Although SBIR funding was responsible for much of the more exotic work done on Prognostics, it’s important to realize its roots. Prognostics was borne out of a desire to increase safety and improve maintenance. Its move into the diagnostics realm today is much about making the most out of the information available.
Prognostics has, indeed, finally hit the mainstream. And, more and more programs are acknowledging it from the outset–meaning it gets a budget (albeit not typically a big one). SBIRs will continue to be issued to drive better prediction and trend analysis techniques, but Prognostics as a whole now has support in a much bigger way.
A noteworthy program is the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Prognostics bought its way onto the program through maintaining safety despite eliminating one engine. The argument is that for the carrier-based version, no pilot will take off of carrier with a single engine, unless he can be assured the engine isn’t about to fail. This accomplishment represents how big of an impact Prognostics can have on the decisions in a program.
Yet, there is still a long road ahead (just ask the people who fought for Prognostics on the JSF). Prognostics still has to gain broader support from systems engineering. Currently, Prognostics is too often a band-aid meant to patch up poor diagnostics or subsystem visibility. With increased recognition however, Prognostics will eventually be driven from a systems engineering perspective, and not the reverse as is more common today. In other words, are you asking “how can we support Prognostics” or are you asking “do we need Prognostics?” What will inevitably follow asking if Prognostics are needed will be a requirement that dictates its use. And that will be the day that Prognostics will succeed in a big way.
One can hardly expect any more rapid a change in how quickly Prognostics has been elevated to such broad consideration. As SBIR funding shifts from entire Prognostic approaches to focusing just on prediction techniques, it will allow the next generation of Prognostic approaches to materialize out of true need, rather than science for the sake of science. At that point, Prognostics will also find even greater support because it will no longer be the uninvited guest of the reliability and maintainability worlds.