Tech. Sgt. Joseph Goff inspects an aircraft part for abnormalities before they become a problem at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Sergeant Goff is the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory section chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)
Senior Airman Jeri Thompson studies a digital X-ray from an aircraft part at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on July 10. By switching from film to digital X-rays to analyze aircraft, the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron is saving the Air Force more than $200,000 a year and no longer produces hazardous waste from processing film. Airman Thompson is a nondestructive inspection laboratory technician at the squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)
by Senior Airman Jared Marquis
3rd Wing Public Affairs
7/17/2006 - ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Airmen at the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory here have found a way to save the Air Force more than $200,000 annually.
The lab is responsible for inspecting all aircraft assigned to the 3rd Wing for internal problems that are hard for the naked eye to see.
"We are trained to detect abnormalities before they become a problem," said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Goff, the NDI lab section chief.
They accomplish this by using several techniques such as X-ray, ultraviolet light, high-powered magnets, and a spectrometer to analyze particles found in oil.
As part of an Air Force Smart Operations 21 initiative to improve processes, the lab transitioned from film to digital X-rays. The previous process took two full shifts. Members of the NDI lab would take the X-ray, develop the film, which costs $14 a piece, and then inspect the results. If a picture did not process correctly, they would have to repeat the process. In addition, they had to keep copies of nearly 800 images from each assigned aircraft.
With virtual media integration digital imaging, the process is all done digitally. Airmen use a reusable plate to take the photo, scan it into a computer and analyze it on a computer screen. According to Sergeant Goss, the new equipment cuts the process time by 60 percent.
The software and hardware provided with the systems are specifically designed and programmed to work together to process digital images into a usable format for the NDI lab. This makes it easier for lab technicians to identify problems, Sergeant Goss said.
"In the X-rays, we are looking for things like cracks; it's hard to see sometimes, because all you have is the film. With digital, you have more options; you can zoom in, lighten the image, darken the image, do whatever you need to see the problem," he said.
In addition, Sergeant Goss said the film is reusable up to 10,000 times. So, there are no more hazardous chemicals to dispose of, and the lab only prints out the copies it needs. Everything else is sent via e-mail.
Since its integration, the VMI digital imaging process has saved the Air Force $144 million. Elmendorf was the first to test the new equipment, however, it is being integrated at bases throughout the Air Force.