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09 Feb 2023

FRCE Boosts Production with Successful Process Improvement Project

FRCE Boosts Production with Successful Process Improvement Project
US Navy photo
US Navy Press Release

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) wrapped up a successful process improvement project which enhanced the depot’s ability to deliver parts, components, and aircraft to the warfighter.

With the aid of data visualization tools, supervisors and machinists within the command’s Repair Machine Shop successfully reduced the turnaround time for parts and components coming out of the shop.

“Now, we're putting more quality parts on the shelf faster,” said Matt Sinsel, FRCE’s Machine, Paint and Clean Branch Head. “This reduces our costs and our labor. We’re able to support the warfighter faster and more efficiently. It’s also made us more resilient and more adaptable to the ebbs and flows of Naval Aviation.”

According to Sinsel, the depot’s production areas rely on components refurbished and reconditioned by the Repair Machine Shop. He said getting parts out of the shop faster boosts FRCE’s ability to produce finished aircraft.

Sinsel set a goal in August of last year to reduce the average days in operation for work in progress at the Repair Machine Shop from 17 days to five. By December, his team had achieved their objective.

“So much work enters this shop,” said Sinsel. “It is the heartbeat of the depot. Everyone here relies on them. They’re supporting not only our Department of Defense workload, but also our international work. Because of this, we knew going in that this project was going to benefit the entire depot’s operations.”

The Repair Machine Shop is made up of 22 work centers where 70 highly trained machinists recondition everything from helicopter transmissions to jet engine components.

“We deal with all the aircraft platforms in here,” said Jeremy Pedersen, machinist at the Repair Machine Shop. “We touch 90% of the parts here at the depot that need to be fixed or reworked. We work on everything from the landing gear to the rotor head.”

The Repair Machine Shop fabricates very few end items. Instead, they recondition and refurbish parts coming from military aircraft. This is a necessity as many of the components used in older aircraft platforms are no longer in production.

The parts come from military aircraft operating in climates ranging from humid jungles to arid desert regions. These demanding environments each impact the wear of parts and components in different ways.

According to Don Jeter, FRCE’s Industrial Process and Engines Director, this poses challenges when planning work within the shop as each component is unique in the level of repair it may need.

“You can have six identical housings come in with each needing drastically different repairs,” said Jeter. “The amount of time spent working on each one as well as the number of work centers and processes each passes through can vary greatly.”

To help prioritize work orders and pinpoint potential backlogs, the team used Qlik Sense, a data analytics platform, to interpret data and create reports that detail the status of in-process components.

“It provides real time updates twice a day,” said Sinsel. “This is information that managers, work leads and artisans can use to execute effectively.”

Over the last two years, FRCE has been developing and refining data visualization tools. Information from several different databases is consolidated to one location that displays all the data associated with an end item product.

This effort resulted in the creation of a home grown module within the program called the Enhanced Production System (EPS). Jeter said EPS provides managers and work leaders with a streamlined data picture that aids in decision making.

“It’s like something that a commander on the battlefield can look at and get a clear picture of what’s happening,” said Jeter. “Instead of worrying about a single platoon or squad, you can stay focused on the overall objective. This clarity is very important in this shop because there is just so many different types of work going on in there.”

Jeffrey Norman, Repair Machine Shop Supervisor, said that while the data EPS provided was invaluable when managing the vast amount of work performed within the shop, the project’s success ultimately hinged on how this information was put to use on the work floor.

“The machinists working here are the backbone of this place,” said Norman. “Without the work they put out, nothing is going to be built here at the depot. EPS provided valuable information. My guys took that and just ran with it. The enthusiasm and initiative they’ve shown has been phenomenal.”

Jeter also credited the machinists for their role in the project’s success. He said they put their experience and skills to use in conjunction with the data visualization tools to great effect.

“They've done an extremely good job of focusing on what's important and getting the right work out at the right time,” said Jeter. “I've always said that artisans want three things from management. They want clear objectives, the proper tools and for us to let them do their job. When we provide those three things, they make us look like superstars.”

When it came to the tools needed to do their job, machinists said Qlik Sense and the EPS module were as valuable as the lathes and presses in the shop. Machinist Robert Hampson said the data visualization tools made it much easier for the shop’s work centers to target priority work orders and manage manpower and resources.

“It makes everything flow so much smoother,” said Hampson. “It allows you to plan ahead and avoid backlogs. We can also cross-train a little bit more this way. That’s important here. You want trained people that can move from one spot to another. If there's a backlog in one spot but you have machines open, you can take someone from another spot to come in and help out. You can prioritize and put people where you need them.”

The nature of the work performed inside the shop posed a unique set of challenges during the process improvement project. Lathes and other machining tools need to be set up for specific jobs, a process that can take several hours. This factor must be considered when planning daily work to maximize efficiency.

The work also demands extreme precision. It is not uncommon for the machinists to deal with tolerances as low as one ten thousandth of an inch. For comparison, the average strand of human hair is roughly one thousandth of inch thick. According to John Stafford, a machinist, there are no shortcuts when working in the Repair Machine Shop.

“It requires a great amount of attention to detail,” said Stafford. “You really have to be a methodical person to do this work. You have to go step by step. You get ahead of yourself and you can quickly kill a part. It’s not something you want to do, especially in this shop as the parts we work on can be extremely expensive to replace.”

Stafford said the machinists carefully measure and perform trial cuts before beginning work on components. He also said they must be aware of factors such as the types of metals and alloys they are working on or any treatments the component may have received.

“When you see a machinist working, most of the time you will see him sitting down,” said Stafford. “It looks like he’s not doing anything. He's actually watching the numbers to see if it’s going where it's supposed to go. He’s watching pulse analysis or checking for vibration. He’s listening to hear what the wheel or the cutting sounds like.”

As each item travels through the Repair Machine Shop’s work centers, it undergoes a rigorous series of inspections and evaluations. The machinists work closely with quality assurance inspectors and engineers to ensure each component meets the standards.

“Things have to be done right,” said Norman. “We don’t build sedans. We build aircraft for the war fighter. Someone’s son or daughter is depending on these aircraft every day. This work involves a high level of responsibility. It’s something we take pride in. We aren’t just machinists, we’re aircraft machinists.”

Darren Normandin, a machinist and Repair Machine Shop Work Leader, said FRCE’s machinists are a special breed who take great pride in the work they perform and the mission they support.

“Being a machinist at FRCE means more than just having the ability to do the job,” said Normandin. “You have to be someone who really cares about what they're doing. It takes honesty and integrity. I think the machinists here are so dedicated because we all know where our parts end up.”

Despite the success of the project, the Repair Machine Shop is not stopping to celebrate. Sinsel said the team has already begun working towards the next phase of their process improvements.

“We’re just going to keep hitting while the iron is hot,” said Sinsel. “Are we happy with this? Yes. Are we satisfied? No. We’re already working to reduce our average days in operation to three days. It will be challenging. The last little bit of weight is always the hardest to come off but I am extremely proud of this team and I know they are up to the challenge.”

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 provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

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