Interactive, 3D repair manuals offer Soldiers numerous benefits
Sgt. Joshua Breen of HHC 2-502 Infantry uses a 3D interactive electronic repair manual to learn about Spider XM7 Network Munition Dispensing Set maintenance at Fort Campbell, Ky. in September, 2011.

This is not your grandfather's well-thumbed repair manual.

Soldiers maintaining the newly fielded Spider XM7 Network Munition Dispensing Set are using an electronic technical manual that provides interactivity, color, 3D images, full-motion animations, skills training and an even an electronic reference library.

This new manual is called an Interactive Electronic Technical Manual (IETM). Spider is a hand-emplaced, remotely controlled anti-personnel munition system.

Spider's IETM allows Soldiers to completely disassemble and re-assemble virtual models of the Spider system. Components in the model can be turned and viewed from different angles or "zoomed in" to view small parts.

These interactive features mark a significant departure from the black-and-white line drawings and detailed part listings of traditional paper manuals.

"It's really hard to make things clear on paper," said Nikolaos Mavrakis, competency team leader for the Systems Support Engineering Branch of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).

With the IETM, "Anything a Soldier can remove on the real item, he or she can remove on the highly interactive 3D model," Mavrakis added.

"You can see parts clearly down to the individual screw."

"If you don't know what the item is called you can just click on it and it will tell you," Mavrakis added, explaining that a click will also reveal stock numbers to make it easier to order replacement parts.

With the ability to view a system or component down to this level of detail, a Soldier can more easily perform common maintenance tasks such as inspection, assembly and disassembly.

The IETM also provides Soldiers with the correct sequence needed to complete a task properly. Like a paper repair manual, the IETM shows the step-by-step tasks required to become proficient in maintaining the system.

Unlike the paper version, a Soldier is a mouse-click away from watching an animation of certain maintenance procedures being performed.

When Soldiers feel they are ready, they can try to perform these procedures on their own with an interactive version of a quiz.

Such quizzes are more than just lists of multiple choice or true-or-false questions. Instead, they comprise of a virtual version of hands-on training, with the IETM acting as a coach and mentor.

For example, the common maintenance task "Install a Long Range Mast Assembly" includes the instruction "attach the base mast section to the antenna base plate."

The trainee can grab what he or she thinks is the right part from a virtual "parts bin," move it to the virtual "assembly area" and try to attach it where it belongs.

If the Soldier grabs the wrong part, a pop-up will indicate "incorrect."

If the Soldier performs the task correctly, the interactive manual may follow up with a true-or-false question, and perhaps a multiple choice question to further probe the trainee's understanding.

In combination, these interactive features simulate a hands-on feel to a degree that helps the Soldier learn the terminology and the "ins and outs" of a system more quickly, explained Mavrakis.

"By providing this to the Soldier he or she can reduce the time to repair the equipment and sustain high levels of equipment availability," he added.

This means that rather than send a repairman to a system, or transfer the system from combat operations to a repair facility for common repairs, Spider-cognizant Soldiers can make those repairs in the field using the IETM.

Maintaining effective supply operations for parts and manuals has long been a vital component of Army readiness.

Unless proficient repair skills and replacement parts are available, the most technologically advanced system may not perform when needed.

Training Soldiers in maintenance is essential because experienced repairmen may not be available in dangerous combat areas.

The IETM fills this capability gap and provides the Soldier continuous learning opportunities and familiarity with the Spider system.

The IETM comes pre-loaded on Spider's computer interface but it can also be loaded on PCs and laptops so that Soldiers can train with it almost anywhere, Mavrakis said.

The increasing abundance of computers and handheld electronic devices on the battlefield extends the benefits of the IETM's capabilities and propels technical manuals into the Information Age.

According to Mavrakis, that is what the IETM represents.

Another advantage in using an IETM is the ease and speed with which system and procedural updates are implemented and distributed.

Rather than distributing printed manuals each time a system or procedure is updated, the Army merely sends an update via electronic media.

In addition, a Soldier can search for and download an updated IETM through the Logistics Support Agency's (LOGSA's) website, which further reduces the time for a Soldier to acquire an updated IETM.

Mavrakis believes the new kind of manual is the way of the future.

"Everybody really loves this and the best part is it's really easy to develop," he said.

"It can be done a lot less expensively than you might think."

"Manufacturers are producing tech data packages in 3D anyway," said Mavrakis.
"We can convert that data into compressed, but very accurate imagery and use that to create the IETM."

Although the IETM is currently fielded for Spider, another IETM is being developed for the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS), a stabilized remotely operated system that provides the capability to aim and fire a suite of crew-served weapons.

Mavrakis and his team are also developing an IETM application for use on handheld devices, such as the existing Lightweight Hand-held Mortar Ballistic Computer or potential future devices.

The Spider system is managed by Project Manager Close Combat Systems.

Page last updated Thu September 29th, 2011 at 00:00