Not just Business as usual: New process to benefit CMXG flight control production

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Without ailerons, elevators and rudders on a C-17 Globemaster III - the powerful cargo jet which carries troops and supplies to the battlefield and in support of humanitarian efforts - the aircraft can't safely be controlled during flight. 

And without regular inspections and maintenance of those flight controls by the 574th Composite Repair Flight here, their effectiveness can be diminished significantly if proper attention isn't given to them.  

For the past two years, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group shops have been planning, coordinating and implementing innovative process changes with respect to how their aircraft parts flow through production processes. 

These days in the C-17 Flight Control Shop it's no longer business as usual due to those changes. 

There's optimism and expectation as parts are moved through the production machine.  They're already seeing a few days shortened in the overall workday flow early in the process, as well as improvement in identifying and prioritizing the workload.   

Out of the Gates
Once C-17 flight control assets are removed during the disassembly portion of programmed depot maintenance, they're routed to various backshops for work. In this particular shop, there is a six-gate system, which includes inspection, wet clean, flash jet, repairs, seals installation, paint, and weight and balance. 

Gate 4 is where the flight control shop conducts repairs across several microgates, from shakedown and form submittals, to sanding and sealing. 

The gates or processes begin with receipt of the aircraft's assets - each arrives as a set of 10, which includes the forward upper and lower rudders, aft upper and lower rudders, right and left inboard elevator, right and left outboard elevator and two left and right ailerons.

Since the process began, one significant bottleneck that was found and changed was when sealant is applied to an aileron, which is located on either side of an aircraft's wings which help tilt the wings to a desired direction. 

In the past because of the lengthy work involved in drilling and applying sealant (or sealant injection repairs used to help fill air pockets that can form between the skin and surface underneath as the aileron pivots on the wing), this had been worked later on in the process to allow time for drying. That could mean late delivery to the next shop if the part wasn't ready in time. Now, it's performed up front - an example of workload prioritization.  

Another change involved form submittals detailing repair issues. That's also now worked early on in Gate 4, which helps speed up the work process.  

"Maintenance professionals who are working flight controls now know exactly where they need to be and when they need to do a job for accountability," said Emmerson Manns, Composite Repair Flight supervisor. "I can already see an improvement." 

"While we've always had continuous process improvement events, this time we all have one main goal - completing each set of flight controls in 35 days," said Earl Mann, 574th Commodities Maintenance Squadron work lead.

Mann referred to depaint and flash jet operations and inspections - shops that must inevitably work together to return an aircraft part on time to its customer. In the past there were variables that occurred when capturing how much real time it took to produce a part, but the difference he sees today is now important issues and problems can be readily identified, along with documentation. 

"It takes all of us to make it work," he said. 

Due to excellent communication and teamwork between production controllers in the prime repair shop and the process shops, a total of five days have already been shaved off with processes in gates 2 and 3, wet clean and flash jet operations. 

Prior to implementing this new process, the average flow days (for the last 10 sets of flight controls per aircraft) stood at 52 days. 

The current goal is to return parts to its customer at a 35-day work flow. Two more aircraft's set of flight controls are scheduled to go through this new process in fiscal 2015. 

The goal for fiscal 2016 is 30 days.  

Accountability and change

This gate system is part of a standardized system in place across Air Force Sustainment Center depots. Known as Art of the Possible, the concept was born out of a leadership model that describes the work we do as reaching beyond today's limitations, improving processes, eliminating constraints, and optimizing resources to reach world-class results. 

At the end of the day, it's about knowing where you are and how you've done, having accountability and employee ownership of the process, exceeding customer expectations and last but not least - reducing the work already in progress. 

"Art of the Possible has allowed us to break the process down into small chunks so we can see what's happening," said Eric Brady, 574th CMMXS scheduler. "By breaking the process down into smaller gates, we're able to identify the bottlenecks and constraints that are hindering the process, and make the necessary changes to increase speed and flow without compromising safety or quality." 

"We are getting buy-in from everyone, not just one group of people. When you go to any other CMXG building, they're talking Art of the Possible, the same language," said Manns. "Everyone is on the same page. That's the difference."