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Charleston maintainers foster AFSO 21 process improvement

  • Published
The idea that small changes in processes can make big impacts in productivity is one of the concepts behind Air Force Smart Operations 21, or AFSO 21.

Leaders of the 437th Maintenance Group met recently for an intensive four-day process improvement study and found smarter ways of getting aerospace ground equipment to the flightline mechanic more efficiently.

"We made the aircraft mechanic the center of the universe," said Capt. Arthur Shields, the 437th Maintenance Group, flight commander. "Any time one of our aircraft mechanics has to wait for AGE to do work, that's waste. The only real value AGE has is when it's being used to power aircraft or access areas of aircraft for inspection, servicing or repair."

While the core team was made up of Airmen from maintenance group, the team made sure to consult the right experts during the study.

"Members from airfield management, aerial port squadron and the logistics readiness squadron were brought in to make sure the solutions we came up with made sense for the enterprise, were realistic, and didn't compromise safety, Captain Shields said. 

"Care had to be taken so as not to consider changes in a vacuum," he said. 

The team began data mining weeks before mapping the process and created an electronic survey to gather data to help them understand and clearly identify what exactly about AGE operations they wanted to improve. Two primary things arose from the survey -- communication and the AGE delivery process and physical placement of AGE in relation to the work needing done.

"This process contained two of eight textbook forms of waste: waiting and transportation; we attacked those," said Maj. Mike Dailey, 437th MXG maintenance operations officer.

The team broke down steps in the process using the value-stream mapping technique, he said.

"We sought out non value-added components to the mechanics who were receiving AGE equipment and where the AGE equipment was kept and serviced, said Senior Master Sgt. David Johnson, 437th MXG aerospace ground equipment flight chief.

"By plotting AGE equipment using pins on a map we realized we weren't set up as efficiently as could be," Sergeant Johnson said.

Ground equipment assets were positioned on the north end of the ramp, away from where they were needed. The only fuel pump for refueling AGE equipment was located on the north end. The team drove travel routes and calculated delivery times and travel distances -- both things that directly affect the mechanic's ability to efficiently work aircraft.

An important part of process improvement is challenging paradigms. One was questioning which agencies were authorized to transport AGE. Another was coordinating AGE requests through the Maintenance Operations Center rather than with AGE directly.

"It's easy to get the cart before the horse," Major Dailey said. Teams sometimes take the path of least resistance and arrive at solutions and recommendations before they have really identified and studied the problem.

Technology does not fix broken processes and to not go into process improvement events with pre-determined outcomes, Major Dailey said. He said that by using process improvement tools the right way would yield data that should tell you what is needed.

First, the AGE Lean process simplified the communication chain for AGE requests and secondly a new layout was designed for AGE parking establishing new ready-lines right on the flightline closer to the aircraft.

Overall, the initiative improved responsiveness to the mechanic and they could save taxpayer money in labor and transportation costs.

Since AGE responsiveness has improved and availability increased, less equipment is now necessary to meet demands.

The AGE Lean team also made a second pass at the process. The team is now examining refueling and inspection of powered AGE equipment where it sits next to the aircraft, reducing trips for fueling and inspection.

"A process improvement effort derives its value only from gains made in an organization's key performance indicators such as aircraft mission-capable or availability rates," said Maj. Steve Sanders, the 437th Maintenance Operations Squadron commander. "These indices gauge how effectively a single improvement has impacted the mission.

"There must be progress toward an organization's overall goals for an event to be considered successful and the Balanced Scorecard we developed in MXG helps us measure that," he said.

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