ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Georgia – A parts supply concept is improving support for maintainers at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, and members of the partnership executing the initiative credit the success to their relationship with each other – with an added boost from automation.
The Industrial Prime Vendor program is a customer-oriented, supply-chain management strategy that transfers complete responsibility for bench stock material to a third-party vendor. For mechanics and planners, bench stock is the hardware – rivets, hi-locks, fasteners – essential in the work of programmed depot maintenance of aircraft.
“It’s the 5-cent part that’ll stop a million dollar item from moving,” Ken Josey, chief of ALC production support/home office in the Workload Analysis Section of the WR-ALC Business Operations Office, said. “IPV is about making sure our maintainer has the parts they need. The bottom line is the maintainer has to have the part they need to perform their tasks.”
Mechanics retrieve those needed items from bins in the complex work areas. Ideally, a mechanic should never find a bin empty, a condition called a First Pass Acceptance. An FPA can mean a work stoppage, which means the ALC is not fulfilling its ultimate mission of getting combat-ready weapon systems back to the warfighter in a timely fashion.
Over the past year, the IPV program has neared perfection in supplying bench stock items, Josey said. In late September, the fill rate in bins across WR-ALC aircraft, electronics and commodities shops stood at 99.985 percent with 36 bins out of 54,256 being empty.
According to Josey, the original “road to” goal was to have no more than 50 empty bins at one time. Having met that initial goal, the IPV team has reduced the target to 30.
Could a 100 percent full bin scenario ever become a reality?
“I think it is possible, but difficult,” Josey said. “It’s a moving target until we hit zero. So yeah, you can say it’s a success. But we still have, at a minimum, 36 maintainers waiting for parts, which is not good. I say we’re not fully successful because we have bins empty. At the same time, we know the process is working.”
The big reason for the IPV success, Josey said, is the exemplary teamwork at the heart of the partnership that operates the supply-management program.
“Collaboration,” he said, emphasizing a word often used by the team when explaining the IPV success. “The communication between the team members. It’s a team effort. It’s not three different team members. When you hear the term ‘Team Robins,’ that’s what this group is all about.”
Leaders from each segment of the IPV partnership – Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, which lets the contract, Lockheed Martin Corp., and WR-ALC – echo Josey’s sentiments.
“We all work as a unit,” Rob McCormick, section chief of Hazardous Materials, IPV and Priority Sell for DLA Aviation, said. “We’re all working in support of the mechanic, the men and women turning the wrenches. It’s a team effort. If we work together, the PDM lines succeed and push the aircraft through in the scheduled timeframe.”
“We do work so closely together,” Sherry Stanovich, Lockheed Martin LPV site manager, said. “That’s why we have been successful. We battle the issues and we resolve them together.”
The IPV program for ALCs wasn’t an overnight success.
In its infancy, the first generation of the IPV partnership struggled with increased costs across the Department of Defense, according to a June 2002 report from the DoD Office of the Inspector General. Now in its third generation at Robins, which began July 5, 2017, IPV has started proving its worth over the past year.
Through 10 years from Generation 2 to Generation 3, the IPV players have changed at Robins with Lockheed Martin joining the partnership.
Stanovich said it was “a struggle” from generation to generation of IPV, but the partnership successfully brought the program to a “steady state.” Keeping the IPV team leadership intact and maintaining a business rhythm throughout the years were keys.
“When we transitioned from Gen. 1 to Gen. 2, we tried to keep everything as normalized as possible,” Stanovich said.
Of particular import, according to Stanovich, was her company’s “constantly meeting with customers” and weekly get-togethers with the IPV partners at Robins.
“If it weren’t for those meetings – those collaborative meetings – I don’t think this would be successful,” Stanovich said.
McCormick sang the praises of “face-to-face” work sessions, as well. He said multiple meetings were conducted per week, and stressed that these were “collaborative meetings.”
Contracting officers at DLA Headquarters in Richmond, Va., were regularly involved, as well, bringing all involved partners together to take any corrective action necessary.
“We’re actually the eyes and ears of the contracting office, which resides in Richmond,” McCormick said of DLA Aviation. “So meetings here are collaborative four ways.”
A notable change for IPV Generation 3 was in ownership of the parts. Previously, the Air Force kept full ownership. Now, the supplier owns a part until it is vended to the Air Force bin or kit. Josey said this has led to the driving down of costs; particularly “carrying costs,” which he defined as “the costs of keeping an inventory.”
To get the supply line in better working order, the IPV team accomplished some “aggressive right sizing.” More than 43,000 bins were eliminated in the complex shops and WR-ALC received $9.5 million of an $11 million credit from items returned to DLA. The team also worked to approve customer awareness of the IPV process.
Stanovich said while there are “still bumps,” the IPV system is improving things for everyone in the supply chain.
“You know, supply is not an easy game to play. But we are always trying to meet those challenges to prevent those (problems) from going forward.”
The IPV program begins with the users – the maintainers and planners in the shops of WR-ALC. A software package, the Automatic Order Tracking System or AOTS, is utilized for internal communications down the IPV chain. It identifies needed parts and tracks them throughout the supply line which runs from the complex shops to a central interface with DLA Aviation, then to Lockheed Martin.
At the starting point, automation has made a significant difference in the IPV program’s success at supporting the mechanics on the line. Like the IPV program itself, implementation of a machine known as the Autocrib wasn’t an immediate hit, but it has gained the confidence of the work force as it keeps bins stocked and mechanics working.
John Kiewig, director of the 402nd Maintenance Support Squadron with the 402nd Maintenance Group, compared the Autocrib to a food vending machine.
“You punch in a number. You’re expecting to get a sandwich out,” he said. In the case, the mechanic is getting a part he needs to do his job.
He also said Autocrib resembles a retail store’s self-checkout unit. The customer touches a photo of an item, and the apparatus records the transaction.
Mechanics access the Autocrib parts bins with their base identification, the Common Access Card. When bench stock is removed from the bin for use, the transaction is electronically recorded. DLA Aviation automatically receives the transmission from the system and knows when a bin needs to be filled. Lockheed Martin is then tasked and has 24 hours to supply the needed parts to the bins back at Robins.
Kiewig said, prior to Autocrib, a mechanic had to inform a supervisor when parts were no longer available in the bin. Now, there is no work stoppage, and no guessing how much bench stock is on hand or where it went.