DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Innovation: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. Some people liken change to a destructive force, others embrace it.
The 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron recently acquired C-17 Engine Maintenance Platforms hoping they would increase safety and streamline the engine inspection process.
“Our job is to ensure maximum maintenance effort while ensuring safe work practices,” said Master Sgt. Jesse Hope, 736th AMXS Home Station Check flight chief. “We purchased these stands to help us accomplish our mission faster, free up personnel to perform other inspections and provide a safer working platform. Any product or process that improves safety and efficiency is a no-brainer.”
Every week, members of the squadron’s home station check team wheel in a different aircraft to perform inspections, said Tech. Sgt. Paul Wrobel, 736th AMXS HSC dock chief. Aircraft undergo thorough, routine inspections every 120 days called home station checks. Every component of the aircraft needs to be inspected every two years. To accommodate this requirement, the squadron performs six independent HSCs over the course of two years that accumulatively account for every required inspection. Each HSC consists of approximately 500 individual inspections.
In order to keep aircraft flight-capable, the HSC team needs to wheel an aircraft into the hangar, inspect each part or system on their list, replace anything that doesn’t meet standards, replace any removed or displaced panels or parts, ensure the plane is ready to fly, wheel the plane back out of the hangar and prepare for the next HSC inspection. The teams from three crews work around the clock to ensure everything is accomplished in only one week.
Wrobel said some systems require more frequent inspections, so they are inspected every time the aircraft comes in for a HSC. The engines meet this amplified inspection requirement. Since the team inspects four engines each week, a large percentage of personnel hours are logged into this one component of the inspection process.
“We used to use [personal] lifts to inspect the engines,” Wrobel said. “Each lift would hold one person to inspect, while another monitored the lift and the safety of the inspector. A supervisor also had to be present while the lifts were in use to make sure aircraft weren’t damaged. We used to tie up six to nine people per wing just on engine inspections. That could be up to 90 percent of shift manning.”
In the spirit of innovation, team members found a way to mitigate both the time and manning constraints by purchasing four C-17 Engine Maintenance Platforms. These elevated stands were already in use by Airmen at McChord Air Force Base, Washington.
The skid-resistant, rigid, stable aluminum stands can be set up at the start of the inspection process and torn down at the end. This results in a significant decrease in personnel time invested in engine inspections.
“We’ve only been using the platforms for three weeks now,” Wrobel said. “We’ve only set them up and taken them down three times, and we’ve already seen a net savings of time. Now all the people who were tied to the stands can be inspecting.”
The savings have been significant already. In fact, estimates suggest the time savings, nearly 30 personnel hours each HSC inspection, will pay for the stands, totaling about $640,000 in about 12 years.
As the team continues to improve on the process, the savings may increase even further.
It took two weeks to build the stands, have them inspected for safety compliance and draft safe-use guidelines for the team to follow. After that, they were ready to use.
Master Sgt. Jesse Hope, 736th AMXS HSC flight chief, said the inaugural setup took them an hour and 15 minutes for one stand, but after three weeks, they are able to set up an entire wing, two stands, in just 45 minutes.
From one hour and 15 minutes to about 22 minutes is a remarkable improvement, and compared to the six hour minimum lift time per engine required in the old method, it’s easy to see how these stands are saving time.
“We have a logical sequence of events when it comes to maintenance,” Hope said. “Things will happen a certain way. What can cause some level of frustration with maintainers is having a limitation in one area, either tools, manning or schedulers. If we have everything we need to do a job, but we are lacking the manning or the tools, we can’t do the job as efficiently as we’d like to, it causes a huge shift in the overall work flow. That’s really where these new platforms shine, they allow us to do our work efficiently without the disruptions we unfortunately became used to.”
Hope said they’re trying to continue to refine the process. They marked the floor to aid in general placement, and they’ve been in contact with the manufacturer with additional suggestions to improve ease of use. Team members are also getting more familiar with how the stands work.
“After seeing first-hand the value of these stands, I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before this becomes the standard across the Air Force,” Hope said. “Whenever you can make the environment safer and you can actually streamline the process and give the product back to your customer more quickly, it’s a no-brainer, it’s inevitable. I really wish we would have gotten them sooner.”