561st AMXS produces 73 Eagles in fiscal 2015

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Zero can be a good number - especially if it's the exact number of aircraft in a maintenance queue at the start of a fiscal year. And being ahead of schedule is always a good position to be in when it comes to the business of military aircraft maintenance and modification.

Get aircraft out when and where they're needed from the shop floor at Robins to a battlespace anywhere in the world, and that equates to a successful day at work. 

In fact, the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is actually two aircraft ahead at the beginning of fiscal 2016, due to producing two planes that were scheduled for October that were completed in September.  

That was then
When you look at the history of aircraft programmed depot maintenance in the 561st AMXS, you will find cycles of boom and bust. In the last four years in particular, it was a negative historical period for the squadron, going from a 95 percent due date performance record in 2012, to essentially producing a total of three aircraft in December 2013 - the low point. 

The year 2013 represented several things due to a series of atypical circumstances. That included the loss of hundreds of employees from the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex as a result of the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, and the summer sequestration period which resulted in furloughs of federal employees. 

"Bottom line was we were beginning to see trouble in the squadron anyway," said Mike Arnold, 561st AMXS director. 

There are two production lines in the 561st AMXS: the F-15 programmed depot maintenance line and the rewire line. To give insight into how far both production lines have come, in January 2014, aircraft PDM flow days stood at an average of 201 days. The customer's requirement to receive aircraft back was 125 days. 

On the F-15 rewire line, it was taking about 235 days at the time. 

However, it was during that same month, a new process discipline was implemented - the Air Force Sustainment Center's Art of the Possible. This production methodology has since transformed the way business is conducted across Robins and the air logistics complexes. 

As stated in the book, "Achieving Art of the Possible is not about just meeting expectations, it is about achieving the organization's full potential. It is about getting better every day. It is not about working harder - it is about affecting touch time productivity through an integration of enterprise efforts in order to maximize process productivity." 

The way to achieving AoP success is to effectively lead, influence as well as execute continuous process improvements. Bottom line, CPI would require a disciplined approach to "reacting to data and focusing the organization." 

In the third quarter of 2014, over one year ago, it took an average of 236 days to produce a PDM-only F-15. On the F-15 rewire line, it was taking an average 283 days to complete a rewire from a 185 day requirement.

By the end of summer last year heading into fiscal 2015, there were 44 F-15s on station.

But that was then ... 

This is now
Implementing a new process discipline in January 2014, 22 months later, in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, the squadron is averaging 122 days to finish a PDM-only aircraft. That's a 114-day average reduction from third quarter 2014. 

So how did they do it? Like any great turnaround story, it first helps to recognize what and where your problems are. 

Heading into fiscal 2015, it was decided that instead of just fixing F-15s, an opportunity needed to be taken during this critical period to recreate the fundamentals of how F-15 production is performed at Robins ... to recreate the process, and if it's done correctly, make it sustainable.

Using the AoP as a guidebook and managing production lines using math and scientific principles, a series of fundamental rules were introduced and established. 

Those rules included controlling work-in-progress; working only on aircraft that are supportable; dedicating personnel to a production line; manloading aircraft based on staffing in order to keep aircraft moving efficiently through a production process, or gate; rapid-issue elevation and resolution; and implementing daily standard business practices. 

It would be about building processes to get the right results, the right way. 

Inductions of incoming aircraft stopped in fall 2014. That meant no new airplanes would be coming into the depot for PDM, when normally the squadron would receive about 20. That allowed aircraft on station at the time to be worked, knocking WIP down substantially from 44 to 29. 

"That gave us a fighting chance," said Arnold. 

The squadron deconstructed each of its processes, laying out how each task is performed.  

There are more than a dozen facilities used at Robins for F-15 work. That work encompasses hundreds of separate jobs from commodities to avionics which in turn includes tens of thousands of tasks. 

It's a complex orchestra of millions of pieces that must be simultaneously tracked. Lose control of that, and it takes years to recover. 

Using the AFSC Game Plan Model, or Radiator Chart, this production methodology of networks, gates, visual displays and touch time was created so its principles could be translated to the shop floor.  

Among those principles was having a "Road To" goal. As outlined in the AoP, it's about reaching beyond today's limitations, to "grasp previously unimagined heights of performance." 

In this case, the 561st AMXS Art of the Possible goal is to complete an F-15 in 88 flow days. 

They're currently averaging 122. 

Looking ahead in 2016
In fiscal 2015, a total of 73 aircraft were produced at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. (That number includes aircraft from fiscal 2014.)

"We're now even to what the customer has asked for, and we're not behind anymore," said Arnold. "F-15 PDM is no longer in a recovery mode."   

Looking ahead to this fiscal year, the squadron's workload will continue to change. 

Its re-wire program will end, and the first years' worth of planned canopy sill longeron replacements will arrive. 

There will also be an increased workload of PDM-only aircraft. 

"We have some challenges in fiscal 2016, but we have a much different management team and workforce capability, and a much better process than we've ever had before," Arnold said. "I try to remain objective throughout the entire process because it was just a year ago when we had these challenges. 

"We have to be careful about being too exuberant," he added. "We still have a lot of work to do."