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Despite a struggling economy, Fort Rucker’s maintenance contractor has been able to save jobs through a grassroots effort that brought about dramatic results.
The Army Fleet Support and the Aviation Center Logistics Command has received the prestigious Shingo Prize for Operation Excellence by implementing improvements that significantly reduced aircraft downtime for routine maintenance.
“You are special,” Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, commander of the Aviation and Missile life Cycle Management Command, told AFS employees at Lowe Army Heliport when he presented the award recently. “You’re special because your numbers prove it.”
Myles enthusiastically appraised the 3,800 AFS employees and 100 government personnel who maintain, repair, overhaul and provide support operations for 530 aircraft used by the U.S. Army Aviation Center. More than 1,200 students are trained at Fort Rucker each year as approximately 240,000 flying hours are logged on the aircraft.
A thorough maintenance check is performed on each aircraft after every 720 hours of flying.
Thanks to employee initiative, AFS general manager John Hamlin explained, the 720-hour phase maintenance inspection process was reduced from more than 72 hours to 22 hours.
“It means so much to a work force to be recognized by your customer,” Hamlin said.
The Shingo Prize, established in 1988 for excellence in manufacturing, is a prestigious award presented to promote an awareness of lean manufacturing concepts and to recognize organizations that achieve world-class status. The Shingo Prize has been called “The Nobel Prize for Manufacturing Excellence” by Business Week magazine, and it is a highly sought after recognition by private and public sector entities.
In struggling national economy, as the government places more and more emphasis on reducing costs and producing more, the AFS initiative is especially meaningful, Hamlin said.
“Because of this team effort, not one employee has lost a job,” he said. Members of the work force have been reallocated to areas of need, but no one has been laid off, he said. “This is actually going to help us to grow.”
Col. Alan M. Stull, commander of the Aviation Logistics Command, which is the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile life Cycle Management Command’s fleet management organization, said the current government-owned, contractor-operated relationship is unique.
“This was a workforce-driven accomplishment,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve ever had this kind of team come together to produce these kinds of results.”
Mike Tindol, an avionics lead man who has been with the maintenance contractor at Fort Rucker for 34 years, explained that employees came up with suggestions to help them work faster and better.
“The company supported us and the government gave us the resources we needed,” he said. “People don’t mind change when they’re involved in the planning. “Everyone feels ownership because they were a part of it.”
Rick Davis, Lowe Field manager for AFS, said the improvement process began in 2006 and was phased in over three years.
“We’re definitely proud of what we’re doing here,” Davis said, who joined Hamlin, Myles and Stull in giving credit to the employees. “I basically got out of their way, and let the people who turn the wrenches and work on the aircraft make the suggestions.”
Employees made suggestions that called for big changes, like implementing a new data base management system, and small changes such a moving a toolbox location.
The presentation of the award July 16 at Lowe marked the second time the ACLC/AFS has won the Shingo Bronze Medallion. The first was in 2007, based on the same lean initiative.
Yet, the AFS employees have not stopped looking for ways to improve, Davis said.
“It’s critical to find efficiencies in every way we can … and create a program that produces the number of aircraft that the Army needs to do the training,” Davis said.
Restructuring the 720-hour maintenance cycle has increased throughput of aircraft and reduced work-in-process from about 12 to six helicopters at a time.
Myles said he believes the employees have accomplished the feat for a noble purpose.
“You have done things no one else has done in the U.S. Army,” Myles told the employees. “These soldiers who are flying these aircraft are following in your footsteps. They are doing that’s right because you showed them what right looks like.”
Myles said the employees understand the safety of every student and trainer is vital, and that the Army’s mission to defend and protect the nation depends on fast, efficient training.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the soldiers,” Myles said.
Myles in 30 years in the Army, he has never seen the kind of unity demonstrated by all of the parties involved in achieving the increased efficiency.