TINKER AIR FORCE BASE: Consultants from the Air Force Inspection Agency and the University of Tennessee recently facilitated a four-day rapid improvement event at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center here in an effort to resolve issues involving spare parts for the B-52.
The rapid improvement event is part of the Air Force’s ongoing Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century process improvement initiative that focuses on efficiency and improving combat capabilities across the Air Force.
Officials from the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Group chartered a team of subject matter experts from the Defense Logistics Agency in Oklahoma City and Richmond, Va., the 76th Maintenance Wing and Air Force Global Logistics Supply Center here. The eight-step problem-solving process was used to investigate a B-52 fuel hose kit replacement issue.
At issue was a shortage of replacement fuel hoses for B-52s undergoing depot maintenance at Tinker. An automated parts replacement program failed to order enough replacement fuel hose kits to keep pace with work.
“It’s not to assess blame,” explained Laura Culberson, deputy director of the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Group. “It’s more to find out what happened so we can put processes in place so it doesn’t happen again.”
“Our event is really a structured problem-solving exercise,” agreed David Northern, Air Force consultant and a professor with the University of Tennessee. “The real thrust of AFSO 21 is this is very results oriented. We want to make things better.”
There is a potential safety issue because certain aircraft parts — including fuel hoses — need replacing on a regular basis. The failure of a fuel hose in-flight could cause the loss of an aircraft. The aircraft without replacement fuel hoses will need to be returned to Tinker later this year for replacement.
“Fuel hoses are a critical system on the B-52,” Rex Cash of the 540th Aircraft Commodities Sustainment Squadron said. “Without them, we don’t fly.”
A shortage of parts is not uncommon, Ms. Culberson said. But in this case, the shortage of parts became a highly visible issue because of the importance of the fuel hoses to the safe operation of the bomber. This also has an impact on readiness and costs. The resulting rapid improvement event — part of the overall AFSO 21 program — prevents future problems by finding better ways of operating, she said.
“The ALC in general long ago began implementing these concepts,” Mr. Northern said.
He said Tinker in particular has a good reputation for implementing these concepts to improve and streamline not only decision-making, but service delivery
“They’ve been successful at Tinker and they want to implement the process throughout the Air Force,” Mr. Northern said.
Maj. Michael Malone, one of the facilitators from AFIA, said the Air Force’s three logistics centers are showcases of how to improve processes to become more efficient. By examining its existing processes and applying the theories of AFSO 21, the OC-ALC won a Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence for shortening the turnaround time in refurbishing the KC-135 Stratotanker. By shortening turn-around time, the Air Force had more aircraft available without purchasing more.
“It effectively gave us 100 more tankers,” Major Malone said. “This stuff works.”
Major Malone said there is still resistance among the military in general to using alternative methods of decision making in order to smooth efficiency. But the likelihood of budget cuts means the Air Force will need to become more efficient.
“That’s a fiscal reality,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how to do better with what we’ve got.”
This information helped the team develop countermeasures for the way ahead. Alternate supplies of parts are being examined as well as reviewing how those parts are ordered. The development of continuity and how-to guides will define terms and processes used by various groups in the aircraft sustainment process.
Solutions will be implemented in the next several months and then evaluated. Successful solutions can be applied beyond the 327th.
“We have a fix in work and a get-well date,” Ms. Culberson said. “But it’s not well yet.”
Robert Valdez, deputy director of the 327th ASW, is encouraged by the results of the week-long event. “This is really great work,” he said. “There’s definitely opportunity to apply this across the board and other people can benefit.”