Building credibility and process improvement, one shop at a time

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The C-5 maintenance shops at Robins Air Force Base are a model for process improvement.

Stroll into any of the work cell stations inside the cavernous Bldg. 169 and changes are evidenced by the steady hum of workers across flap and pylon shops, sanding booths and the heavily-used grit blasting room.

Home to the 574th Composite Repair Flight, a year ago inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 13 citations concerning housekeeping practices.

These were part of 39 citations that were given across the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, all of which were abated by November.

Standard work processes and improved housekeeping procedures have been implemented - not just here but across all industrial shops. Equipment maintenance is conducted in a timely manner, de-paint procedures are conducted offsite; renovations have been completed in what were problem areas, and ergonomic lift tables and chairs were brought in.

It can be agreed that none of this matters if not for the direct investment in the morale and safety of the workforce. That included giving employees a voice in their operations, and communication and ongoing training initiatives.

"OSHA caused us to listen more to our employees, to be open for suggestions and ideas," said George Pierce, 574th flight director. "All you have to do is listen, and people will tell you real quickly how to improve their process. In every maintenance organization, you have those subject-matter experts out there so tap into them.

"You start communicating, you start building trust and credibility. Train and educate, and your employees will take care of the rest," he added.

Problem areas

Training room 117 was formerly a place where inefficient grinding and sanding operations were performed. Today, following extensive reconstruction, the room boasts a state-of-the-art training facility, complete with computers, and space for hands-on instruction.

Locker rooms were inefficiently used in the past. One large room of lockers held employees' personal items and all personal protective equipment.

Now there are two separate locker facilities. One holds personal items, while the other stores respirator hoods, suits, gloves and other equipment.

Respirator cleaning stations are also equipped with sinks, cleansers, hot water heaters and collection containers.

Process improvements

Flap shop

In the flap shop, where disassembly, backshop support, repair and final build-up are performed, a process flow was established and maintained, which became a model for others.

A new workspace cell configuration was designed, with work stations numbered and standard locations for toolboxes and equipment.

In the past, work areas were obstructed which resulted in mechanics moving multiple flaps, equipment, and tool boxes to move a particular flap to the sanding booth. Through a reconfiguration, now there is a wide center aisle allowing the shop's 54 mechanics to do the same amount of work with less overtime.

As a result of various improvements, from January 2010 to January 2011, workers were averaging about 1,400 overtime hours per month. The average is now 511 hours, equal to a savings of $1.3 million.

The flap shop's improved efficiencies also saw a 37-percent average reduction in flow days across all flap configurations, a 56-percent reduction in work-in-progress and a back-order reduction of 60 percent.

Through improved workplace layout, thousands of square feet were reduced to free up space for other workloads; ongoing improvements allowed 34 mechanics the opportunity to work at other stations when needed.

It's also worthy to note the idea of visual management. On a dedicated wall, along with Voluntary Protection Program shop news and OSHA information, a production board was created to show the exact location of every piece of equipment, how much work was left, completions, etc.

Pylon shop

In the pylon shop, mechanics perform metal bond, structural and electrical repairs on an assembly that mounts the engine to the wing of a C-5 aircraft.

Modified build-up and shakedown fixtures have contributed to improved efficiencies which led to an average savings of three to five flow days. Dust containment bags used while sanding, and ergonomic scissor lifts are now in place which enable workers to optimize the height of each pylon while performing critical repairs. Also, due to the consolidation of all build-up operations, the shop saved an average of two flow days on its final savings.

Work-in-process averages from fiscal 2010 to 2011 saw a reduction from 41 to 17; while overall flow day savings from 2010 to 2011 went from an average of 270 days to 78 days per pylon. The work-in-process reduction was the single largest contributor to the overall flow day savings. The fiscal 2012 goal is 52 days.

Grit blast

In the past, the building's grit blast room - where aircraft parts are sanded and grinded - experienced a housekeeping issue with its operation.

Those issues have been resolved; procedures are in place to maintain and clean the booth, and breathable air samples are performed every 90 days. It's a busy scene inside, and once you're in, it takes time to properly suit up and decontaminate following an operation.

To save time, employee suggestions led to the idea of having tools stay inside the grit blast room. If someone forgot a sander, for example, they now had it self-contained onsite.

Another example included the flight's dedicated sanding booths. A standard training process was developed for the booth's prior to use inspection and overall operation. Training also included employee entry and exit procedures to assist the employees as they put on and take off personal protective equipment. Mirrors were put at entry and exit points to check PPE wear, and decontamination stations were located steps away. Overall, through proper training, employees became more efficient at donning PPE wear and decontaminating assets, leading to a 50-percent reduction in the time it once took.

Why it matters

The results achieved in the last year also played a role in production with Robins' programmed depot maintenance. In the first two months of fiscal 2012, all aircraft were delivered on time.

The Commodities Maintenance Group was a primary supporter of the 100-percent-on-time delivery, having produced 375 routed assets for aircraft PDM last October. Of note, the last time the Center produced all aircraft on time in a month was November 2007.

Excellent ratings across the board were given by Logistics Compliance Assessment Program, and Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Compliance Assessment and Management Program inspection teams who visited the base in December. These included the Center's overall Excellent rating, as well as the 402nd Maintenance Wing, 78th Air Base Wing and 638th Supply Chain Management Group.

Working together, changing the culture of safety in the workplace continues to be a win-win for everyone.

"Measure, and continue to measure yourself," Pierce concluded. "Be your biggest critic."