Sam Houston State University is being awarded a $5.5 million contract by the U.S. Department of Defense for engineering and technical services relating to electro-mechanical systems on Navy ships.
It is the largest amount ever awarded to the university for providing contract services.
Although SHSU is not an engineering and technical powerhouse, it had just what the Department of Defense wanted to manage a partnership for their project involving solid-state power management devices that would increase the "mean time between failures" for applications in hull, mechanical and electrical distributive systems on board Navy ships.
"The Navy was familiar with the work of big companies in the Washington, D.C. area like Boeing and Lockheed, but they realized that because of their size and traditional perspectives, it could diminish the probability of the program's success," said project manager Sabin Holland, director of innovative collaborative programs at Sam Houston State.
"So they decided to go somewhere else," he said.
Houston was a logical choice, Holland said, because of the large number of companies in the area known for their work with energy-related technology and the production and maintenance of oil rigs and other specialized machinery.
Representatives from the Department of Defense attended the prestigious Offshore Technology Conference---the world's largest offshore event---in Houston and identified several groups, including the Texas Regional Institute for Environmental Studies at Sam Houston State, that could do the type work they wanted.
"TRIES had worked with the Air Force in another project," said Holland, "and the Department of Defense was familiar with us and knew we could manage large projects. We also had relationships with the other partners that the Navy was interested in using."
The project is a collaborative effort among Sam Houston State, Florida Atlantic University, LeTourneau, Inc. of Longview, and Giotto Technologies, Inc. of Houston.
Work will be done in several phases, with the first step to involve identifying the technologies that currently exist and determining their applicability with the electro-mechanical components that are present on naval vessels.
"Bits and pieces of information exist throughout the world," Holland said. "But none of the information has been put together to develop a complete operational system."
Once the information is collected and documented, researchers at Sam Houston State, in conjunction with the other partners, will work to design "intelligent systems" that will predict when and under what conditions the systems will fail. Then the researchers will direct work to develop the technology that modifies the performance of the systems so they continue to operate if a failure does occur.
For example, "Let's assume a Naval destroyer is going into battle with three systems operating the ship," said Holland. "If the destroyer runs into a mine and the front of the ship is blown off, and one of the systems that is needed to operate the ship is destroyed, what will it take to keep that ship operable with the other two systems, and how do you effectively distribute the destroyed system's performance responsibilities to the other two systems?
"Our objective is to monitor the performance of the equipment that comprises the system, predict when the system will fail, and determine how to compensate if it does," said Holland, who previously worked as an engineering consultant for the Pentagon and has a master's degree in business administration.
The long-term goal is to employ this technology throughout Naval ships to reduce the manning required to operate them. This will result in lower operational costs and battlefield casualties for the Department of Defense.
In addition to the financial benefit of the contract, Holland feels that the experience will be intellectually beneficial for both the Department of Defense and for Sam Houston State faculty members.
During the project, Sam Houston State will handle all financial and administrative details of the contract as well as provide technical expertise in specific subject areas.
"Our faculty will have the opportunity to bring their expertise to the project. From time to time, they will come in to conduct an audit of the work," said Holland.
"If there are questions about an area that a member of our faculty is knowledgeable about, we'll ask that person 'How does this work and does it make sense from an intelligence standpoint?'" he said.
Possible opportunities for faculty will include involvement with system modeling, architecture development, and control logic.
Holland pointed out that the project will be a win-win for the university as it gives faculty opportunities to contribute scientifically as well as gives them exposure to how the Department of Defense works. It also gives the university administrators an idea of how the door of opportunity for further collaborative projects can be opened with relationships that are developed from projects such as this one.
The scheduled completion date for the project is July 2008.