76 AMXG hosts automobile collision industry consortium

Chuck Alley, 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production flight chief, talks to automobile collision industry experts May 18 at Tinker AFB, Okla. Throughout the day, the experts worked with the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group to discuss better business practices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Faytinger)

Chuck Alley, 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production flight chief, talks to automobile collision industry experts May 18 at Tinker AFB, Okla. Throughout the day, the experts worked with the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group to discuss better business practices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Faytinger)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Automobile collision industry representatives ventured to Tinker Air Force Base May 18 to discuss better business practices with the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group. Having recently discovered the unlikely ally, 76 AMXG leadership said they believed both industries would benefit by sharing ideas and benefits gained from Lean processes.

Throughout the day, the 17 representatives from around the country heard briefings and toured aircraft maintenance group facilities. They learned how changed processes improved the organization and how they are better suited for the future.

"We go out and benchmark a lot of other industries and now other industries are coming in and learning from us," said Kevin O'Connor, 76 AMXG deputy director. "They are people you might not expect, from completely different industries seeking ways to learn from the Air Force and the successes we have had."

The idea for the event came when Mr. O'Connor and a friend from his college days at Oklahoma State University, Brian Roberson, a senior executive at PPG Industries, found themselves repeatedly talking about the challenges within their two industries. 

As they realized they were more alike than different and faced similar challenges, their discussions blossomed in a new direction -- toward seeing Tinker's successes firsthand.

Mr. Roberson introduced Mr. O'Connor to Randy Dewing, a senior business solutions manager with PPG, who is part of a collision-industry consortium that meets once a year and benchmarks off other companies or organizations that have had success using Lean tools.

"For my customers that are here, I hope they get a better understanding of the bigger picture of Lean and how it applies across different industries," Mr. Dewing said. "Seeing the similarities between what they have to do and what you guys do, and the process you used to improve your cycle time in your organization is the exact same thing these guys have to do. But, seeing others do it and take it on this large of a scale, it proves to them they can do it on their much smaller scale."

Steve Seidner of Seidner's Collision Centers in Duarte, Calif., agreed.

"The biggest difference is the size of our organization; it's much smaller than Tinker," he said. "Our organization is 200 people in 11 locations and this is a much larger scale with many more resources."

While the size of the product varies greatly, Mr. O'Connor said the two industries face similar challenges: getting parts, tackling process improvement issues, assessing missed damage and attacking the unknown.

David Mulder of Collision Centers of America in Woodridge, Ill., said his company has utilized Lean and Six Sigma processes for the past five years, and after seeing what's going on at Tinker, he knows what he'll take back to Illinois with him.

"I think the importance of staying focused on the process is what we'll take home from this," he said. "It's easy to abandon it because of employee resistance, but we need to keep focused."