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Lean principles reduce antenna repair times

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Since adopting Lean principles, the F-16 Antenna Shop here has improved efficiency, cut costs and enabled F-16 pilots to fly without worrying about their radar.

When an F-16 antenna shows signs of failure, it is replaced with a spare and the defective antenna sent to the shop for repair. Using Lean principles, shop mechanics have reduced flow days -- repair time measured from when the antenna arrived at the shop until work is completed and the part shipped out -- from 28 days to three. Work in progress has been reduced from 67 to 16 antennas, and the cost to customers has been reduced by $2,000 per antenna.

The nine-person shop, part of the 523rd Electronics Maintenance Squadron (Avionics), 309th Electronics Maintenance Group, started its Lean project in January 2005. Project goals included significant reductions in flow days, back orders, work in progress and customer wait time.

According to Bill Wilmot, Radio Frequency Shop supervisor, the shop no longer is causing the aircraft to sit on the ground, waiting for an antenna.

"Introducing Lean helped streamline our process and improve the quality and reliability of the antennas we produce," Mr. Wilmot said. "We have also saved the Air Force time and money by increasing the reliability of the antennas. Time between antenna failures has increased from 425 hours to more than 660 hours, resulting in the antenna being on the aircraft longer. This is a true savings because the work and time required to remove and replace the antenna is not a simple operation."

In addition, "mission incapable" aircraft -- unable to fly without the radar antenna -- has been reduced to zero, as have back orders for the antenna.

"We used to just repair the broken parts," Mr. Wilmot said, "but we've found that rebuilding the antennas helped improved their quality and help them remain longer in the field."

He said the workers willingly adopted the changes brought on by Lean.

"We started out with baby steps to get the people used to the Lean change. We took it slowly and people adapted to it quickly," Mr. Wilmot said. "Once they saw the Lean process worked, they got excited and added more to it to bring it to what it is today.

"The key was buy-in by all the workers," he added. "Once they seen this project work, they bought into it. I give them credit for bringing good ideas to the table for the project."