New automated program enhances safety, efficiency

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- In the world of aircraft maintenance, whether or not a problem can be fixed sometimes isn’t so much about the nature of the repair as it is the tools that are available to the people doing the work. 

To ensure members of the 419th Combat Logistics Support Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have the right tools to do their jobs, the unit turned to Senior Master Sgt. Robert Madsen and his team of supply specialists.

“When I was first asked to oversee this project, I noticed we had tool kits with incomplete inventories, tools inside of kits that weren’t properly labeled ... just a lot of problems,” Sergeant Madsen said. “I talked to anybody who had anything to do with tools on the base to find out more information about the guidelines we were expected to follow to better manage our program.”

It quickly became apparent to the sergeant that squadron officials had two basic options to consider when addressing the issue of tool control.

“We could go through and fix the tools according to the process we were following or we could essentially start over,” he said.

Starting over would mean scrapping hand receipts and traditional methods of tracking equipment in favor of using hand-held scanners, bar codes and computer databases. The Air Force had recently introduced its new Tool Accountability System, but a majority of units had not made the conversion.

TAS was developed to be the Air Force standard tool control method for aircraft maintenance at the base level. The program maintains permanent records of tools and where they are used. In a matter of seconds, it can tell supervisors a variety of information, including who has what tools and where they have been used. In addition, the system provides a method for tracking materials and spare parts.

“It was obvious to us that TAS was going to be a requirement in the near future,” Sergeant Madsen said. “I felt if we were going to improve our process for tool accountability, we should do it right and take the steps necessary to implement TAS.

“We went through more than 200 tool kits etching new numbers on each item, which translated into literally thousands of tools. This was an enormous undertaking. We acquired the TAS equipment — the bar code printer and scanners — and brought it online sooner than several active-duty units.”

Sergeant Madsen and his team of supply specialists worked during drill weekends, evenings and occasional man-days for more than 12 months before declaring the computer-based inventory system ready for use.

“TAS has significantly shortened the time it takes to sign out tools, get to the job and return them afterward,” said Tech. Sgt. Walden Wilson, NCO in charge of the tool room. “It has also given us almost 100 percent accountability for tools, which reduces FOD.”

FOD stands for foreign object damage. Tools inadvertently left in engines and airframes after maintenance are a significant contributor to FOD, costing the Air Force millions of dollars each year.

“The amount of information we can load into TAS has allowed us to streamline our (maintenance) operations,” Sergeant Walden said.

In fact, squadron members did such a good job implementing TAS that the unit’s senior leaders decided to have them address another vital, yet outdated, asset.

The “war wagon,” as it is affectionately known to CLSS members, is a 15-foot olive-drab trailer used to perform composite repairs on aircraft in a combat environment. Air Force officials have fluctuated between classifying it as a training and war reserve materiel asset. WRM assets are deployment equipment and mission-essential materiel required in addition to primary operating stocks for accomplishing objectives in a combat environment.

Currently, the trailer is used for local training and is not considered a WRM asset. Regardless of how it’s classified, the war wagon has to be ready when the unit receives deployment taskings, Sergeant Madsen said.

When members began to inventory the old wagon, they found several problems, including duplicate items, tools that needed to be replaced and many tools that needed to be renumbered.

The root of the problem, squadron members discovered, was the fact that the wagon didn’t offer enough room to properly organize and store all of the required items.

Master Sgt. Curtis Cottrell went to work obtaining a trailer from another unit in the 419th Fighter Wing and modified it to meet the unit’s needs, while keeping it within requirements specified by Air Force regulations.

Sergeant Madsen located a condemned trailer at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, or “boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. The trailer contained many serviceable items, and the unit brought them back to Hill AFB to ensure the war wagon had all of the required materials.

“We’re working on getting TAS loaded on the trailer so members can check out tools much like they would from the tool room,” said Capt. Travis Hansen, chief of maintenance in the 419th CLSS. “The system really is bringing us into the 21st century as far as aircraft maintenance and battle-damage repair go.”

The captain said the squadron accomplished all of the work as a self-help project.

“Our members are extremely resourceful,” he said. “They truly never cease to amaze me.”

(Major Wilson is chief of public affairs for the 419th FW at Hill AFB.)

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