Among the key workers building U.S. Navy vessels in the shipyard at Bath Iron Works, Maine are the welders, the electricians...and the person standing behind them wearing a vest. That person is a designer/liaison from the Engineering Department. The vest is a "computer suit," hooked into mobile information systems technology, including a computer tablet, wireless telephone and digital camera—and where there's enough bandwidth—a video camera for streaming video. It's all part of a JCALS (Joint Computer-Aided Acquisition and Logistic Support) application called FasTrak, developed through a technology partnership with Bath Iron Works, the U.S. Supervisor of Shipbuilding Bath (SUPSHIP), and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).
FasTrak extends the services of remotely-located designers and engineers and the vast array of logistics data—drawings, specifications, plans—from wherever they reside in the database, right to the worker building the ship. The result? Bath Iron Works, which has been using FasTrak since November 2000, can now resolve ship construction problems in minutes, rather than days. A case in point: Say a pipefitter is installing a pipe in a ship only to find the space needed for the pipe is taken up by a cabinet, or some electrical conduit. The computer-vested FasTrak designer/liaison can snap a digital photo and post it online. Engineers, at a remote location, can compare the "as is" picture with CAD (computer-aided design) models and drawings. They can diagnose and correct the discrepancy and post corrective drawings, parts lists and instructions online in the JCALS Work Folder—which can be displayed on a computer tablet for an immediate fix—an efficient and secure electronic transfer of technical data and a timely resolution of the production problem.
Using FasTrak has slashed the time and money needed to make on-site internal corrections. Larry Tondreau, Bath Iron Works' project manager for FasTrak, said they're still crunching the numbers to quantify exactly how much time and money, "But I do know that FasTrak has allowed us a 74 percent reduction in our paper products," said Tondreau. "We at the engineering division used to need four different paper products, and a long timeline to get an internal correction made. Now we only need one paper product."
That's important when you consider the workload of Bath Iron Works, which is ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9001-certified by the American Bureau of Shipping. They have been the lead shipyard for 10 surface ship classes (more than any other U.S. shipyard), for the U.S. Navy. These include the ARLEIGH BURKE Class AEGIS guided missile destroyer, the most technologically advanced surface combat ship in the world which, like a huge steel puzzle, takes years to build, component-by-component, module-by-module.
"Now, thanks to FasTrak," said Tondreau, "any changes we make on one ship, we can roll-down to other ships that have the same impact and we'll go out and fix those."
How FasTrak keeps track
Changes that designers make to drawings or parts lists via FasTrak ripple down, via "parent/child" relationships, throughout all the logistical data in the JCALS Global Data Management System (GDMS) database, according to Nannette Stueck, a CSC employee who is PM JCALS database liaison at Bath Iron Works.
Stueck said that FasTrak then creates the job flows and taskings based on templates stored in the JCALS Work Flow Manager software, which models the engineering process and assign roles or individuals to the tasks.
"GDMS enables Bath Iron Works to task the job through all the processes needed to do that job," said Stueck, "and it lets them know 'this team's got to do that job."
These templates are continuously refined to reflect improvements to the engineering process.
"The templates allow the engineering division to 'see' the workflow process," said Stueck. "They can see which steps are and aren't value-added. Then, they can modify and improve the process, eliminating unnecessary or redundant tasks."
And that, according to Col. Robert Buckstad, the project manager for JCALS, points to the true value-added of JCALS, a joint-service program with the goals of designing more supportable weapon systems; transitioning from paper-based to digital logistic and technical information and acquiring and distributing logistic and technical information in digital form.
"A lot of people, when they think of JCALS, think only of electronic technical manuals," said Buckstad. "Joint Technical Manuals are a JCALS product. But to get to that product, we have to collect an enormous amount of data—and that all goes into the JCALS database, where all members of the enterprise can access it. And that is the true value of JCALS—in helping DoD activities to reengineer their business processes."
Tom Sepka, deputy project manager for JCALS, echoes that idea. "The idea is, buy the data once and use it many times," said Sepka. "There are many applications out there that provide solutions, but JCALS is the only DoD-owned solution—and JCALS is accredited, secure and sustained. We can do it in an enterprise environment. Any member across your enterprise who is tied into the database (and who you allow to) can take advantage of the data and use it to reengineer their business processes in a more efficient way."
Sepka said there are approximately 60 operational JCALS sites within the DoD supporting business processes including: acquisition, engineering, data management, maintenance and supply. JCALS is furnishing more than 35,000 users in all services with an interoperable infrastructure that provides seamless, authorized access to information regardless of where it is stored, how it is accessed or how it is formatted. When fully deployed, Sepka said, JCALS will support 245 global locations supporting more than 200,000 users, such as the 1,000 FasTrak users at Bath Iron Works.
As Larry Tondreau put it, "Building a U.S. Navy ship takes years and involves the inner fabric of the whole shipyard. It gets very complicated real quick. So having FasTrak to expedite the process of making changes is a great help."
"And FasTrak can similarly benefit other DoD developers of complicated, sophisticated systems, such as aircraft or tanks," said Sepka. The proof? Just look at the success of the FasTrak implementation at Bath Iron Works.
Mr. Larsen is the Public Affairs Officer for Program Executive Office, Information Systems, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He can be reached at Stephen.Larsen@mail1.monmouth.army.mil.