552 MXG Boosts e-Tools

A group from the 552nd Maintenance Group works to map out the current process of receiving, employing, and repairing e-Tools (laptops) during a four-day rapid improvement event. (Air Force photo by Maj. Rachel Roslewski)

A group from the 552nd Maintenance Group works to map out the current process of receiving, employing, and repairing e-Tools (laptops) during a four-day rapid improvement event. (Air Force photo by Maj. Rachel Roslewski)

TINKER AFB, Okla. -- The 552nd Maintenance Group conducted a Rapid Improvement Event in coordination with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century. It was the second of three RIEs they have planned for this year. The goal of the event, conducted from 14 to17 July, was aimed at improving the availability of serviceable electronic tools.

E-3 aircraft maintenance Airmen have the responsibility of keeping the low-density, high-demand AWACS fleet ready to fly a grueling schedule. Every time maintainers work on the jet, they must have their technical data with them. In the past, that meant bringing out a binder full of maintenance instructions, but now all that data is stored on e-Tool laptops.

The problem is keeping the e-Tools in good repair and ensuring the maintenance data loaded on the machines stays current, and that takes quite a bit of time and effort. Even with more than 350 laptops assigned to the maintenance group, they were having a hard time providing enough fully-functional machines for the maintainers to use on a daily basis. That's when Col. Lawrence Hinkin, the 552nd Maintenance Group commander, stepped in.

He initiated the RIE and selected Chief Master Sgt. Michael Joyner to lead a cross-functional team of maintenance and computer experts who could develop a set of real options to solve the problem. Chief Joyner worked with Master Sgt. Arthur Gilbert, the MXG AFSO21 coordinator to develop a charter that honed in on the main problems.

Colonel Hinkin set the tone on the first day of the event when he said that the bottom line was to improve the ability of serviceable e-Tools so Airmen out on the line could fix aircraft.

"Without good tech data, we can't do the mission and that's not acceptable," Colonel Hinkin said.

Over the next four days, the group worked to map the current process of receiving, employing and repairing e-Tools. Maj. Rachael Roslewski of the 552nd ACW's AFSO21 office helped keep the group on track and enlisted the support of process improvement consultants Osmay Torres and William Lloyd from Air Combat Command.

When the team constructed their recommended future state, they managed to eliminate 10 non-value added (wasted) steps while increasing the value added steps by 80 percent. The overall processing time for the machines remained about the same, but the quality of both the process and the product were drastically improved.

"Of course, it isn't enough to design a new process," Chief Joyner cautioned. "We had to develop a plan to get from where we are to where we want to be".

To that end, the team generated a list of eighteen action items. They included five projects, one additional RIE on a related topic, and 12 "just-do-its," straightforward tasks that only require a single policy letter revision or alteration in daily tactics. Some of the improvements were as simple as getting all the shops that maintain and issue e-Tools to use the same procedures for checkout and damage reporting.

Over the next six months, the cumulative effect of these individual improvements is expected to increase e-Tool availability from approximately 50 to 90 percent and to slash the number of non-repairable laptops from more than one hundred down to just thirty five.

Colonel Hinkin was pleased with the progress the team made in just four days and moved quickly to implement many of their suggestions.

Senior Airman Marlin Braun, a 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron computer system administrator, said that he was "surprised and relieved to see that AFSO21 actually works."

His experience on the team caused him to revise his opinion of AF improvement projects. The question now becomes, "what problem can we tackle next."