T-38 maintenance unit finds efficiencies with mobile shelving

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From time-to-time we all face a problem of needing more space.

The 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Randolph AFB, Texas, faced such a problem, but proactively sought a solution that would impact its aircraft maintenance production line in a positive way.

The 575th AMXS is home to the Air Force’s $350 million Pacer Classic III modification program for the T-38 Talon. T-38s are a two-seat, twin-engine training aircraft capable of supersonic speeds, and have been in service with for more than 50 years.

The PC-III modifications are designed to extend the service life of the T-38 until 2029.

Louis Yznaga Jr., 575th AMXS process engineer, said each aircraft has more than 600 parts removed as they process through the PC-III modification production line and more than 6,000 parts are maintained at any given time.

In order to protect these highly valuable T-38 parts, they are placed in large wooden reusable crates, known as For Other Maintenance, or FOM, crates. A total of 360 crates, averaging 72 cubic feet, are divided into 15 sets of 24 with each set being assigned to each aircraft.

Each 24 FOM crate set is then stacked in an 8,500-square-foot area of what was once the Randolph AFB base gym. What the 574th AMXS soon realized is that without a standard storage procedure plan, the space was easily overrun with crates.

Complicating the problem was the need to move an average of 18 crates in and out of the storage area each week to support the production line.

If a crate was stacked in the rear of a set, it would require three people with forklifts upwards of 45 minutes or more to shuffle crates around to retrieve the needed crate — a process often referred to as playing a giant game of Tetris.

The labor intensive retrieval system generated 42 man-hours per week and extended the PC-III production schedule because facilities often had to wait long periods of time for needed FOM crates.

Using the Air Force Sustainment Center’s ‘Art of the Possible’ methodology, leaders identified the storage problem and determined a solution to fix it.

The Art of the Possible concept challenges leaders to concentrate on developing people, managing resources and improving processes to maximize productivity while maintaining quality and safety.

The squadron contracted with Southwest Solutions Group to install an advanced ACTIVRAC 16 high-density mobile storage shelving system along with non-movable permanent shelves to fix the issue.

The system, which cost $652,000, was installed and operational within six months of purchase.

The mobile storage system is a three-tiered shelf rack,14-feet high, and mounted on rails with 13 movable sections known as carriages. Each carriage is nine-feet wide and 47-feet long. Each carriage holds between 20-30 crates weighing up to 39,000 pounds and moves on a track independently or together with some or all other carriages.

Warehouse personnel now know precisely when crates are needed and where they are in the facility.

“Most important to the system is that one person can now retrieve an FOM crate in less than five minutes,” Yznaga said.

The new system has reduced labor hours 97 percent and projected to save almost $40,000 per year.

Additionally, the system decreased the storage foot print by approximately 5,700 square feet, netting more savings and benefits.

Most important, is the immediate benefit of just-in-time delivery of crates to production facilities.

This new storage system dramatically improved the flow and accountability of thousands of T-38 parts for PC-III modifications.

Thus, the 575th AMXS can provide the Air Force pilot training program with safe and reliable aircraft in a timely manner for years to come.