Breaking Barriers: CMXG paint/depaint shop tackles its toughest obstacles

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A collaborative effort between management and employees is responsible for significant safety and efficiency improvements in the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group's paint/depaint shop.

The depaint shop chemically strips paint from parts removed from F-15, C-130, C-17, and C-5 aircraft undergoing programmed depot maintenance. The parts are sent to various shops for refurbishing, and then returned to the paint shop for painting.

Numerous improvements have occurred in the area during the last three years. Mario Largaespada, paint shop first-level supervisor, began spearheading those efforts last year and, with newly-promoted supervisors Ray Minter and David Moore, the transformation has continued.

They have worked together lockstep to bring many improvements to fruition. With the support and involvement of employees, the changes have led to a safer, better-organized shop and improved production times, said Bob Reynolds, 573rd Commodities Maintenance Squadron director.

One of the biggest changes was the introduction of DEKOTE as the primary stripping material, a safer and more environmentally-friendly alternative to the methylene chloride that had been used.

Also, a more ergonomically-sound process was developed for employees using the powerful "aquamiser" during the stripping process.

The aquamiser is similar to a carwash hose with about three times the pressure. The shop now rotates employees using the aquamisers to reduce the probability of employees developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to prolonged use.

Since implementation of the new process there have been no occurrences of carpal tunnel syndrome reported, said Reynolds. Largaespada said the changes have also improved employee morale significantly.

"They see that management has listened to them and gotten things accomplished," he said. "They're taking more pride in their area."

Some of the changes have saved significant dollars. Previously, C-130 Combat Talon II radomes had to be stripped by hand-sanding because methylene chloride was too harsh. The hand-sanding process took about 80 man hours.

DEKOTE is now used to chemically strip paint from the radomes, cutting the man hours required by more than half and saving about $9,000 per radome.

Shop employees rearranged their work area to create a bay large enough to accommodate several parts. This bay is used as a dwell area. After DEKOTE is applied, it is allowed to dwell and work per the manufacturer's specs. The improvement increases the shop's throughput, which cuts flow days.

Other changes have improved the employees' quality of life. One of the first things they did, Largaespada said, was convert a mostly unused area into a changing room. All shop employees have to wear full personal protective equipment, but previously didn't have a good location to put it on. They also built offices so employees could have a place to do computer record keeping, check e-mail or take a break from the heat and cold.

At times the shop gets so hot work has to be shut down. However, the heat and cold won't be a problem for long. One improvement still in the works is installation of a heating and air system in the shop. The system is expected to be operational later this year.

Ray Minter became the depaint supervisor a year and half ago, but in that short time he has seen a significant difference in the shop.

"The employees are happier," he said. "They can see we care, and morale has gone up 100 percent." Derron Preston, a depainter, shared Minter's sentiments.

"Our newly-assigned supervisor Ray Minter's positive attitude and emphasis on creating a safe environment vastly improved the safety process," he said. "In my opinion, the single most significant improvement was the change out room that created a buffer between the chemicals used in the depaint area and the chemical-free areas.

"The other changes that have been beneficial for us are the reduced times we are required to use the aquamiser, and the great strides made in the supply system that enable us to have the correct and appropriate equipment needed to complete the assigned jobs," he added.

Donald Chance, another depainter, said, "I have worked as a painter/depainter for the last 14 months. I am happy to be working at Robins because of the individuals we are supporting. I am truly committed to helping those who are keeping me and my family safe and free.

"I believe working at Robins is a privilege and not a right," he continued. "Therefore, we should do everything we can to improve our processes. Our organization is doing an outstanding job of that. The process improvements have created a safer environment and have significantly enabled us to increase our support to our customers."

With the help of the ongoing collaboration between employees and supervisors, the depaint shop will continue to seek process improvements, reduce flow days, and seek reductions in hazardous materials and waste.