John, They’re Not Floating Factories

Journeyed east a few days ago to have some conversations with a major defense contractor about what’s going on in their business.


If you haven’t been following the military business, especially the Navy business, there have been a massive sea change over the last ten to fifteen years. And it’s not to the liking of a huge segment of military consultants and contractors. It’s called the COTS initiative. Essentially the idea that the industrial world has solved all these problems and has tested, reliable products that pretty much meet our needs so why aren’t we using them?


That’s bad news if you’re a hot shot Engineer that been reinventing the military wheel for the last 30 years. Instead of spending a good 2 or 3 years writing specs, designing and building a nifty military motor controller pretty similar to the ones that are made by a host of industrial companies all you get to do now is to integrate an existing one. But for us taxpayers it’s supposed to mean big savings.


But of course, like anything else, it’s not exactly that easy. You still have to meet military requirements for the big four, shock, vibe and temp and emi. But you can add those to existing equipment much easier than designing the thing from the ground up.


One way to look at all this is that a Navy ship is just a floating factory with a weapons platform on top of it. In point of fact, they typically divide the integration of a ship in just that way. An experienced weapons developer like a Northrup Grumman or Raytheon does the weapons platform while somebody else with different expertise does the fuel systems, power, HVAC and all the rest. I remember hearing that on one ship they got to final integration and the Weapons platform was 12 feet longer than the ship platform. Glad I wasn’t the prime contractor on that one!


In my meeting I was quickly reminded that if I ever discussed this with anybody from the Navy that they’d more than bristle at a statement like that. In fact, I was told that I’d probably be walking the plank or hanging from the Yard Arm(whatever that is?). Never the less, I think that it’s true. Factory plus Weapons = Navy ship.


Uh oh. That means that the Chairman of Procter & Gamble might someday mount Gun Turrets on top of the Charmin plant in Green bay and control traffic all through Lake Michigan! [Note to self: Need to write Congressman re threat to Michigan lake traffic].


One of the more interesting results of the meeting was to see how much network integration there is on a Navy ship. The Navy has some guidelines but the main integrator and ship builder make a lot of these decisions.


Pretty much Siemens is the standard. That means that you find an awful lot of Profinet and Profibus on Navy ships now [WWII Navy Vets spinning in graves]. The point count in these things is massive. We’re talking up to one hundred thousand I/O points! And because a lot of the specialty stuff doesn’t talk Siemens networking you end up with DeviceNet, LonWorks, AS-i, Modbus, Modbus TCP, BACnet, ASCII and every other network you can think of. And all of that has to be integrated.


That’s where our new 460EDX line of device converters comes in. This line is powered by CoDeSys, the IEC 61131-3 standard. Off the shelf we’ll have about 20 dedicated device conversion products but with the power of CoDeSys we’ll be able to make a dedicated, custom device converter in a day instead of 12 weeks. That’s about a 99% reduction in effort from how we did it just last year.


If you have those kind of device conversion needs, stay tuned as we release the 460 product line or send an email to me and I’ll send you the details.