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Leaner processes working at Kirtland

by Staff Sgt. Markus M. Maier
58th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

1/9/2006 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- The Air Force is becoming leaner without the help of fad diets or abs-crunching exercise regiments.

Logistics and maintenance programs imported from the private business sector, like Lean, are turning once-bloated processes into models of streamlined efficiency.

The payoff is less cost, improved output and shortened product-development cycles, base maintainers said.

“Lean allows us to do more with less while improving our performance,” said Master Sgt. William Shields, the 58th Maintenance Squadron maintenance flight chief. “Essentially, we cut waste and combine all like processes.”

The group embraced the leaner processes last year and is currently working on implementing the program in several areas. That includes the C-130 isochronal, or “ISO,” inspection (where every part of the aircraft is inspected in detail), the T700 engine (used in the HH-60 helicopter) intermediate maintenance and the MH-53J Pave Low phase inspection processes.

The new Pave Low phase inspection process yielded some startling results for the group. With the help from a consultant, the 58th Maintenance Squadron began the process in December 2004 by conducting a value stream analysis. This is a comprehensive study of all the processes involved in a particular task.

The study allowed the squadron to look at their current state of operations, identify wasteful processes and plan their future.

“My initial feelings were negative,” Sergeant Shields said. “Most of what I saw was the loss of manning for the Lean Rapid Improvement Event weeklong tasking. We would give up five to seven individuals to work on Lean projects. Those weeks were huge setbacks to our already heavy workload. Also, we were the focal point on everyone's radar. So we were constantly asked questions and required to give and set up briefings on our progress.”

The team identified a total of 107 steps in their MH-53J phase inspection process. Of those, 86 were deemed “non-value added,” so 41 were eliminated. The remaining 45 steps were either combined or modified.

The result was a 43 percent reduction in flow time.

Since then, the program has been as much a part of the squadron’s daily routine with the helicopter as checking out tools and wiping up hydraulic fluid spills.

“We have reduced some wasted movements around the aircraft and made better use of our space,” said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Zaremba, a squadron day shift phase expeditor. “We now have a dedicated phase spot in the hangar as a result of Lean. Before Lean, we moved all our tools and equipment wherever there was space in the hangar.”

Also, the squadron bought new aircraft stands, allowing maintainers to move around the aircraft more safely and efficiently. It acquired a plasma monitor used to display appointments, training and upcoming events. The squadron streamlined job standardization aircraft forms and re-aligned its workers to work around the clock for added continuity. The unit also cut the phase standard time from 25 to 20 workdays.

“We expect Lean to significantly enhance the 58th Maintenance Group's ability to support the 58th Special Operations Wing’s mission,” said group commander Col. Debra Shattuck.

“The key to our success is to generate safe, quality aircraft for the flying schedule,” she said. “Because we have small numbers of multiple types of aircraft, it is imperative that we minimize aircraft downtime.

“Streamlining our phase and ISO processes means aircraft will spend less time undergoing inspections and more time flying aircrew students,” the colonel said. “That's a win-win for the group and the wing.”

Although the maintenance squadron "owns" the MH-53J phase process, the project actually involves the entire maintenance group.

“The 58th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 58th MXS both had team members on the Lean team because the phase process cuts across functional lines,” Colonel Shattuck said. “For example, the AMXS accomplishes pre-phase checklists but the 58th Mission Operations Squadron owns a number of key functions such as plans, scheduling and the maintenance supply liaison function. To truly ‘Lean’ a process, you have to include all of the stakeholders or you won't get the full benefit.”

The MH-53J Lean project is not just a priority at the group -- it is a high-interest item for the Air Force.

The Air Force used the best parts of several civilian efficiency programs to develop an Air Force-unique process-improvement program called "Smart Operations 21," Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne said.

The program will take the Air Force forward in a journey of self-improvement, the secretary said at a conference at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The process will help improve the Air Force’s product-development process.

"The name came from a convocation of the senior operators in the field who thought we could continue our journey into higher quality and better performance by using a term that would relate to airfield operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, unmanned aerial vehicle operations or cyberspace operations," he said.

As the program’s results are becoming more evident, morale is also increasing among the team as they see themselves directly affecting their work environment for the better, officials said.

“I have seen the good in it now,” Sergeant Shields said. “There has been a ton of work done by everyone involved and we are just beginning to see positive results. A lot of what Lean taught us was common sense -- using our people and equipment the best and most efficient way possible.”

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