Ground equipment Airmen show benefits of AFSO 21 |
by Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
6/22/2009 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- In March 2006 when former Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne called for a new way to evaluate how the Air Force operates, called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO 21, he encouraged the elimination of unnecessary steps in any work process.
He suggested Air Force people leverage technology, using the right tools and techniques to see any opportunities for improvement.
He reminded Airmen of the many challenges confronting the Air Force; the expected long war against global terror with associated need for new and evolving mission requirements to deal with unconventional threats, financial pressures, workforce reduction pressures, aging fleet pressures and infrastructure pressures. Secretary Wynne reminded them of the critical need for action to find and eliminate waste in all they do.
"We will use our greatest resource in doing so: innovative, dedicated Airmen and world class leadership," said the former secretary.
Now years and new a secretary later, the fruits of these efforts are coming to be seen, but these changes have not come without challenges, challenges that the men and women of the 86th Aerospace Ground Equipment flight know first-hand.
Nearly 18 months ago, supervisors in the 86th AGE flight, with a willingness to take on the impossible, established policies and took a stance to facilitate change. They looked at nearly all of their processes and sought out smarter ways of doing the day-to-day business. While these changes were difficult they have not gone unnoticed, even by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz who said, "Other units should follow the 86th AGE flight's lead."
On a daily basis, aerospace ground equipment maintainers play a vital role in supporting the Air Force's distinctive capability of global reach by keeping test equipment, tow vehicles, electronic circuitry and other aircraft support equipment working.
According to their job description, they diagnose malfunctions, troubleshoot, inspect and approve completed maintenance actions. These maintainers use an automated system to monitor maintenance trends, analyze equipment requirements, maintain equipment records, document maintenance actions and keep nearly all the ground equipment needed to support aircraft maintenance and flying operations.
At Ramstein, the 86th AGE flight supervisors led the way by initiating a mindset that made it difficult for nay-sayers to flourish in the squadron. They did not accept any blaming of manpower shortages or facilities as an excuse. Instead, 86th AGE flight leaders encouraged inspections, visits and suggestions as opportunities to improve their own processes.
They used AFSO 21 principles to eliminate waste and continually improve products and services.
"We sat down 18 months ago and had a process-improvement event setting a goal of cutting the amount of time equipment would be removed from the flightline and in the bay for periodic maintenance," said Master Sgt. Alex Clayborne, 86th AGE assistant flight chief.
From that event, specialized cells were created and the specific goal was to get the scheduled 20 to 25 pieces of equipment through the inspection process in one day versus five or more days. They found they could initially get the equipment through the inspection process in about a day-and-a-half with 20 to 30 people focused on the task.
"The cells were formed to handle a particular area of the process," Sergeant Clayborne said. "For example, we have an oil and filter changing cell, one guy who handles all the oil and filter changes. We have a lubrication cell and one guy responsible for that duty."
About six months after meeting that initial challenge, the 86th AGE flight supervisors reevaluated the shop again and found that there still was more room for improvement they had not noticed before.
Flight leaders initiated another event that included Airman at all levels for input. With suggestions and teamwork they found that they could reduce inspection manpower requirements to six Airmen with no reduction in output or quality, all while executing the workload during a 40-hour workweek. The extra Airmen were freed up to move to other sections to bolster the maintenance function.
"We also found by using the Lean principle of Flow we could better schedule equipment processing from the flight line on the day it is due for inspection, complete the inspection and required minor maintenance and push it right back out to the flight line that same day," Sergeant Clayborne said.
"We created more specialized cells such as the diagnostics cell, supply cell, repair cell and programs cell and formed teams, each led by a technical sergeant. And each team would work a particular cell," said Sergeant Clayborne.
They found that by rotating Airmen among the various cells and jobs, they promoted a well-rounded work force. That well-roundness helped streamline the inspection and repair processes of the flight and made it more efficient.
While all these changes have made reductions in waste and time, they have not come at the sacrifice of maintenance practices and compliance. During the recent unit compliance inspection at Ramstein, the 86th AGE flight shop was commended by inspectors and received an outstanding rating.
The IG Award of Excellence stated, "The 86th AGE flight implemented 6S/Lean concepts and established the first-ever team/cell structure for diagnostics, inspection, repair, supply and dispatch using AFSO 21 guidance. This process helped standardize and save countless man-hours which minimized waste while maximizing production."
Since the beginning of AFSO 21, Air Force officials and Airmen have relentlessly and continuously strived to improve operations and meet the goals of leveraging on technology. They have adapted quickly to changing demands and requirements for continued unparalleled air, space and cyberspace power processes.
Here at Ramstein, the 86th AGE flight AFSO 21 process is just beginning. The next phase in the continual improvement process is to attack any bottlenecks.
"We are now looking at our supply processes to see what bottlenecks there are," Sergeant Clayborne said. "First we are looking internally to see if our current process is efficient and what can be improved. But this only happens because we have empowered every Airman, no matter what level, to identify process that could be done better by making them process owners."
"The Airmen of the 86th AGE flight workforce enthusiastically embrace continuous process improvement," said Master Sgt. Thomas Baldwin, the 86th AGE flight chief. "Our shop confirms the idea that LEAN/AFSO 21 is not an event, it is a never-ending journey."
As the UCI report stated, "The 86th AGE flight is the best USAFE AGE flight in four years and is leading the way for AFSO 21 in the Air Force."
"Without metrics, there are many unknowns. What we do know is that we have a (flight) that ought to be severely stressed right now but continues to deliver and even improve," said Chief Master Sgt. Lucrecio Brito, 86th Maintenance Squadron superintendent. "Also, the problem solving aspects of LEAN show incredible promise in developing and responsibly empowering our Airmen."