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How the 437th AW is innovating the Air Force

Airman 1st Class Alex Mceachin, 437th Maintenance Squadron sheet metal apprentice, utilizes a newly designed painting station to paint a wheel Nov. 30, 2018 at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The new design elevates the wheel, exposing all the surfaces, on a stand with a lockable bearing apparatus to allow the wheel to spin, but remain secured. In its current design, three stands can be mounted on a moveable cart to allow mobility of the painted wheels to move them to the curing section of the shop.

Airman 1st Class Alex Mceachin, 437th Maintenance Squadron sheet metal apprentice, utilizes a newly designed painting station to paint a wheel Nov. 30, 2018 at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The new design elevates the wheel, exposing all the surfaces, on a stand with a lockable bearing apparatus to allow the wheel to spin, but remain secured.(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Alex Aguayovirella)

A 15th Airlift Squadron patch next to a smartphone with the squadrons scheduling application interface Nov. 30, 2018, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The 15th AS decided to employ an innovative and efficient way of relaying scheduling information to the flyers via a smartphone application.

A 15th Airlift Squadron patch next to a smartphone with the squadrons scheduling application interface Nov. 30, 2018, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The 15th AS decided to employ an innovative and efficient way of relaying scheduling information to the flyers via a smartphone application. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua R. Maund)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) -- Innovation can often be overlooked. There is a misconception around the idea of innovation that it has to be a total overhaul or somehow life-altering. To ensure future success, service members must innovate and modernize to prepare mobility forces for future operating environments. Safely and cost-effectively altering a process to make it more efficient even in the smallest ways can make a huge impact on not only your squadron, but the way a process is done all over the Department of Defense.

How is Team Charleston innovating in 2018?

If there’s a safer way, “wheel” find it!

Although the 437th Airlift Wing is not reinventing the wheel, they are in fact repainting it in a more efficient, cost-effective and safer way. Tech. Sgt. Alex Aguayovirella, 437th Maintenance Squadron NCO in charge of metals technology, Tech. Sgt. Jesse McLeod, 437th MXS metals technology craftsman and Ricky Childress, 437th MXS metals technician craftsman, have fabricated a mobile paint stand that may become a standard in corrosion control protocol throughout the entire Air Force.

The innovation has gained so much attention in the Air Force Maintenance community, Aguayovirella was a finalist at Air Mobility Command's first-ever Phoenix Spark Tank competition in Grapevine, Texas, where he proposed his idea to the commander of Air Mobility Command, chief of staff of the Air Force and industry experts.

According to Aguayovirella, the current method used to paint main and nose landing gear wheels is to place them on a flat surface and paint one side at the time. Technicians have to wait 12 hours for one side to dry so they can flip the wheel and paint the other side. This method presents multiple lifting hazards, a risk of material damage and a less efficient process overall.

The new streamlined process involves elevating the wheel and exposing all the surfaces on a stand with a lockable bearing apparatus to allow the wheel to spin but remain secured. In its current design, three stands can be mounted on a moveable cart to allow the painted wheels to be moved to the curing section of the shop.

The benefit is a reduction of two hours of hands-on labor and 12 hours of total coating cure time per assembly. This will greatly reduce the potential of damaging the wheel during painting while greatly reducing the threat of personal injury to service members.

“Streamlining the landing gear wheel paint process reduces maintenance man-hours and increases availability of technicians in the work center to cover additional priorities,” said Aguayovirella. “The time savings translates directly into increased supply availability of mission-capable assets to support the worldwide C-17 fleet.”

The 15th has an app for that

The 15th Airlift Squadron went back to the drawing board -- or rather away from it -- when they realized they relied on a dry-erase whiteboard for flight scheduling and informing their flyers of training requirements. Capt. Ashley Vetek, 15th AS director of staff, and others in the squadron decided to employ a more modern and efficient way of relaying this information to the flyers via a smartphone application.

According to Vetek, she looked at numerous off-the-shelf products, but most could not meet the demands of the dynamic scheduling involved in mobility airlift. She eventually found a program that allows the schedulers to combine multiple schedules into one location and make them accessible to everyone in the squadron through a mobile app.

“My goal was to enhance communication, provide transparency for aircrew and improve efficiency for everyone,” said Vetek. “Through my quest to bring scheduling into the 21st century, I met a few roadblocks. The first hurdle was operational security. I met with the operational security experts across the base and we all agreed on how to provide the most useful information to aircrew while making sure we withheld anything sensitive.”

This app saves time for both flyers and schedulers alike. There is no need to call home-base, reach a scheduler and make them play eye-spy across a schedule with numerous names to find information for every single flyer within the squadron. Interest in the app has grown and now the 14th and 16th Airlift Squadrons plan to start using it as well.

“I have never considered myself an innovator and always thought, perhaps wrongly, that innovation comes from the top down,” said Vetek. “Grass-root efforts for innovation and change are becoming the norm in today’s Air Force. I’d like to challenge Airmen to start brainstorming, and I think they’ll be surprised how their ideas are received. It doesn’t matter how small. If we all start making small improvements where we can, all together we can make a huge impact.”

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