86th MXS prop shop adjusts, gets LEAN

Monica Mendoza
Kaiserslautern American

It wasn’t easy, but the 86th Maintenance Squadron propulsion Centralized Intermediate Repair Facility propeller repair section took a close look at how they did business and made some huge changes.

Over one year’s time, they shed a “status quo” mentality and emerged as a lean, leading team in the U.S. Air Force that saves time, money and manpower.

Morale is up, production is up, and that all adds up to better prepared warfighters.
Last month in Washington D.C., the CIRF team represented U.S. Air Forces in Europe at the 2006 Chief of Staff Team Excellence Award competition. The 86th MXS propulsion team is the primary repair source for all U.S. Air Force T56 engines and propellers in the European and Southwest Asian theaters. The CIRF supported up to 110 C-130s disbursed to seven locations providing tactical airlift throughout the European and Central commands.

After judges heard the details of how this Ramstein repair shop turned a crushing backlog of work into an efficient process that replenished a supply of props for C-130s in the Central Command’s area of responsibility, they gave the team the U.S. Air Force’s “Best Practices” award.

Their story of finding a better way to do business began when the team found themselves falling behind in 2004. Operation Iraqi Freedom was underway and the C-130 propellers were taking a beating in the harsh desert conditions.
Because it was so difficult to move by land, the C-130s were in demand – with their use doubling since the beginning of OIF. The Airmen in the CIRF were seeing their workload increase. The increased use of the C-130s directly contributed to an average of 32 propeller removals a month. But, the team could only produce 24 a month. They were trying to work as many props as they could at one time. But, the result was no steady flow of repaired propellers back into field.

“We were drowning under a sea of props with no end in sight,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Lorimor, 86th Maintenance Squadron Assistant Propulsion Flight Chief.

It created a backlog, with turnover for repair taking 35 days per propeller and with 20 propellers on hold, waiting for repair. In some cases, the team was shipping props back to the states, which quickly racked up a million dollar bill.
The CIRF team knew something had to change.

“We thought we were working as efficiently as possible and were convinced that an increase in manpower was the only solution to our problem,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Arnts, 86th Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight Chief.

But the team started talking about getting LEAN, a concept that uses objective outsider analyses to offer suggestions for a rapid improvement process.

They worked with Simpler Consulting on how to apply the concept. Then, they set up a team that looked at the repair process and all the actions from start to finish. Once the team identified areas of improvement, they also reorganized their workspace – merging workbenches, cabinets and toolboxes. They gained 600-square-feet of workspace and reduced the time spent moving around by 30 percent.

The team made other changes, like setting up a holding area for propellers away from the production area, thereby not overwhelming the team and creating confusion. They designed a “U” shaped cellular production repair line, which reduced wasted time.

And, the key for the team was instead of working a batch of propellers at once, they started a “pull” system, which streamlined production by 70 percent and provided a continuous flow of repaired parts.

In one year the team went from a 35-day turnaround on repairs to five days.
“Through a series of rapid improvement events we refined the way we do business,” said Sergeant Lorimor.

The team saved time and money – eliminating the $11.9 million backlog of props. Morale went up, work areas were less congested and Airmen were able to view their progress in an orderly fashion.

The LEAN concept is now celebrated as Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, and teams across USAFE are taking long hard looks at the way they do business. The 86th MXS team finds itself helping and training other repair shops throughout the Air Force.

“Our team’s proven success has led to the additional successful events throughout the 86th Airlift Wing,” Sergeant Arnts said.
“The story of our success is growing as the propulsion CIRF continues to receive inquiries on a regular basis from various repair facilities throughout the Air Force requesting information on our LEAN processess. This was a team initiative, driven by mission need and we met the challenge.”