'It's about ownership': CMXG working toward achieving 'Art of the Possible'

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Supporting customer needs is the definitive goal that drives every process on shop floors in the 574th Commodities Maintenance Squadron.

The squadron, part of the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, provides service and support to a variety of customers, including the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group, the Department of Defense supply system, foreign military sales as well as in-house manufacturing. 

In the spring of 2014, the squadron specifically conducted an event as part of its C-130 Recovery Plan, with the overall shop goal of staying 30 days ahead of customer requirements. 

The idea was to successfully track every aircraft at Robins, whether it was in queue, teardown, depaint or another gate, in order to have a snapshot of the aircraft's flow. That way CMXG could ensure all assets sent to them from the flight line were completed as scheduled. 

For example, if aircraft undergoing programmed depot maintenance at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex were producing six aircraft per month, CMXG needed to be responsible for producing six ramps, six long flaps, etc., always anticipating its customers' needs. 

"In implementing the AFSC Way, we take every single shop and start from scratch," said Karla Landry, 402nd CMXG industrial engineer. "We created a book that breaks down how CMXG will implement the 'Art of the Possible' by creating a repeatable process that you can take to any shop."

The AFSC Way, pioneered by Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, is an approach that incorporates scientific production principles and the AFSC leadership model that places emphasis on process discipline and accountability. The idea is to have the production process flow the same way, every time. 

The first thing was to find out what the total customer needs were for all routed assets supporting the 560th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, FMS customers, as well as the DOD supply system. Define those within each shop, and CMXG now knows what the monthly and annual demands are for every single shop.

"We had to get out of the mentality that we were only 'doing our part,' said Jeremy Wood, 574th Structural Repair Flight director. "We had to develop plans that were flexible. So we had to go and set up our own shops to meet the 402nd AMXG's needs plus those of our other customers." 

Once the squadron knew what cycle times were required based on their customer's "Art of the Possible Road to Goals," they knew how much time they had to turn their own assets over and return them to AMXG or the supply chain.

Business couldn't be conducted as it had in the past. To help pull everything together, the 574th CMXG created an enterprise system developed around Commodities Maintenance Teams, a joint venture with personnel from planning, scheduling, production and engineering.

If a particular asset wasn't on track for completion, CMTs would take a second look.  When it came to starting a new process from scratch, there's a myriad of ways a shop can be set up.  

Simulation and modeling

"Too many times we let the number of people or space we have in a shop dictate what workload we can accommodate," said Wood. "We started doing the math and let the data tell us how many shifts we needed, how much manpower we needed, and then made the adjustments." 

C-130 cargo ramps
In the past, with 18 people working one shift at 10 hour days, to produce a ramp would've taken 75 days from start to finish. Our C-130 Recovery Plan for that shop dictated it should get done initially at 55 days. But how to get there was the question.

Using a simulation and modeling program, one can capture information on how that particular activity works, according to Dave Turner, a Mainstream consultant who has worked closely with CMXG for several years. 

"This is the important benefit of using a tool like this. This is a repair operation - and repair activities are variable and unpredictable," he said. "This provides us with actual simulated flow, with processing times chosen at random. Once a simulation is completed, it gives diagnostic information about the process, showing us where 'hot spots' are." 

The end model resulted in a two-shift production operation, which is currently in place, but with the same number of personnel allocated to different tasks. 

The shop formerly had too many employees in tasks that didn't take very long to complete, with fewer employees on tasks that were more difficult. By splitting workers into two different shifts, they were able to be more efficient while not getting in each other's way.

Sounds simple, but making this change significantly drove down the number of days an asset was in production from 75-to a 55-day configuration.  

By simulating variables into a workable model, simulation gives shops such as cargo ramps a test bed where ideas can be piloted and identified so they can achieve whatever productions requirements may be.

"It allows us to identify continuous process improvements, as well as properly consider the impact of variability when no other tool does that for us right now," said Turner. 

Added Landry, "You have to design your process to allow for that variability. That's what we haven't done in the past."

"If you have single-piece flow and every gate is designed to take two days and one gate takes four, it backs the line up," she said. "But if you design the process where you have an inspection gate flowing to multiple repair stations, designed to handle that variability, assets will flow through your process.  

On the shop floor

C-130 short flaps
Simulation and modeling allows ideas to be worked before it is executed on a shop floor. Once a process is designed then it's about putting process controls in place.

"Our big push is to create smarter ways to work with total focus on the mechanics, our value creators," said Landry.

Changing the position of a work area may sound easy enough, but do it the correct way and it will greatly benefit mechanics from a safety and productivity standpoint.

For more than a month now, C-130 short flap fixtures have been placed on vertical stands, as opposed to previous horizontal, flat work surfaces. 

By making this modification, mechanics no longer had to reach over to work a flap, but can now stand, two on either side, to accomplish the day's task. It also saved floor space. 

"From an efficiency standpoint, it allows us access to both sides of an asset so we can apply twice the amount of manpower to reduce flow days," said Rondal Jones, 574th CMXS lead mechanic. 

Majority kitting
Another example of efficiency involves the use of majority kitting in the cargo ramp shop. 

Any parts needed that involve 50 percent use or higher is bought and staged ahead of time, specifically beginning when that aircraft first arrives on the flight line.

These kits contain everything a mechanic needs to do the job all within arm's reach, with each tied to an aircraft tail number.

"By the time the asset arrives in the shop, the parts are staged and everything is ready for the mechanic. It's made a huge difference," said Landry. 

Ramps, whose models vary, are typically worked at a 40-day average, with the goal of 35 days. This was trimmed from 75 days. One recent ramp was completed in just 15 days.

C-130 bladders
One critical area that cropped up was how fuel bladders were being cleaned. As it stands, they must be manually cleaned by workers - which can easily take almost an entire shift. A simulation model suggested that one significant improvement involved cleaning times. This is now an active CPI initiative. 

A good day

Among the major gates in the 574th CMXS are de-paint, inspection, repair and buildup, paint, weight and balance, and final inspection. 

Within these are microgates - a way to help teams stay focused throughout the week with particular goals so that at the end of the day, they know if they've had a 'good day.' 

"We're able to stay on track because we know what has to be accomplished every single day to get that asset out of the gate and into the next," said Landry. "It's very easy now to pinpoint where exactly we get off track - something we couldn't do before. We now know if we've had a 'good day.'"

"It's about ownership. Everyone knows what their roles and responsibilities are," said Wood. "We will continue to refine our processes until we reach our Art of the Possible."