As we move into the third quarter of the fiscal year, we continue to keep our sights set on increasing the mission-capable rate of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
Part of the Naval Sustainment System (NSS) model, Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) reform is driving our efforts on the Super Hornets, and those reforms and process improvements will be applied across other type/model/series (TMS) aircraft as we continue the push to increase readiness.
Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) has a three-pronged approach:
- —having materials sorted in the receiving area and ready for use
- —treating the artisan as a surgeon with all his tools, equipment and parts available around the aircraft prior to beginning the work
- —communicating more openly and frequently with fleet squadrons
It is all about velocity and getting aircraft, engines, components and support equipment through repair lines and back on the flight line as quickly as possible.
At FRC Southwest (FRCSW), the first depot to undertake NSS, they saw an initial 30-percent reduction in the number of issue-priority-group-one backorders or unfilled high-priority requisitions, and it continues to improve.
Depot-level transformation at FRCSW is focused around three activities:
- —prioritized by shops that most affect Super Hornet readiness, including the hydraulics, landing gear, canopy and generator convertor unit shops
- —addressing issues inhibiting repairs and resolving material delays
- —creating necessary changes to people, processes and systems to ensure gains are sustainable
Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, FRC West (FRCW) has applied the same best practices, resulting in significant changes to their Planned Maintenance Interval (PMI) line. Planned maintenance is a proactive approach in which specific maintenance is scheduled on a regular basis.
Improvements at FRCW include the following:
- Maintaining standards designed to ensure the safety of the workforce
- Creating spaces and processes that maximize an artisan’s time spent on an aircraft
- Starting work on an aircraft only when the full work package is understood
- Ensuring supplies are in stock or easily ordered and tracked
- Staffing PMI lines with appropriate numbers and capabilities to meet the demand
- Providing engineering and analysis resources for faster turnaround times
- Inducting only mission-capable aircraft
In addition, each aircraft is assigned a dedicated work crew—along with a crew lead—and all the tools and equipment required to do the job. The creation of a PMI Planning Cell and Production Control Center (PCC) have also contributed to overall improvements. The stakeholders meet once or twice a day as a PMI Planning Cell to discuss the progress and barriers as well as plan for maintenance prior to aircraft induction. The PCC houses a status board that tracks all outstanding work orders and days to completion.
Results include a reduction in the PMI work in process from 10 to six aircraft, a significant reduction in engineering turnaround times and an increased focus on expediting delivery of needed parts. The frequency and depth of communication with squadrons and the air wing has also improved.
NSS changes are working
The average turnaround time for the last four aircraft processed at Lemoore, which were all returned to squadrons as mission capable, was 58 days, a marked improvement over the previous rate of 120 to 150 days. The early returns give us confidence that we are moving in the right direction and will be able to achieve our readiness standard for the Super Hornet.
While the reforms started officially at FRCSW and FRCW, we sent our folks from the other FRCs to North Island and Lemoore to observe and learn the new processes. This has enabled the other sites to hit the ground running and they are making significant improvements already.
On April 30, Naval Aviation kicked-off the local NSS initiative at FRC Mid-Atlantic (FRCMA) located at NAS Oceana, Virginia. FRCMA implemented the lean manufacturing 5S process—shine, sort, standardize, straighten and sustain—at all sites and has increased their workload to include operational level (O-level) maintenance in order to return the aircraft to the fleet “ready to fly.”
At Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, FRC East (FRCE) started its NSS reforms May 20, setting up PCCs and installing issue boards with metrics, analysis and data visualization in their Super Hornet shops. They launched rapid problem-solving shop support teams and instituted daily meetings to discuss equipment status and issues and update workflow boards.
The pre-planning benefits seen at FRCE include:
- Improvement in team synergy and support personnel integration
- Resolution of 115 issues
- Improved production rates
- Reduction in back orders
FRCE will continue to refine the three Super Hornet shops—valves and regulators, starters and turbines, and auxiliary power units and fuel accessories—based on lessons learned from their benchmarking trip to FRCSW and implement tier-two-elevation process improvements.
FRCE is also implementing NSS on the F-35 modification line with PCCs and aircraft status and issue boards, plus aggressively focusing on 5S.
At NAS Jacksonville, Florida, FRC Southeast (FRCSE) is implementing a visual management system in four phases: components and industrial processes, engines, Super Hornet line, and trainer and vertical-lift aircraft. In addition, FRCSE developed value-stream maps of Super Hornet processes showing the flow of products through value added and non-value added activities, including aircraft, engines and components, current state maps, standardized visual equipment status boards and standardized signage. FRCSE is scheduled to begin its NSS initiative in late July.
FRCSE also established a PCC for F414 engines, with plans to do the same for TF34 and F404 engines.
The FRCs are making tremendous progress, and I am confident that the number of mission-capable Super Hornets will continue on an upward climb because of these efforts.
The integration of each NSS pillar to address all elements of aviation maintenance—people, parts and processes—to make permanent changes is essential. Each piece of the model has made significant improvements, and to have all of us pillar leads—the FRCs, supply, engineering, O-level, surge cell—talking to each other and working together to support the long-term sustainment of mission-capable Super Hornets is paramount to our success.
We will continue to make improvements. I am proud of the great work our FRCs have accomplished in the 10 months since implementation of NSS.
The goal we have been tasked with is a lofty one, but I don’t know of another group of individuals who could do it better. Keep fixing for the fight!