June 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 2  
Main Feature

'A hidden gem'

Structural Repair Facility helps keep F/A-18s flying, models best practices


'A hidden gem'There's a letter on display at the Williams Gateway site in Mesa, Ariz. It's from Lt. Cmdr. Albert Medford of the U.S. Navy, and it reads in part: "Your phenomenal efforts … directly contributed to the high levels of success the United States achieved … in the war against terrorism in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom."

That letter, along with an American flag encased in glass, is a gift to the Structural Repair Facility Team at Williams Gateway. For the past eight years, the Structural Repair Team, part of the Boeing IDS Support Systems group, has created better, faster, and more innovative ways to repair thousands of aircraft components for the U.S. Navy's F/A-18 fleet.

The team has saved the U.S. Navy money, kept a fleet of aircraft vital to the U. S. military in tip-top shape and become known for several of its best practices across Boeing. Since its inception, the center has achieved a 77 percent total reduction in price for the repair of parts for the Navy and repaired more than 4,000 parts.

"The Structural Repair Facility is a hidden gem," said Program Manager Don Leap. "There is not a C- or D-model F/A-18 that doesn't contain a component repaired by the team. We have become the Navy's location of choice for repairing ailerons, trailing edge flaps and horizontal stabilators."

A team of about 40 men and women were hired in 1997 in Arizona to repair components, such as flight controls, trailing edges, flaps, leading edge flaps, horizontal stabilators, outer wing panels, doors and tail hooks. Thirty-six of the 40 original hires are still on the team.

"These guys are artisans," said Mac Bolton, manager of the Williams Gateway Facility. "The key to their success is they bring a breadth of experience from both military and commercial airplanes. They help the engineers identify what needs to be done; they define the repair, and then do the repairs."

Among these artisans is Maveya Hayes, who operates a one-employee tail hook overhaul and repair shop. In 1998 when the facility got the program, the Navy had 400 tail hooks on backorder. Within two years, the team was putting them on the shelves; today, there are 300 on the shelves and a steady flow of them coming, she said. "We've also shaved three to five hours off the repair of each, which really adds up," Hayes added.

Best practices modeled

It used to take the Navy depot 270 hours to X-ray individual parts, taking the photos and developing them. With support from Boeing Phantom Works, the Structural Repair Facility has cut the time to eight hours by developing and using a unique, real-time digital X-ray machine. The site has been validated in 2004 as the Navy's program of choice and has cut costs by 80 percent in this critical Non-Destructive Inspection area. The savings came through eliminating film, chemicals and hazardous-material disposal costs. The site has made this process a best practice within Boeing.

'A hidden gem'"Now we can take a high-resolution image and interpret what needs to be done, save it as a JPG [a common computer-file format for images] and e-mail it, instead of mailing it to Engineering," said X-ray Technician Brent Lee. "The cost and time savings are incredible."

Parts tracking is another area where the repair facility has set the standards for a best practice. The facility uses tablet PCs—laptop computers that have a screen users can write information on. As employees use the tablet PC to document the status of a component, the information goes directly to a central database. This replaces the tedious process of using paper and spreadsheets, Leap said. Teams from across Boeing are visiting the site to benchmark this process. "Now it's all done in real time," Leap said. "I can look [up] a unit on the floor and see what is going on with it. Parts are tracked by serial numbers and we can run sold units, scrap rate and shipping reports."

The Structural Repair Facility also has successfully piloted and put in use a new bonding and compounding composite process, created by Boeing in St. Louis, to enable the repair of larger contoured parts, such as wings, said Composite Lead John Bourland.

One could say sheet metal expert Bob Mayer is the embodiment of a best practice himself. He has created dozens of tools, shop aids and parts that have saved time, money and simplified the jobs of his teammates. "My job is to make other's jobs easier," he said.

One of Mayer's tools to help repair hinges on the trailing edge flaps has saved 35 hinges so far, said Technical Lead Randy Olson. With hinges costing $10,000 to replace and only $3,500 to repair, the savings is substantial. So far, in the last three years the tool has saved more than $150,000.

Mayer has also created drilling templates for technicians to mark areas where holes need to be drilled on parts. "It saves hours per part when we can just drill the holes instead of having to lay it all out," said Aileron Technical Lead John Sanderson.

League of their own

There are ample opinions on just what makes the Structural Repair Team so special.

The nine self-directed High Performance Work Teams in the group help resolve issues and promote goodwill, team members said.

"We don't pay attention to the 'what ifs.' We just identify the problems and come up with solutions," said Sheet Metal Mechanic John Arsennault. "Then we submit the solutions to Engineering and get back to work. We're not a group to dwell on problems. We keep the flow moving and we're willing to take new ideas and not say 'this is how we always did it.' No one else in the world can do what we do."

"We have years of experience on this team, which is what makes us unique," said Bourland. "There is not an aircraft out there that someone in here hasn't worked on."


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