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Tinker mechanic's two 'cool' C-130 IDEAS

Keven Merrill’s idea to weld an aluminum bar to C-130 oil coolers with a leak is just one of his two suggestions submitted to the Innovative Development through Employee Awareness, or IDEA, program. Both submissions have been approved. (Courtesy photo)

Keven Merrill’s idea to weld an aluminum bar to C-130 oil coolers with a leak is just one of his two suggestions submitted to the Innovative Development through Employee Awareness, or IDEA, program. Both submissions have been approved. (Courtesy photo)

Sitting across the runway from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport a lone 133rd Airlift Wing  C-130 “Hercules” awaits a mission assignment October 12, 2012. The 133rd provides the U.S. Air Force with tactical airlift support as well as support to the state of Minnesota in case of disaster or emergency. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson/released

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Yokota Air Base, Japan--Airman from the 36th Contingency Response Group, out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam parachute out of a C-130 Hercules located here on 18 Mar. The Airman of the 36th CRG are a rapid deployable unit capable of providing initial Air Force presence potentially austere forward operation locations. (United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brian Kimball)

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TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Keven Merrill is on a roll. The 551st Commodities Maintenance Squadron Tank and Cooler Repair Shop mechanic recently participated in the Innovative Development through Employee Awareness, or IDEA, program. He submitted two proposals and both were approved. Together, they will save the Air Force thousands of dollars.

Mr. Merrill proposed an idea to repair a C-130 Hercules oil cooler, which due to the warranty previously would have been condemned. Each of those pieces cost $2,915. Mr. Merrill also submitted an idea that allows mechanics working in the field to use serviceable C-130 thermostats instead of automatically replacing them. Each thermostat costs $880.

"There's no reason to be condemning parts that can be fixed," said Mr. Merrill. "There had to be a better way."

Within the shop, C-130 oil coolers are overhauled. If, during the process, one unit is found to have any leaks in the core, it is supposed to be sent back to the original equipment manufacturer under warranty because there is no other fix for the part. Yet, Mr. Merrill said the company is no longer honoring the warranty and the pieces were being condemned.

Mr. Merrill suggested for pieces that have a leak, welding in an aluminum bar to seal up one of the passages. He ran the idea by the engineers, who approved it. Should an oil cooler have more than one leak, the part is condemned.

"Most of the damage is in the first five rows from tiny pebbles that are sucked off the tarmac," Mr. Merrill said.

In the past year-and-a-half since Mr. Merrill's idea was approved, 15 to 20 oil coolers have been saved.

Mr. Merrill first submitted the idea in summer 2011. In 2012, he received official approval notice and roughly three weeks ago, he received his monetary award. Mr. Merrill, along with a co-worker and 552nd Commodities Maintenance Squadron Tank and Cooler Welder Chuck Stacy, jointly submitted the proposal and the two split the monetary award.
With his portion, Mr. Merrill said he used the money to remodel his home kitchen in Oklahoma City and fix his 1995 Chevy Tahoe. He submitted his second idea in May 2013. Having already been through the process, he knew the ups and downs and the questions that might be asked.

His second idea, which he submitted on his own, allows mechanics in the field to have the option to use one of two C-130 oil cooler thermostats while making repairs.

Previously, the technical order only allowed mechanics to use one specific thermostat. If an oil cooler comes in with a serviceable thermostat which could theoretically be reused, it was still replaced with the only allowed series thermostat.

"I said, 'Well, we just need to make a simple T.O. change,'" Mr. Merrill said. "It saved us ordering roughly an $880 thermostat to use the existing thermostat that came in with the oil cooler. "Before we were condemning a good thermostat; now we can use either one."
The 76th Maintenance Wing Validation Committee approved the proposal in September 2012. Mr. Merrill said he'll use the money to finish his kitchen remodeling project.

Since 1995, Air Force employees -- civilians and military -- have submitted process improvement and resource savings ideas through the IDEA incentive program. As of June 1, the IDEA Program is suspended. At this time there is no guidance on the new process.

If an idea was implemented and tangible savings/intangible benefits were realized, the appropriate submitter would have received a monetary reward - between $200 and $10,000.