Strategic Partner Updates

SFC Patrick Sandel on patrol in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle The key mission for the Michigan Defense Center is to coordinate resources available throughout the country and to offer economic gardening tools to benefit Michigan defense and homeland security contractors and grow jobs.  In this quest, the Defense Center partners with key stakeholders to foster collaboration and help their organizations grow to assist you.

Two of the Michigan Defense Center’s strategic partners, Automation Alley and Macomb County have taken on important projects in 2013.

Automation Alley: Michigan Companies and Sustainment

Automation Alley employs a team of talented and experienced engineers dedicated to supporting our troops by ensuring they always have the tools they need to get the job done. Automation Alley is currently under contract with TARDEC to provide industrial base support for the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages program (DMSMS). The contract has created the capability to establish commercial industrial base visibility and communicate TACOM LCMC requirements with companies across the United States.

Automation Alley’s core competencies include the following:

  • Repair part analysis and data-mining capability for families of vehicles
  • Reverse engineering and administration to provide replacement parts and TDPs
  • VisCom, an industrial base tool with searchable database of manufacturer capabilities and contact information and integrated email communication
  • Prototype demonstration, test planning and support
  • Knowledge of manufacturing and industrial base capabilities, trends and risks
  • Locating and vetting suppliers for specific components or manufacturing technology
  • Technical competencies in many mechanical and electrical areas

VisCom: Automation Alley’s Industrial Base VisIbility and Communication Tool
As the number of Army programs in production has been reduced in recent years, priorities have shifted to sustain, rather than purchase, new systems. As these systems age, so does the industrial base furnishing those systems and their components.

The number of companies naturally atrophies for many reasons, yet DoD depends on an industrial base of suppliers across the United States to provide these components and systems to keep equipment mission capable, When a supplier goes out of business or stops manufacturing defense components, new suppliers must be identified. Automation Alley has developed an industrial base visibility and communication tool, called VisCom, to address this issue. VisCom integrates data on companies across the U.S. and abroad, including specific capabilities (based on Federal Supply Class codes, Product Service codes and core competencies), financial viability (based on the full range of Dun and Bradstreet financial health indicators) and contact information. VisCom enables easy email communication with these suppliers individually or in any size group.

When original equipment manufacturers (OEM) close their doors, the technical data needed to continue manufacturing components or systems is often lost or is only available at a high price.  In that instance, Automation Alley can identify companies through VisCom that are capable of reverse engineering the components or systems and developing a corresponding model-based engineering TDP and first article prototype. These companies often deliver the TDP to TARDEC at a price much lower than what was previously quoted by the OEM.

Company information is continually added and updated in VisCom, making it an increasingly valuable tool. Parts and materials suppliers can request to be included in VisCom by entering their contact information, core competencies, industry classifications (NAICS, FSC, PSC and CAGE) and DUNS numbers into Automation Alley’s Web portal at

SERA: A Proactive Approach to Supportability

A Sustainment Engineering Risk Assessment (SERA) is a detailed study of all repair parts in a Family of Vehicles (FOV). A SERA can be performed on a one-time basis or periodically to assess changes over time. It is an excellent means of evaluating a weapons system’s sustainment and maintenance strategy, as is required by regulation AR 700-127. 

SERAs extract data on each part from many disparate databases and create new knowledge.  They include more than 80 data elements for each part: every maintenance record, part inventories, system usage data, ordering demand history, every historical procurement event, detailed supplier financial information and other logistical data such as customer wait times to delivery. SERAs integrate information from VisCom with all available equipment data and TACOM LCMC’s Industrial Base Integration Team (IBIT) console, which documents and tracks command-level issues related to the industrial base.

Automation Alley Completes SUSV Reverse Engineering Project

Automation Alley and its defense team in Sterling Heights have recently completed a nine-month reverse engineering project of the Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) as part of the DMSMS Program.

The SUSV is a tracked vehicle designed to support infantry platoons and similarly sized units during operations in arctic and alpine conditions. It is used primarily by the Army National Guard in Vermont and Alaska. The original SUSV engine is no longer supported by the prime contractor or the original engine manufacturer.

Thus, Automation Alley was tasked by Warren-based U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) with three assignments:

  • Investigate the root cause of an engine failure from the field
  • Perform an engine-only analysis on all of its repair parts
  • Reverse engineer and fabricate an Engine Cooling Enhancement Kit (ECEK)

“Automation Alley has been an invaluable partner with the US Army leading the way for the government to get their arms around their massive Ground System Vehicles Industrial Base Portfolio,” says Randal C. Gaereminck, Associate Director of Engineering at TARDEC’s Industrial Base & Advanced Manufacturing Systems Integration & Engineering division.

“Management and execution of the Automation Alley developed Sustainment Engineering Risk Assessment (SERA) model has been a unique tool the US Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) has applied.”

Gaereminck continues, “Automation Alley has been key to driving down Ground Combat and Combat Service Support Vehicles sustainment costs through risk assessment and mitigation efforts such as finding new industrial base sources, reverse engineering or re-engineering of critical weapon system components.”

The SUSV engine was shipped to TARDEC in Warren, and Automation Alley was tasked with finding out why it had suddenly failed. Automation Alley’s investigation found that gasoline was used in the vehicle instead of diesel fuel. A chemical analysis of the residual fuel in the engine confirmed both diesel fuel and gasoline were present.

ECEK was designed to increase the SUSVs reliability. The engines can overheat, despite the SUSV’s use in cold climates. Automation Alley reverse engineered the kit to facilitate broader future procurement.

Through an analysis of the nearly 500 engine repair parts, Automation Alley’s engineers determined which parts could be easily procured as Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) and which required Technical Data Package (TDP) development to facilitate future procurement. They estimated the piece costs and production tooling associated with all parts, reverse engineered all of the unique parts, created TDPs, and fabricated nine prototype units sent directly to the Guard units for installation.

Automation Alley enlisted the help of several local companies to complete the project, including working with companies to scan component parts and produce CAD drawings of each SUSV engine part and working with manufacturing suppliers to produce prototypes.

IAV Automotive Engineering, Inc. of Northville performed the engine failure analysis. Applications 3D of Rochester Hills scanned many of the components. Other companies involved in the project included Detroit Radiator Corporation of Romulus for the radiator; Miltech Industries, Inc. of Sterling Heights for the electrical components; and Elmhirst Industries, Inc. of Sterling Heights and Top Craft Tool, Inc. of Clinton Township for other complex pieces, including the oil cooler hose and circulating pump. Even the custom wooden shipping crates used for the kits were locally sourced, from Action Wood 360 in Clinton Township.

In addition, dozens of COTS components were purchased locally. In total, more than 100 unique parts comprised each kit.