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Maintenance Management in the DS Maintenance Company:
"A Lost Art?"

by MAJ James Fly, SFC Jeffery Forster, and SFC Barbara Malone-Verduin

This article discusses observed trends and suggests techniques and procedures for improving maintenance management as defined in FM 9-43-1, Maintenance Operations and Procedures.

INTRODUCTION

Direct support (DS) maintenance companies overlook many areas of the maintenance management process as described in FM 9-43-1, Maintenance Operations and Procedures. DS maintenance companies often do not have SOPs. The absence of an external maintenance SOP causes ambiguity in the maintenance support system. It leads to a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" approach to maintenance operations in a brigade combat team (BCT). The key to successful maintenance management is to follow the guidelines laid out in Army doctrine.

On 21 February 1997 the Army Chief of Staff authorized the release of FM 9-43-1. This manual supersedes the previous maintenance series. It codifies current maintenance doctrine in a single, convenient source. FM 9-43-1 defines the maintenance management process in the following steps:

  • Production Control
  • Forecasting
  • Scheduling
  • Quality Assurance
  • Technical Assistance
  • Provisioning of Repair Parts
  • Work Loading
  • Developing Reparable Programs

By following this process and developing SOPs, a unit will greatly enhance its customer support; overlooking any of these areas will cause problems throughout a brigade's maintenance system.

PRODUCTION CONTROL

By definition, production control is the most important function of maintenance management. The maintenance control officer (MCO) is responsible to direct effective production control for the DS maintenance company. FM 9-43-1 highlights the following tasks for production control in a DS maintenance company:

  • Production planning and scheduling.
  • Proper routing and rerouting of work.
  • Attaining maximum production by keeping all shop elements working near capacity.
  • Proper shop layout to achieve time, motion, and movement economies.

Production control is more difficult in a field environment than in garrison. Environmental factors make repairs in a combat zone much more difficult than in a near-sterile maintenance bay. The bottom line, however, is that a DS maintenance company is designed to provide the same level of support in a field environment as in garrison. Some techniques to overcome the production control challenges in a field environment follow:

  • Plan, train and resource lifting operations in a field environment.
    • Bring bracing materials to support transmission jacks.
    • Train soldiers assigned to the company's M88/M984/M936 to pull packs and lift turrets.
    • PCI and bring engine and turret stands to the field.
    • Practice using engine and turret stands in the field.

  • PCI power generation and distribution systems.
    • Ensure proper output (voltage, hertz, amperage) to match requirements.
    • Develop a power distribution plan to ensure proper loading of generators.
    • Bring adequate grounding materials for all generators and shop sets/vans.

  • Ensure you have the right tools for the job.
    • PCI shop sets and tool kits (obtain replacements for damaged or missing components).
    • Obtain and review a current vehicle density listing for your customers to ensure you have all of the special tools required.
    • Order and maintain expendable supplies to support maintenance operations.

  • Plan for normal maintenance control section (MCS) operations no matter what happens.
    • Bring enough forms to operate manually if required.
    • Develop and PCI a communications plan with maintenance support teams (MSTs) to facilitate timely updates of work order status, customer maintenance trends, etc.

The MCO often concentrates on combat power until a red flag is raised for a particular reparable commodity.

RESULTS:

1. Loss of focus on which non-combat systems are inoperable at the organizational level (LRUs, radios).

2. Increasing backlog toward the end of a rotation.

3. Recovery from a field training exercise or a deployment should not entail recovery from an increased backlog from inadequate production control while deployed.

TECHNIQUES: DS maintenance companies should train to support in a combat environment.

  • The MCO should focus on controlling production for all of his shops while deployed.
  • All shop sections should update their open work order status daily and effectively manage their production while deployed.

FORECASTING

Forecasting within the DS maintenance company means anticipating future workload. Anticipation of required repair parts, special tools/equipment, and mechanics to complete forecasted work orders is key to maintaining the operational readiness of the customers. The MCO accomplishes forecasting at several different levels.

1. The MST team chiefs play a key role in forecasting by providing vital information to the MCS. If the MST team chief attends the task force maintenance meetings and interfaces with the supported unit's battalion maintenance officer (BMO) and battalion maintenance technician (BMT), he will gain a good understanding of the maintenance trends and equipment status of the supported unit. The ability of the MST to communicate the customer's maintenance requirements to the MCS on a daily basis allows the MCO to make better production control decisions through forecasting.

2. The MCO uses customer maintenance requirements to anticipate and reduce maintenance turnaround time to the brigade combat team. Updates from the DS maintenance company's shop sections and MSTs are critical input to SAMS-1 and SAMS-2.

3. SAMS is a key enabler which allows maintenance managers at the maintenance company MCS, FSB support operations section (SPO), and the Division Material Management Center (DMMC) to manage the movement of repair parts and track maintenance trends. If the maintenance company's shop sections and MSTs do not update the SAMS-1 work order status daily, these maintenance managers are unable to forecast.

SCHEDULING

Scheduled maintenance for a DS maintenance company includes semi-annual and annual services, TOW missile verifications, weapons bore-scoping/gauging, and night-vision device purging/focus checks. Services are scheduled for an entire fiscal year based on the customer's training calendar. Many organizational-level units surge scheduled services prior to a training rotation or deployment by forcing both the service schedule for the rotation and those regularly scheduled into the same thirty-day time period. This surging of services creates unforecasted demands on the DS maintenance company's workload and the repair parts system.

RESULTS:

1. An increase in the number of zero balance organizational prescribed load list (PLL) lines. PLL replenishments are often accomplished toward the end of rotations or weeks into a deployment.

2. Most units are unable to keep starters and generators and other LRUs on their PLLs.

3. The operational readiness rate for the brigade combat team (BCT) suffers.

4. Valuable training time is lost because combat vehicles are frequently deadlined for problems that require repair parts.

TECHNIQUES which can be used to minimize the effects of customer unit surging of services:

  • Provide technical assistance to organizational-level units while equipment is in service. DS mechanics/technicians can provide technical assistance to the troubleshooting efforts of the organizational mechanics and greatly reduce the use of unneeded repair parts.
  • Locate the armament and missile shops onsite with the Direct Support Electronic Test System (DSETS) and TOW II Test Set to reduce turnaround time for LRUs.
  • Work with organizational units to identify which critical repair parts are zero balance, and expedite the turnaround of reparable parts that are repaired at DS.

When customer units surge services, they affect the maintenance system within the BCT. They create unforseen requirements on the maintenance resources of man-hours and repair parts. The MCO must become proactive when customers place unscheduled demands on the brigade's maintenance system.

QUALITY ASSURANCE

Quality assurance (QA) can determine the success or failure of a DS maintenance company. FM 9-43-1 states that an effective QA program is essential to the proper and effective performance of the DS maintenance company's mission. It covers all actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that materiel, data supplies, and services conform to established technical requirements for achieving satisfactory performance.

Maintenance company inspectors are assigned to the MCS for inspections of automotive, engineer, generator, and communications/electronic equipment. Although assigned to the MCS and responsive to their immediate supervisors and MCOs, they are responsible to the company commander. The company commander must ensure that these inspectors are qualified individuals who can work independently without shop influence to ensure quality standards are met.

RESULTS of substandard technical inspections:

1. Wasted man-hours.

2. Additional equipment downtime.

3. Lost customer confidence.

TECHNIQUES for an effective QA program that ensures maintenance is done correctly the first time:

  • Everyone on the ground cannot be an inspector.
  • During onsite maintenance operations (MST operations), QA procedures still apply.
  • Each maintenance company MST should maintain a current technical manual library.
  • Each MST should develop a system where either the MST team chief or the shop foreman checks the MST's work.

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

A DS maintenance company's technical assistance program can improve a customer's operational readiness. It can also assist the MCO in forecasting DS workload. Technical assistance within a maintenance company normally consists of helping a customer unit troubleshoot a mechanical failure in a piece of equipment.

MSTs are often reluctant to provide technical assistance to units they support. Typically, they just sit and wait for the organizational unit to become overwhelmed at the unit maintenance collection point (UMCP) before they offer assistance. Support units often look at this type of support as doing someone else's job for them.

RESULTS: MSTs that do not offer proactive technical assistance.

1. Ability to provide effective support is reduced.

2. The MCO is unable to forecast maintenance within the BCT.

TECHNIQUES:

  • Units should take every opportunity to proactively provide and document technical assistance to their customers.
  • Work ordering technical assistance jobs provides data to SAMS-1 which, in turn, provides feedback to identify maintenance trends.

PROVISIONING OF REPAIR PARTS

One way the DS maintenance company resources its mechanics to complete work orders is by provisioning repair parts. The MCS is responsible for the provisioning of repair parts through the following techniques:

  • Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS)
  • Cannibalization
  • Fabrication
  • Controlled Exchange
  • Local Purchase

The support operations section, in coordination with DISCOM, plans the Class IX repair parts system to support a deployment or mission. A recurring observation is that a unit's plan for provisioning of repair parts starts out on paper as a workable system, but crisis management usually derails the plan. Well-intentioned leaders from echelons above the DS maintenance company switch to reliance on the "sneaker net" or "high-priority call-ins" to obtain the majority of required Class IX.

RESULTS:

1. MCSs often cannot track parts needed for job orders because they lose visibility of repair parts on order. 2. Waiting to pass national stock numbers (NSNs) at maintenance meetings for non-mission capable equipment prolongs the repair cycle.

3. The DS maintenance company ignores the system that already exists.

4. The DS maintenance company often bypasses the MCS completely.

TECHNIQUES for a more effective system:

  • Ensure that all required DS repair parts are on order by the MCS prior to the brigade maintenance meeting.
  • The MCO should work with the SPO before the maintenance meeting to identify which document numbers require expediting through DMMC.
  • The maintenance meeting should serve as a means to confirm status of requisitions and record new requirements by exception only.
  • The MCS should ensure that the status for all DS jobs are current in SAMS-2 prior to the BCT's maintenance meeting.
  • DS maintenance companies can assist the supply company in the distribution of Class IX repair parts by ensuring repair parts are picked up daily and that unserviceable recoverables are promptly turned in.
  • Any actions the MCS can take to streamline the turn-in process will greatly improve the Class IX flow to the BCT as well as improve operational readiness.

WORKLOADING

The process of efficiently managing the man-hours available to the maintenance company, or workloading, is a key component to production control. FM 9-43-1 defines workload analysis (workloading) for a maintenance company as part of the overall production control process. Workload analysis is continuous. It is aided by the use of automated SAMS output.

The MCO uses workload analysis to manage maintenance priorities. The MCO analyzes workload by interpreting SAMS-1 output data, attending maintenance meetings, and working with the SPO shop. The MCO must ensure that work is distributed to all assigned repair sections to keep them working at or near capacity. Effective workloading is accomplished by carefully distributing assigned work to minimize the backlog in any particular shop section.

As part of the workload analysis, the MCO must plan and support the security requirements for the DS maintenance company. The MCO should advise the commander on how to balance competing man-hours requirements to ensure the company can meet its maintenance mission. It is up to the company commander to make the final decision on when to sacrifice company security in favor of the DS maintenance mission (Assume Tactical Risk).

TECHNIQUES: FM 9-43-1 suggests the following techniques for minimizing the effects of security requirements on workloading:

  • Select a good defensive position; the better the position for security, the fewer the soldiers (man-hours) required to secure it.
  • Collocate with other units to share security requirements.
  • Coordinate guard rosters with repair section leaders; give section leaders a soldier requirement rather than arbitrarily running a Duty Roster (DA Form 6) using an Alpha Roster.
  • Request augmentation of security force personnel when security requirements seriously reduce man-hours available and backlog suffers for an extended period.

The MCO may suggest that overloaded sections provide fewer personnel for security requirements until they catch up. The MCO must assess the workload and capabilities of each shop section to prevent over commitment. This enables the MCO to make sound decisions on how to best support the customer without sacrificing security for the company.

DEVELOPING REPARABLE PROGRAMS

Maintenance companies generally have little input to the actual composition of a division's reparable exchange (RX) listing. However, they do have the ability to manage and control the components turned in to their bench shop sections for repair. Reparable programs are designed to fit the needs of the customer. One commonly occurring problem with RX programs is that reparable parts turned in to the Supply Support Activity (SSA) are incomplete.

RESULT: When items are turned in without critical components, they are frequently classified as not reparable at this station (NRTS).

TECHNIQUES:

  • Make certain customers understand the standards for turn-in of reparables to the SSA.
  • Make certain the maintenance sections that repair RX parts work closely with the supporting SSA. The maintenance sections should check with the SSA RX section at least daily to troubleshoot turn-in problems and minimize surging of work orders into maintenance shops.
  • Ensure the proper care and shipment of reparables to increase operational readiness by making more RX parts available to fix the supported unit's equipment.

CONCLUSION

DS-level maintenance management success is determined by how well maintenance companies support their customers and how quickly repaired equipment is returned to the fight. Army field manuals and regulations outline how maintenance companies do business. Using these manuals and implementing clear maintenance SOPs will increase operational readiness and customer confidence in the maintenance company's ability to support. The supported units are more than willing to comply with SOPs as long as maintenance companies enforce them, deliver high-quality service, and provide responsive support. The maintenance management process defined in FM 9-43-1 is the key for providing the top-quality support customers deserve.


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