AFIT consultation results in significant savings for maintenance groups

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Air Force Institute of Technology instructors provided theory of constraints and critical chain project management consulting to two maintenance groups.

The result was the highest home-station sortie rate in five years for the 140th Maintenance Group at Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado, and reduced F-16 wing-change replacement time by 50% for the 56th Maintenance Group at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

In late 2021, AFIT School of Systems and Logistics Course directors Maj. Steve Riedl, Karl Kuwik and Gary “Mitch” Nogrady met with teams from the two organizations to help apply key concepts on TOC and CCPM. These concepts drive significant performance improvements through relatively simple changes in scheduling procedures, management tools and processes, and organizational requirements.

The 140th Maintenance Group was struggling to meet the F-16 daily flying schedule without costly overtime. Using a defined process, Kuwik and Nogrady helped the team understand production flow and how there are resource, policy and practice impediments to it. 

“We started with academics and then went through some simulations, which identified four ways that they were making poor decisions,” Kuwik said. “That’s when they had an ‘aha moment’ because the simulations emulated exactly the problems that they were having.”

The root-cause analysis identified core issues with scheduling processes, poor communication and multiple competing priorities. 

“We took their specific knowledge of their unit’s typical management planning and scheduling activities and were able to drill down on how those issues contributed to problems hampering their sortie-production effort,” Nogrady said.

Lt. Col. Jason Kneuer, 140th Maintenance Group commander, said applying the lessons learned from the consultation project resulted in the “highest sortie-production rate in five years for the home team while the rest of us were deployed.”

“They were motivated people, but they were following the wrong process to optimize the flow of work,” Kuwik said. “Once we exposed the flawed thinking, they bought in almost immediately; there was no resistance. They couldn’t believe that the fix could be so easy without major, earth-shaking changes. Just change the way you schedule your work, make it realistic, and it will flow much better.”

Nogrady said the idea behind theory of constraints is that all problems don’t have to be solved at once.

“If you can knock out some of the core problems that put you in the vicious cycle, then you can see significant results immediately,” he added.

After implementing similar TOC and CCPM concepts, the 56th Maintenance Group reduced F-16 wing-change replacement time from 344 hours to 168 by building a network diagram to correctly identify and sequence all work activities.

“We reduced the wing-change time by 50%, even with a significant engineering-support delay that took four days,” Kuwik said. “If they didn’t have that delay, they would have finished in one-third of the planned schedule time, so I would call that a huge success.”

The results were so dramatic, the concepts are now being applied to reduce F-16 fuel-cell replacement cycle time.

Capt. Tia Robles, 56th Component Maintenance Squadron director of operations, was lead coordinator for the consultation project, while Tech. Sgt. Carl Walker, assistant fuels section chief, led the application and data collection on the wing-change process for the unit’s Fuels Systems Repair Section.

Robles has noticed a culture shift in recognizing the importance of deliberate planning within the maintenance group.

“Our maintenance culture is sometimes predicated on being reactive in nature (unscheduled maintenance actions) or being stuck in dynamic environments with perceived minimal influence on the external environment,” she said. “Through the use of interactive courses, engaging instructors and incorporation of home-station techniques, the AFIT faculty have helped teach our team to effectively plan for maintenance contingencies and become more proactive in a dynamic environment.”

Lt. Col. Barbara Shephard, head of AFIT’s Department of Logistics Management, says consulting is an essential pillar to the School of Systems and Logistics mission.

“Through consultation, our knowledgeable faculty are able to use their specific expertise and skills to assist our (partners) in solving difficult and complex problems,” she added.

AFIT’s School of Systems and Logistics is the Air Force’s provider of professional continuing education courses in the areas of data analytics, acquisition management, contracting, financial management, logistics management, and systems and software engineering. With more than 155 courses and seminars, the school plans, develops and conducts courses to satisfy the technical-management educational needs of acquisition, contracting and logistics partners from the Air Force, Defense Department and other federal agencies. Faculty teach an average of 17,900 students a year through in-residence, distance learning and on-site instruction.