103rd Maintenance Group embraces process improvement

  • Published
  • By retired Maj. Bryon Turner
  • 103rd Airlift Wing, Inspector General Office
Months of analysis and problem solving efforts culminated in a special event where 17 members of the 103rd Maintenance Group presented the results of their combined process improvement efforts on April 24, 2016.
     The Airmen conducted four separate team projects as part of a Six Sigma Green-Belt course taught at the Bradley Air National Guard Base over the last couple of months.  The projects focused on streamlining various maintenance processes to reduce aircraft downtime and increase mission capable rates.  The teams worked to shorten time requirements for shop dispatching, and for parts ordering, transit, and turn-ins to free up maintenance manpower for mission priorities.
     Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement introduced to the corporate world in 1986.  Today, these techniques are used in many industrial sectors and within the U.S. Air Force.  Green Belts are Airmen who take up Six Sigma implementation as an additional duty operating under the guidance of Black Belts.  Black Belts are seasoned Six Sigma professionals who can apply Six Sigma methodology to specific projects.
     While this improvement methodology is not new, it is just getting started within the Connecticut Air National Guard, and the men and women of the 103rd Maintenance Group are leading the way.
     "The completion of the first maintenance group green belt class and four projects is a significant step forward in our continuous-improvement efforts.  The 17 green belt recipients demonstrated their commitment to this organization and the importance of continually reviewing our processes and programs to find ways to enhance our mission effectiveness," said Col. Gerald McDonald, commander of the 103rd Maintenance Group.
     "If you're not moving forward, you're standing still, and if you stand still in today's environment you get run over.  These Airmen get that and are investing their time and energy to ensure it doesn't happen," McDonald said.  "Their project presentations and results were impressive and are a testament to their commitment and the outstanding leadership and instruction Master Sgt. Rob Walsh, from the force support squadron, provided during this program.  The maintenance group will continue to grow this program and use these new tools to improve our operations."
     The course was taught by Walsh, a Black Belt assigned as a personnelist with the 103rd Force Support Squadron.  Walsh was on loan to the 103rd MXG to facilitate the adoption of these proven process-improvement methods through academic instruction and hands-on practical applications.
     "I'm really impressed with the management support here; thank you to all the students--it's going to pay dividends," said Walsh.  "I'm excited about process improvement breaking through here at Bradley."
     Continuous improvement is a key aspect of the wing's recent implementation of the Air Force Inspection System.  With Green-Belt training, the focus is on improving the unit, one of the four major graded areas that serve as the focus of AFIS.  In theory, a focused Green-Belt effort can improve all four of the major graded areas, which also include resource management, leading people and mission execution.
     "In the IG, we identify problems, and then track responsible parties as they work to develop solutions and document their efforts," said Lt. Col. James Guerrera, Inspector General, 103rd Airlift Wing.  "We are specifically told not to solve problems to maintain our impartiality, that's where these green-belts come in.  They perform root cause analysis and develop corrective actions through a thorough and deliberate process that has been very successful in the private sector and beyond."
     Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of the output of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in production and management processes.  It uses a set of quality management methods, mainly empirical, statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization, who are experts in these methods.  Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has specific value targets, for example: reducing process cycle time, reducing pollution, reducing costs, increasing customer satisfaction, and increasing mission readiness.  To put it in Air Force terms, Six Sigma can help us do more with less.
     Col. McDonald stressed the value in these efforts, urging his fellow group commanders to embrace this effort and follow his lead. 
     "Some complain that they don't have time for this sort of effort, they can't afford it", said McDonald.  "I say we can't afford not to.  This is a small investment that will bring big gains at the end."

Greenbelt Project Details
1. Parts Ordering Process--Reduce the time spent to order aircraft parts while performing maintenance on the flightline.  If a technician needs a part while on the flightline, they need to store their tools and equipment, go to their shop to use the computer, walk back to the aircraft, set-up their tools and equipment again, then begin work again.
2. Aircraft Parts Turn-In Process--Reduce the amount of time it takes to return parts to supply.  The process currently requires completing turn-in tags and dropping off the parts to LRS.
3. People and Equipment Movement on the Flightline--Improve the movement of people and equipment on and off the flightline to reduce travel time.
4. Morning Job Dispatch Procedures--Reduce the amount of time for technicians to respond to job dispatch assignments in the morning.