Exploring potentials of lidar technology: NSWC PHD, NIWC Pacific team up on 1st full ship scan of USS San Diego

A team from US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) recently worked with Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific on the first full-ship scan of an LPD-class ship using the laser light sensing technology known as lidar.

This was the first step in a 3D scanning project proposal being developed by a coalition of multiple warfare centers.

A cross-warfare center team based in San Diego spent nearly two months scanning inside and outside USS San Diego (LPD 22) in order to create a 3D digital model that can be used for, among other things, cost savings when ships go into availability for new installations or repairs.

As explained, many installation teams rely on drawings generalized for an entire ship class but which do not capture minor dimensional or configuration differences between ships—from clearances to bulkhead locations to equipment in use. This can cause significant challenges during installation.

“You have different lifecycles of a ship, and each has a different configuration,” Jason “JD” Basden, Reality Capture project manager with the NIWC Pacific RESTORE Lab, said.

“You have as designed, as built, as delivered, and as is. Ship configurations are constantly evolving and effectively tracking all of those changes throughout a ship’s 40 years of service has been a challenge for the Navy.”

Redesign, equipment tear-outs and rework due to inaccurate design specifications can result in contract modifications, cost overruns and redelivery delays.

“Every ship is unique; the measurements and space layout can be very different. What is in a space can be different. You can walk into a computer room on one ship, and that same space on another could be a weight-lifting room.”

Lidar point cloud data modernizes the processes used by the US Navy to design, plan and execute lifecycle maintenance.

“PHD has been doing targeted lidar scanning of individual spaces and systems for the past two years, but we wanted to demonstrate what lidar technology does at an enterprise level,” Jason Bickford, NSWC PHD research manager and In-Service Engineering Agent of the Future (ISEAotF) engineering lead, said.

“In alignment with ISEAotF objectives of developing enterprise capabilities and pulling as many collaborators into our tech transitions, we conceptualized this full-ship scan prior to a major availability period to show the utility for the wider modernization community and expose as many stakeholders to the technology as possible,” Bickford added.

“This is all about demonstrating value to improving readiness and cost; we need to continue building a demand signal so that lidar data becomes a standard data item delivered to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).”

Lt. Cmdr. Todd Coursey, ISEAotF military lead, began experimenting with lidar technology when he was with Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in 2016, and made it a priority when he came to NSWC PHD.

“Lidar is a gateway to numerous downstream digital applications; many people across the Navy can leverage the data to transform their execution,” Coursey said.

“New opportunities to employ the data are constantly emerging, such as augmented and virtual reality, remote tech assists and virtual training. This is an exciting time and we are at a moment of real technology transition that will directly impact the fleet.”

The first objective of the Naval Innovation Science and Engineering (NISE) 219-funded 3D scanning project was to establish a cross-warfare center team. Seven of the ten Warfare Centers jumped at the opportunity to support this transformational initiative, with PHD and NIWC Pacific taking the lead on the scan of LPD 22.

The ship was chosen as the test case because of the ship class’s long service life and the upcoming mid-life overhauls scheduled for many of the ships.

“We are getting ahead of it so that everyone can review the scanned data and understand the ship’s actual condition while they are planning future installation work,” Bickford explained.

More than 80% of the ship was scanned, including most of the critical interior spaces and the underside of the hull. The team used an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which has a tether attached to its launch ship that transmits the scan from the ROV back to the control computer. An operator actively drives the ROV in real time.

The ROV’s data will be added to the lidar scan data and stitched together to make a near-complete 3D model of the ship. Basden anticipated that will take at least a month to complete.

“We captured 7,000 scans and 10 terabytes of processed data, far eclipsing our previous full ship-scans including DDGs and submarines,” Basden revealed.

“To date, this is the largest single scan project ever completed.”

“Scanning every ship in the Navy would be a huge undertaking, which is why right now we are targeting ships going into availabilities,” Ray Provost, RESTORE Lab project manager, pointed out.

“Lidar produces a millimeter-accuracy 3D model of interior and exterior spaces. Multiple scans are stitched together to generate a complete-ship model that then captures with high precision the ship’s actual, current condition.

“A lot changes in an availability, and collecting point cloud data before a yard period is very valuable in minimizing that re-work, saving time and money,” Provost explained.

Those ships that receive full, completed scans will then only need the occasional follow-up scan at RMCs, warfare centers or planning yards post-availability. Those scans, in turn, will support future availabilities.

PHD and NIWC Pacific both provided internal funding to support the scanning project, but the ultimate goal, Bickford said, is to seek major naval funding. By showing the value of this technology to the installation community, Bickford believes it will prompt the community to generate that requirement from higher program offices and make it an expected deliverable for the planning yards.

“On-time redelivery of ships and subs is one of NAVSEA’s No. 1 priorities, and lidar is a technology perfectly suited for supporting that priority,” Bickford said.

We envision a model where a diverse team of warfare centers, RMCs, shipyards, planning yards and ships themselves are actively scanning and sharing data across the enterprise. How we accomplish that—establishing the data environments, building processes for handling, storing and sharing the data—is something we plan to tackle in Fiscal Year 2021,” he concluded.

Photo: Illustration. USS Truxtun 3D Scan. Photo by US Navy

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