US Marine Corps, April 06, 2021 - MCAS CHERRY POINT, NC by Heather Wilburn - Following a string of success in reducing maintenance, repair and overhaul turnaround times on V-22 Osprey aircraft, Fleet Readiness Center East has set its sights on improving turnaround times for the H-53 heavy lift helicopter.
On the heels of setting a new organizational record for a V-22 turnaround with a 297-day aircraft in January, on March 5 FRCE returned a completed V-22 to the fleet after just 220 days – clocking in at just over half the negotiated turnaround time of 420 days, and well under the goal of 250 days. That same day, FRCE beat the deadline with another completion of just 303 days.
The V-22 team celebrated these milestones as Manny Naeem, the maintenance, repair and overhaul expert executive at Naval Air Systems Command and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers, visited FRCE to meet with V-22 and H-53 leadership about plans for continued improvements in FRCE’s production processes.
“I’m very, very proud of the achievement FRC East has accomplished with this V-22, and with the continuous improvement the facility is making in turnaround times,” said Naeem. “They’ve proven they can do it, and I think we’re hopeful that FRCE will not only sustain this performance with the V-22 line, but continue to make improvements there and in other areas, as well.”
The reduction in service times comes, in part, as a result of changes brought about by the Naval Sustainment System, a series of initiatives implemented in mid-2019 that brought a focus to people, parts and processes and providing FRCE’s aircraft maintenance professionals with the tools they need to get the job done. Leaders first applied NSS initiatives in FRCE’s component shops supporting the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, then began implementing them across all type/model/series component shops and aircraft lines serviced by the depot. FRCE has seen positives results across the board, most recently with the reduction in V-22 turnaround times.
Andrew Rock, V-22 branch head at FRCE, said he attributes the improvements to three factors: a team concept for maintenance, where the same core group shepherds the aircraft through the entire process from induction to sale; strategic application of labor hours to the aircraft that will most benefit from the push; and the creation of a dedicated production control center, through which all maintenance activities flow. With these aspects in place, the new, reduced turnaround time seems realistic.
Manufacturing, estimators and evaluators
“Everybody working together is what makes this happen,” Rock added. “The team includes everyone from our artisans to manufacturing, estimators and evaluators, quality assurance, engineering and our partners at Defense Logistics Agency and Naval Supply Systems Command. We were already on track to drastically beat 420 days; with the changes we’ve been able to implement while marching to a 250-day turnaround, I think 250 is now attainable on most aircraft.”
What didn’t change, Rock noted, was the drive and dedication of the V-22 team. The reduced turnaround times came about partly through NSS, he said, but the potential for great performance always existed within the workforce. Naeem said he agreed.
“The artisans’ talent is there, the knowledge they already have, and the years of experience, but there were issues that were becoming roadblocks,” Naeem explained. “When you start to remove those roadblocks for them, things will happen.
“When we understand the needs of a production team, remove the impediments they have and give them a chance to deliver, they will deliver,” he continued. “Nothing was miraculous; when people are given the tools they need, they get the job done.”
Now, leaders plan to press for faster turnaround times on FRCE’s H-53 heavy-lift helicopter line. According to David Thorpe, H-53 branch head, FRCE began implementing the NSS tenets on the H-53 line some time ago and now the results are starting to show.
The negotiated turnaround time for a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter currently sits at 271 days, Thorpe said, and FRCE is looking to reduce that to 250 days. With the MH-53, FRCE hopes to cut the turnaround time from the negotiated 300 days to 277 days. The depot can meet this goal, he said, if supply chains are healthy and coordination between partners runs smoothly – both issues NSS initiatives seek to address.
“It’s very feasible,” Thorpe said. “For the CH-53, a turnaround time of 250 days is very realistic – but one of the biggest issues we have to correct is the supply posture. It’s an old airframe, so incoming condition plays a huge role, especially as of the past few years. We have what we call ‘tired iron,’ so improving the process in which we identify the need to manufacture a part that’s not on the shelf is going to be key, and that’s one of the Top 10 NSS initiatives to improve H-53 turnaround time.”
Naeem agreed that removing material inhibitors would play a huge role in reducing H-53 turnaround times.
“We have certain parts issues, certain material condition issues, so we are removing those while we are improving the production planning processes,” he explained. “We just have to manage and prioritize. I think they are not too far from their goal now, and if they keep on pushing, they will start to deliver those aircraft in 250 days very soon.”
In all cases, Naeem added, communication provides the key to success, and this includes virtual dashboards FRCE has brought into daily progress meetings with stakeholders and partners. The dashboards provide data visualizations that help bring attention to degraders and impediments in an easy-to-understand format that places emphasis on high-priority items.
“These dashboards that FRCE has implemented, they’re a very good tool that brings everybody together on the same page – everything is right there, visible for any department or any pillar of production to see the same information,” Naeem said. “That includes NAVSUP, DLA, the Fleet Support Teams and MRO Engineering. It brings everybody together to focus on one dashboard, versus chasing each other for information that should be readily available at anyone’s fingertips. And that helps a lot.”
With these tools at their disposal, the H-53 team is looking forward to the challenge, Thorpe said. Seeing early improvements helps set the tone and increase confidence that the new systems are working, and the production control center concept is already helping streamline the administrative functions on the line, with issuing work orders, validating work order completions, keeping track of milestones and helping production run smoothly.
“Any time you change the way people have been doing things for years, for decades, there’s always some reservation,” he said. “But when you start seeing the benefits that come from the changes – there’s evidence in how it pays off.”
FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.