Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Misawa maintenance Airmen benefit from AFSO21 review

by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

5/28/2010 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- For many Airmen, the Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century program is as abstract as its name. For the Airmen of the 35th Maintenance Squadron munitions flight munitions support equipment element here, an AFSO21 review revealed they could cut their work time in half.

"Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first," said Tech. Sgt. Scot Solheim, the 35th MXS Munitions Flight munitions support equipment element chief. "I've never had any experience with AFSO21. Without knowing too much about it, it was a 'pie in the sky' type of thing. I thought it was one of those processes just to make something look better and not actually improve the work being done. But there really are benefits to it."

Through the AFSO21 process, the munitions support equipment element Airmen took a critical look at how they inspect and repair munitions trailers -- breaking down the process and rebuilding it from the ground up.

The munitions flight officer in charge, Capt. Daniel Connors, initiated the AFSO21 process after seeing its positive effects at his previous base.

Along with Captain Connors, Master Sgt. Marc Maschhoff, the 35th Fighter Wing AFSO21 facilitator, picked five volunteers to consult with the trailer maintenance shop.

The Airmen were selected based on their varying backgrounds, Sergeant Maschhoff said. Three Airmen were chosen from within the maintenance group, one of which already had experience with the AFSO21 process. Another came from the 35th Communications Squadron and the last came from the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron, each giving a fresh perspective on the task at hand.

"I don't think I would have thought of it," said Sergeant Maschhoff, who spent 21 years of his career as a maintainer. "Just because the maintenance squadron is in the maintenance group doesn't mean they have all the tools and knowledge regarding vehicle maintenance. We reached out to LRS ... and got our guy, Staff Sgt. Lawrence Turnbull. He asked a lot of questions and brought a wealth of knowledge from LRS."

2nd Lt. Man Tsang, 35th CS, acted as a catalyst for brainstorming, Sergeant Maschhoff added. Without a maintenance background, the team had to walk Lieutenant Tsang through their work flow step-by-step, which exposed areas needing improvement.

"When they had to break down a process and explain everything to him, they really had to justify the ineffective or wasteful things they were doing," Sergeant Maschhoff said. "They started to ask themselves, 'Why are we doing that?'"

The team began their work May 18, starting with learning how AFSO21 works.

AFSO21 involves four basic steps: mapping out the current process, imagining an ideal state, identifying limitations and finding ways to bridge the gap between the current and ideal states.

As the team began the process, they realized there was not an established procedure for taking in, inspecting and repairing munitions trailers, Sergeant Maschhoff said. Instead, the shop used a batch and queue system where people worked on all the trailers at once. Despite good intentions, the system created delays as Airmen waited for specific tools to become available.

To steer their efforts and set a goal, the team envisioned an ideal state where money, time and available manpower were not a concern.

"The point is to free up their minds enabling them to think creatively," Sergeant Maschhoff said. "Then, we identified the common themes between the two groups, because those were the places where both teams were saying, 'These are the problems that need to get fixed.'"

In their brainstorming, both teams suggested a hydraulic lift for performing work underneath the trailers. Looking closer, the teams realized that it wasn't height they needed, but better visibility and freedom of movement, Sergeant Maschhoff said.

A potential solution involved replacing the overhead lights, painting the floor with a reflective surface and finding better portable lighting for working under the trailers. These were ideas neither group had originally thought of, but both agreed were the best solutions to the problem, he said.

Within four days, the team of experts had redesigned their batch and queue system. They discovered ways to reduce the required man hours by more than 60 percent and return munitions trailers after a single day rather than a week. Additionally, they outlined a new maintenance bay layout, focusing the shop's efforts on one trailer at a time, limiting downtime.

"It will cut our maintenance time down drastically," Sergeant Solheim said, "and help us get more items inspected in less time, which will increase our overall productivity."

The team presented their findings to Col. Kyle Matyi, the 35th Maintenance Group commander, May 21, and received $2,500 to start implementing their modifications to the trailer maintenance shop.

"The AFSO21 process can be applied to anything," Sergeant Maschhoff said. "If you can get a couple of people in a room and map out the steps in a process ... you can do this."

Sergeant Solheim said the experience changed his mind about the AFSO21 program.

"It's a good process for just about anybody -- it doesn't matter what career field you're in," Sergeant Solheim added. "It gets you thinking about how you can improve things. I recommend that people at least look into it."

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