High-tech, low key
Published 6:36 pm Friday, September 3, 2010
Simulations help clients prepare for the real thing
Surrounded by golden hills of sand for as far as the eye can see, it’s difficult to differentiate the other tan vehicles in the convoy from the scenery as it moves through a Middle Eastern desert.
It’s just another morning.
As it heads toward a local village to deliver supplies, the convoy manages to stay in line, but there’s a holdup as it stops to wait for a local shepherd and his goats to move from the road.
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Vibrations from F-16s rattle the seats and shake the spines of everyone on the road.
The fighters are providing air cover after locals were spotted planting IEDs in a dead goat just up the road.
There is a deafening roar as the planes’ guns combine with the 50-caliber gun mounted on the roof of the Humvee. It almost seems as if the shells are bursting directly above the vehicle, but the driver keeps his place in line, puts a little more weight on the gas pedal, his attention focused on getting to the place where the smoke is rising above the horizon, a sure sign the village isn’t too far off.
Heart thudding in his chest, senses on full alert, the driver makes it to the village and delivers the supplies that were called for in this mission.
When the walls around him turn blue, he steps out of the vehicle and through a door. A few minutes later, he’s driving down Harbour View Boulevard in North Suffolk.
Goat farmers, F-16s, terrorists and IED explosions aren’t what you would expect in North Suffolk, but the experience is just one several to be found at Lockheed Martin’s Center for Innovation.
Tucked toward the end of Harbour View Boulevard, the Center for Innovation houses some of the company’s most advanced technology and is part of one of Suffolk’s most profitable — and least comprehended — industries: modeling and simulation.
“This isn’t a sale center, we’re about ideas and innovation,” said Jeffery Laskowski, Chief Architect at the Center for Innovation. “Here, we focus on problems at hand and apply new technology to find a solution.”
The Center for Innovation is a world-class laboratory for experimentation and analysis. It has core resources to test ideas and analyze warfighting concepts, and it is the place where Lockheed Martin collaborates with customers to develop solutions for the defense and national security environment.
A key to the facility’s problem-solving capabilities is its use of modeling, simulation and analysis, which play a vital role in helping assess the products Lockheed develops for its customers.
Modeling and simulation is a technology that was first widely used by the military at U.S. Joint Forces Command to assess military situations. It has developed into an industry that is providing solutions for a variety of fields, including healthcare, architecture, automotive and energy.
By creating digital models of an object, situations that could hypothetically occur can be played out virtually to determine how they would affect the object.
“It’s a powerful tool,” Laskowski said. “That’s why you see the growth in the industry. You can put something — like a weapon — in digital form, fire it a million times and see what would happen, without ever wasting a bullet.”
At the Center for Innovation, a person can walk into Sector 3 and on computer screens see 3D images of the F-35. That is the model part of modeling and simulation.
“Models by themselves do nothing,” Laskowski said. “Simulation drives them from point A to point B 100,000 times to see what happens, what needs to be fixed, what’s efficient, what’s not, where you can save money before building it. The two are intertwined.”
For example, a simulation can teach mechanics how to maintain and repair a virtual F-35 without them even having to be in the same room as the simulator.
Simulation is often used to teach operators how to use a vehicle before it has been produced.
While training doesn’t take place at the Center for Innovation, there are many vehicles that can be used for operators to test and provide feedback to the architects and engineers behind the model.
“In fact, being located in Suffolk, right next to Joint Forces Command and near other Department of Defense agencies, is a huge advantage for us,” Mulleavy said. “It makes it very convenient for our operators to come test our products.”
Continuing the F-35 example, analysis would take place when the mechanics provide feedback and learn what changes should be made to make the aircraft more reliable before it ever flies.
“Rather than build a new plane and find out that something doesn’t work right or you need to change something, you can do it in a lab rather than bend all that metal finding out something like the mechanic can’t fit his hand somewhere the hard way,” said Mike Mulleavey, communications director for corporate engineering and technology for Lockheed Martin.
The analysis that modeling and simulation provides helps Lockheed Martin, its customers and eventually the taxpayers.
“If you were to break it down, there are probably four main benefits to modeling and simulation,” Laskowski said. “It drives affordability, innovation, efficiency and safety.”
While some of the technology behind modeling and simulation is expensive, it can save money by allowing engineers to test cost-saving options versus high-cost options to see if the quality will be worth the money in the long run.
“For example, you can run different engines in a [vehicle] to see what works and what doesn’t, and determine if the cost is worth it,” Laskowski said.
The technology also can help users save money on materials.
“If you’re using it for training, it saves all that money on gas and wear and tear on the vehicle,” Laskowski said. “You don’t burn any rubber. You never have to fire a bullet to see what happens 1,000 times later.”
By allowing employees to explore new concepts, the technologies help foster innovation, as well.
“We’re not just testing current projects,” Laskowski said. “We identify concepts way down the line. They’re proven here. Maybe they’re viable projects down the road, maybe not. But simulation helps verify them.”
While affordability and efficiency go hand in hand, it is the life-saving component that may just make the technology worth its weight.
“For example, say someone thinks about putting a skin on an airplane,” Mulleavy said. “Will a plane take off with a new skin on it? You wouldn’t want to put a pilot in that to find out.”
Better training also means higher levels of safety.
Mulleavy described a pilot who told him that training simulations in mid-air bird-strikes had saved his life. When he encountered the situation in the field, he said, instead of doing what his gut reaction would have been, he automatically did what he had been taught and he lived through the experience.
Experts say there is a vast array of other uses for the technology found at Lockheed Martin’s Center for Innovation.
“The next step is its widespread use in health and energy,” Mulleavy said. “Modeling and simulation is becoming a ubiquitous tool. People are buying things built through simulators. People are using it to train heavy construction workers. Many people don’t realize it, but it’s used in so many applications.”