating with lecturers from seven different universities – which is quite unique – we can pay attention to the management side and the technical side of smart asset management.” Students attend theory classes and workshops. Defence provides special leadership training during the week. Braaksma: “We link theory to practice through a real-life case study, which this year comes from the Royal Air Force. As every year, participants work in teams to solve the question.”
Research, knowledge and implementation
WCM’s Jacob Derks then explains what WCM stands for. At its core, it is about realising world-class smart asset management through research, gaining new knowledge in the WCM Fieldlabs and Living Labs and implementing the new technology or solution at the companies. Derks cites WCM Vector as an online knowledge centre “under construction” for smart maintenance issues.
The case: Cougar and Caracal
Braaksma goes on to explain exactly what the Air Force case involves. It involves the Cougar helicopter, which has been operational since 1997. Actually, the aircraft would already have been phased out, but it is still in the air. The air force deploys the Cougar over land and over sea, which makes for different use profiles and ditto maintenance strategies. There are only 12 aircraft in service in the Netherlands, which makes statistical modelling difficult. Defence’s desire is to be quickly operational when the situation calls for it. But because there are relatively many aircraft in maintenance at different locations, this is difficult to achieve. Defence hopes that the Summer School participants will come up with refreshing ideas on how to approach maintenance differently and better. Moreover, they hope it will yield insights applicable to the expected successor to the Cougar: the Caracal helicopter. To get a better feel for the subject, the participants visited the Gilze-Rijen airbase. Braaksma: “Two former participants of the WCM Summer School gave further details during the visit, which was nice to see. It completes the circle.”
It is then the teams’ turn to present their solution. Team one proposes to focus more on data-driven maintenance. The team proposes a roadmap that can serve as a roadmap. “Start simple by putting a maintenance engineer and a data scientist together. Start prioritising the problems and move step by step to a plan that you can also use for the Caracal,” explains the team spokesperson. Juror Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Joannes is head of Business Development in the Air Force. He is curious about practical experiences with the proposed steps. A team member responds. He talks about his experiences with a commercial aircraft. “When we started that, there was also nothing. We started small and increased our knowledge about the data step by step.” Even if the data is of insufficient quality, you have to work with it because you learn from it for the new helicopter, says the team.
Team two looked mainly at the organisational side of the issue and suggests redefining asset management objectives as soon as possible. These then serve as input for a renewed strategic asset management plan. The team provides a roadmap with it and also suggests redefining what exactly availability means. Defence distinguishes between PMC (Partial Mission Capability) and FMC (Fully Mission Capability). The team argues that not all capabilities are needed for every type of deployment and there are opportunities to optimise there. Juror Major Airman Jimmy is the Cougar expert from the Air Force Command Staff (CLSK). He responds, “You have held up a mirror to us. That’s good.”Liaison officer.
The third team suggests an approach in three parts. What can you already achieve in the short term, for example by adjusting existing maintenance triggers, such as a mandatory maintenance service after x-number of flight hours. For the medium term, the team says it is possible to work faster if you coordinate better with chain partners which spare parts need to be there in advance. And for the long term, chain cooperation is important. A liaison officer between NATO and the helicopter builder could be useful here.
Smoothen, monitor & optimise
According to team four, the answer to defence lies in less maintenance and less time per maintenance activity. This can be achieved by spreading the maintenance activities better and by extending the maintenance interval. The team devised a roadmap centred on three words: smoothen (move away from prescribed maintenance intervals), monitor (adjust when necessary) and optimise (collaborate with OEMs and apply RCM). Joannes asks how to extend maintenance intervals. The group’s answer is that research should show this.
Start on Monday
‘The solution is at your feet,’ says team five, because all the necessary components are actually already in place. Dynamic planning for optimising maintenance moments and intervals, is the solution that will allow you to start as early as next Monday, the team argues. This requires, among other things, a joint approach from all departments involved, a planning tool and step-by-step implementation of the approach. Once integrated, you can add historical data and AI tools for optimal smart maintenance and asset usage planning. Joannes calls the proposal a nice ‘inside the box’ solution.
A short break is followed by the choosing of the winning concept by the audience and jury respectively. The audience chose team five as third best solution, followed by group four as second best. According to the audience, team one came up with the most appealing approach. Joannes then said on behalf of the expert jury that he was “really flabbergasted” by the results of a week of WCM Summer School. “I saw a lot of energy and enthusiasm with great discussions.” The winner of the expert jury – as with the audience choice – is team one. It is the roadmap and concrete approach that appeals to the jury: start small, achieve results, add more people to the team and scale up further.
Célic Cannappah is a member of the winning team. She studies Asset Management & Maintenance Engineering at the University of Twente. Cannappah calls the study week “very intense and very meaningful”. “I really liked the professors from their different fields of expertise, but I also really enjoyed being present at the military base, to see how things work there. And the sum of the different types of knowledge in the team also made it very valuable.” Team two participant Louis Mechler graduated this year from the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne and works at French energy company EDF. “I wanted to learn more about maintenance and found the WCM Summer School via the internet. It was a valuable week and I particularly learned a lot about predictive maintenance and working with data. That will definitely help me in my work.” Gerrit van den Bergh from team three works at the Army’s Materiel and Logistics Command. Van den Bergh looks back on a useful week, he says. “Absolutely. The cooperation was top-notch and I learned a lot from the others, for example about the approach of the NS.”
Judges Jimmy and Joannes were present throughout the week. After the presentations, they look back with satisfaction. Lieutenant-Colonel Joannes, from Business Development of the Royal Air Force, says: “My role is to explore and identify possible strategic collaborations with industry and knowledge institutions that contribute to achieving our objectives. This Summer School week is an excellent example of such a collaboration.” Jimmy: “Working with young people on a real challenge creates a lot of energy for all parties. It gives us an objective and honest picture of what we are working on. That we are working hard to find the right solutions, but also that we need help in doing so. As I said on stage: a mirror has been held up to us.” Joannes: “With that, you hit the nail on the head. In addition, this week and this form of cooperation fits perfectly into defence’s vision 2035, which focuses on doing more together. By joining forces, one plus one becomes three.”
New solution directions
More specifically on the solutions provided, Major Jimmy says: “It is admirable to see how people were able to put down such analyses and solutions in five days. With new solution directions like data-driven maintenance that we are already applying on a small scale. But also with advice we had already investigated ourselves. The fact that these are now coming up again is reason for us to delve into them again.”
Joannes: “Every team had a point in terms of content. I definitely heard some interesting topics that we are going to investigate further, but it was also confronting. We are now going to discuss the results internally. Which of the proposed solutions will we pick up first? Data-driven maintenance is a possible one, as is redefining partial and full mission capability. Optimising maintenance planning is also part of this.”
Joannes, in conclusion: “Achieving common goals together is at the heart of the Summer School. It worked out well and for us it is also a good example of military entrepreneurship. Looking to the future, it is important for us to give substance to this kind of informal network of experts from companies and institutions such as TNO, NLR, universities and WCM in a lasting way. This week tasted like more in any case.”