The Ramblings of the Millahtime Man

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Prognostics - Predicting Failures Before They Happen

Imagine you are driving down the road, your transmission breaks and you are stuck dead in the road. You're frustrated, plans are all messed up and have to get a tow truck to take it to a repair shop. Not fun and a definite pain.

Now, Imagine that a few hours before your transmission broke you got a warning saying that it was going to break in a few hours. You would then drive it to a repair shop and make other arrangements for your day. You wouldn't have to get a tow truck or be stuck dead by the road.

The idea is not to diagnose the problem after it happens but to predict the failure before it happens. Technology like this is being developed and it's called Prognostics. A simple useful definition would be:

Prognostics -– Actual material condition assessment which includes predicting and determining the useful life and performance life remaining of components by modeling fault progression (courtesy of the Joint Strike Fighter Program)

Now that diagnostics has become so advanced and processing power is up so that large math equations take no time to solve on embedded applications; prognostics technology is taking off.

The idea is to monitor the physical condition of a system. Then when changes occur you know how those changes affect the remaining life of a component. For this you can (not easily but possibly very accurately) predict how much life there is left in the component.

A simple example of this is on some newer cars. On some cars there is an indicator to tell how much useful life there is in your oil. This is many times displayed as a percentage. The idea is that instead of changing it every 3000 miles you do it based on the condition of the oil. What if your oil was still good after 3000 miles? Then changing it would be a waste of time, oil and money for the user. Someone who speeds a lot vs someone who is a conservative driver will have different oil conditions for the same amout of miles. If your oil is still good after 3000 miles why change? Why not wait until the oil is no longer in good condition.

Prognostics is a new technology frontier where many different technologies work together. More to come....lots more.


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