ROBINS AIR BASE WING, Ga. -- By keeping a fleet of slow, earthbound vehicles rolling, a small, little -known team of mechanics helps keep fleets of supersonic jets and giant airlifters flying.
The highly beneficial “low speed vehicles” are golf carts. And a four -to -six -mechanic crew in the 402nd Maintenance Support Group is saving loads of time and money while sustaining the carts for the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.
With 400 golf carts in the complex fleet, it’s a big job.
“We’re working our butts off,” David Barrentine, a member of the 402nd Maintenance Support Squadron’s golf cart maintenance crew, said. “I’ve worked a bunch of places on the base, and we work hard.”
“And there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Royce Morgan, a fellow golf cart mechanic, added.
“And when we think there is light, they run more carts at us,” Barrentine said.
As the perfect transportation platform for a myriad of jobs big and small, golf carts are visibly prevalent on the roads of Robins Air Force Base. The complex uses carts for tasks ranging from moving small parts, tools and personnel from building to building, to pulling trailers carrying large aircraft parts such as wings.
“It’s like the life blood of getting things from one place to another,” Lamar Wallace, 402nd MXSS production support flight chief, said. “You stop those carts, it’s like stopping the blood flow.”
Terry Andrews, a planner and industrial engineering technician for the squadron, indicated golf carts are particularly important to mission success for two WR-ALC groups. He said the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group and the 402nd Maintenance Support Group are dependent on the carts “more than anyone because of the need for response time to the customer.”
The AMXG uses 178 golf carts, and MXSG has 100.
Of course, high demand means significant wear and tear ... and a greater need for upkeep.
Complex golf cart sustainment was previously accomplished by contract until the 402nd MXSG took over the workload in March 2016. In just one year, the crew had not just kept up with demand for the vehicles; it had vastly improved every facet of the operation.
Between March 2016 and February 2017, the 402nd crew inspected all 400 carts in the complex fleet. John Kieweg, 402nd Maintenance Support Squadron director, said the ALC carts were in “deplorable” condition. But by year’s end, the 402nd mechanics had significantly reduced the turnaround time for the carts; getting the assets back into the hands of the users at a much faster pace.
From June 2016 to March 2017, work in progress was reduced from a high of 47 to eight. Preventive maintenance – oil changes, safety checks, replacement of parts such as windshield wipers and bulbs – that had been taking an average of 21 days was now being done in one day. The average time for corrective maintenance – front end rebuilds, replacing bad tires and busted parts – was cut from 40 days to four.
After a year of intensive work that included 500 tire changes and 100 front end rebuilds, the crew had the entire WR-ALC fleet up to standards. All complex golf carts are now on a regular preventive maintenance cycle of being checked every six years.
The drastic advances in cart sustainment were accompanied by equally dramatic financial improvements.
Kieweg said the first year cost for the 402nd crew’s handling of the job was $400,000.
On paper, the final year contract cost was $525,000. But Kieweg calculates contracting the work was actually costing around $1.5 million per year after additional costs were figured.
“We figure it out to be about $1 million (savings per year) with all the over and above costs,” Kieweg said. “Probably more, but I just can’t quantify that number. It’s almost impossible to.”
Wallace said it took $125 per cart just to transport one from the base to the contractor. Getting the carts back would take five to six week.
With the quick turnaround being realized by the 402nd crew, Wallace said more savings are anticipated for the future because “the need for more assets has dropped.” The improved maintenance and availability of the golf carts also means the complex won’t have to buy new vehicles as often.
Success is bringing in more business, as well. Wallace said the squadron has started taking workload from other Robins organizations, including the 78th Air Base Wing and its 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
“People have seen the good our guys are doing and they’re coming to us saying, ‘Can you do the same to ours?’” he said.
The road to success in golf cart sustainment wasn’t always a smooth one. After trying the contracting route, Kieweg said it was the right time for a change last year. “The contract had expired. We were paying for it on the GPC card. It was costing so much and taking so long, we just decided to take it on ourselves,” he said.
That’s when the 402nd leadership turned to Andrews, who Wallace described as “just a planner with a dream and a shade tree.”
“Terry started us off with a blank slate,” Kieweg said. “To be where we’re at now, a year later, busted every expectation I have as a squadron director. We really came from nothing.”
Andrews had actually tried tackling the golf cart maintenance workload five-to-seven years prior, but found the organization wasn’t ready. “We didn’t have the resources. We weren’t set up for it yet,” he said.
Given another opportunity, Andrews and the squadron’s crew of golf cart mechanics used the Art of the Possible management philosophy to improve processes and create a better maintenance machine.
With 27 different models of golf carts in the ALC fleet, the mechanics had to figure out where to get parts, manage configuration control and establish a flow to doing the work. The team designed the flow and costs of the work and created processes to order and work on the carts. They practiced regular “Walk the Wall” sessions to monitor progress.
Once they’d built an efficient system, the mechanics put it all down in a five-page process guide. “Terry and those guys out there basically built the AoP on those carts,” Wallace said. “It’s not just a process, it’s a working business is what it is,” Kieweg said. “It’s an efficient, working business.”
“It’s the guys in the back that do it all,” Andrews said, giving credit to the mechanics that work in the temporary shop just outside of Bldg. 321. “It was rough about the first six months. It started to get better about November. These guys back there did it all. They put 10-11 hours a day in back there for a long time.”
Barrentine, Morgan, Mike Davis and Jon Michael Jenson were on the original crew. Ben Morse, Tim Plank and Terry Talcott have worked on the team over the past year. All of them are career mechanics who volunteered for the job.
“We feel like we have done a good job not just for Robins, but for the Air Force in general,” Davis said. “There have been high tensions. There have been victories. There have been defeats. The team spirit over here is really high.”
“When we started, these carts were in terrible shape mechanically,” Davis said. “We literally started at ground zero. We had a lot of carts to work on, but not a lot to work with.”
The makeshift garage the crew worked in wasn’t ideal for the job, either. At first, the temporary shop had one work bay, one stand and one jack.
All of the electricity receptacles and lights were on one circuit. The mechanics worked in extreme heat and cold and originally stayed busy just finding supplies and parts.
“It wasn’t an overnight spring up,” Barrentine said. “Everybody came together and got what we needed.”
Now, the crew has three bays, computers and WiFi at its disposal with more improvements planned. “It’s still a work in progress,” Barrentine said.
Wallace said plans are in the works for a new, larger building designed to include the cart crew’s workshop.
The 402nd crew credits plant services warehousing and all of the base organizations that own the carts for helping them work toward the success they’ve achieved in the maintenance program.
The current crew continues to hone their craft and work toward even better outcomes for the golf cart fleet. The mechanics finished Original Equipment Manufacturer training in April to expand their knowledge, skills and abilities.