Quality and safety are critical to fleet readiness. One of our NAVAIR teams recently attacked a fleet-wide metrology and calibration (METCAL) quality issue with incredible speed. It’s a great example of how teamwork, transparency, and a shared focus on fleet outcomes get the job done in a Mission Aligned Organization.
Just before the Independence Day weekend, several fleet and maintenance activities reported multiple tolerance failures for calibration workloads run across their torque benches.
How important is calibration? Calibrated tools are essential to maintaining Aircraft Airworthiness — which is at the heart of NAVAIR’s mission!
The torque calibrator exchange kits are the depots’ calibration standard, and are used to calibrate torque benches at our intermediate-level maintenance activities. Torque benches then calibrate torque devices, such as wrenches, multipliers and tensiometers used by the fleet in aircraft maintenance.
Maintainers use wrenches to torque the most critical safety of flight parts and assemblies on naval aircraft.
Clearly, this quality escape posed a safety risk to the Fleet and needed to be resolved FAST.
An Aggressive Timeline
Teamwork made it happen.
In less than two weeks, experts from NAVAIR’s METCAL Program Office, FRC East, COMFRC, the Fleet Calibration Type Commander, NAWCAD, and the Common Aviation Support Equipment Program Office (PMA-260) discovered a proving ring was out of tolerance, introducing significant errors to 18 torque calibrator exchange kits distributed across the fleet.
- July 1: Maintenance activities reported the METCAL issue to FRCSE and COMFRC leadership.
- July 1 (evening): All potentially affected kits and commands were identified.
July 2: Assets were being evaluated as additional analysis was underway, impact charts drafted and a bulletin was in work.
- July 9: Engineering assessment completed, but the team needed assistance from the manufacturer to determine true root cause.
- August 14: Completed recall on 14 of 18 kits. FRCSE had one kit in-house and was waiting on the last three to arrive.
The team accomplished all of this with data from systems not typically used for the analysis of maintenance impacts, and by using Microsoft Teams, email and other teleconferencing capabilities.
Learning and Adapting
Initial analysis revealed up to 710 items were miscalibrated. Further research revealed the proving ring’s manually operated vibrating reed, which is about 0.325 wide, had a microscopic chip on its tip. Morehouse, the original equipment manufacturer, discovered the fracture and said the damage was not unusual. Reed calibration is done by hand and requires a specific skill set – it’s an art really – because you have to listen and feel for when the reed comes in contact with the ball.
Ultimately, 254 items across several fleet activities needed to be recalibrated. To date, more than 85% of the recalled fleet torque tools have been recalibrated and returned to service. Fortunately, the quality escape did not impact the airworthiness of any aircraft.
In light of this, the team developed a new way forward for calibration. It calls for incorporating visual inspections and verification checkpoints during the fleet exchange kits calibration, providing training on the procedure and revising technical publications to include mechanically exercising the proving ring and confirming proper functionality before it’s used as a measurement reference.
First, a culture of quality means we all share a responsibility for excellence. It is essential to the readiness and safety of our aircraft and weapon systems.
Second, relationships are vital to getting the job done. We establish relationships long before challenges emerge and all stakeholders have the obligation to continuously maintain them.
Third, we must keep asking “why” until we identify the root cause in all of our problem-solving activities. In this case, the stakeholders did not rely solely on the first set of data created when the problem was initially reported, but kept peeling back the layers until it fully understood its scope and developed a strategy to address the issue.
BZ to the team for your exemplary work and timely response to a quickly evolving challenge that had the potential to impact fleet readiness on a large scale. Your accomplishment is even more outstanding under the current circumstances, and illustrates the power of a culture that values flexibility and empowers its workforce.
As always, thank you for your individual and collective contributions. Do you have a similar story? If so, please share so we can all keep learning.