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Hydraulics shop ‘Leans’ into AFSO 21

Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Dollar charges air into a flight control accumulator on the PVC-pipe container his shop created to make the maintenance process safer and more efficient. He is a hydraulics systems journeyman with the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Chrissy Cuttita)

Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Dollar charges air into a flight control accumulator on the PVC-pipe container his shop created to make the maintenance process safer and more efficient. He is a hydraulics systems journeyman with the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Chrissy Cuttita)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFPN) -- By discussing processes during continuous improvement workshops, called Kaizen, the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron is able to develop smarter operations by just using common sense.

Industry-proven process improvement programs such as Lean that use techniques like Kaizen are being used to improve production flow and incorporated into Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century.

“For more than a year, the 56th CMS has been Lean and life is just getting better every day,” said Master Sgt. Scott McKnight, 56th Maintenance Group AFSO 21 superintendent.

“During a recent Kaizen at their hydraulics shop, 11 maintainers were given free rein to design a new process flow for the flight control accumulator, with the understanding that regulations must still be followed," Sergeant McKnight said.

"This F-16 (Fighting Falcon) part was chosen because they saw it as one of the most often-repaired items and felt the process could be improved," he said. "As a result, the process was improved 33 percent.”

First, the maintainers knew they could cut process time by putting all the tools they need close to the work bench and test station, labeled and placed in nearby containers. They set up the first four drawers of the workstations so that common hand tools are in the same position in all the boxes. The specialty tools for that station are in the remaining two drawers, eliminating or reducing search time.

“They’re obvious common sense improvements,” Sergeant McKnight said. “Why walk 40 feet to get a tool when you can have it right there, or make three trips to outside agencies when a computer program will do the running for you?”

“Plus the new labels, taped boundaries and caution signs help the incoming maintainers know what they need to do,” said Airman First Class Derek Culpepper, 56th CMS hydraulics systems apprentice.

Next, they looked at making the process better. The F-16 part tested was held in place by wires and attached to the side of a clear box. After realizing the safety concern of how the accumulator was harnessed while being tested, the Airmen thought of a better way.

They took money from their snack fund to buy PVC pipes to make safer containers to hold the accumulator. The part’s shell must be tested to ensure air or water does not enter. Using one PVC pipe, maintainers blow air into the part from one end and check to see that oil doesn’t bubble on the other end, signifying a sealing deficiency. Another PVC pipe is filled with water for the part to sit in. The water is drained and checked for oil leakage.

“We simulate what the part does on the jet, mirroring its operations,” said Staff Sgt. Shelby Combs, 56th CMS hydraulic section production chief.

Maintainers at the hydraulics shop plan for future progression by acquiring two extra accumulator shells that have already completed non-destructive inspection testing.

“The percent of improvement is significant for the bean counters, but the best part is that it benefits the worker the most,” Sergeant McKnight said. “The current accumulator process takes 1.08 hours with an expectation of decreasing to 30 minutes."

“My shop gets so excited and motivated once you plant the idea of how Lean works that they start to observe their surroundings in a different way,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Aguilar, 56th CMS hydraulic craftsman. “It becomes a continuous ‘How can we improve this?’ or ‘Is there a better way to do this?’”

Air Force leaders call the AFSO 21 initiative “Lean across the Air Force” because these are the questions they want every Airman to ask about their job, taking the Lean concept beyond the maintenance shops.

More information on AFSO 21 can be found on http://www.afso21.hq.af.mil

(Courtesy of 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

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