OC-ALC’s 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron Brings Home DoD Award

  • Published
  • By Mark Hybers
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron’s F135 Heavy Maintenance Center won the Robert T. Mason Award for Depot Maintenance Excellence, which was presented at the awards banquet held in conjunction with 2022 DoD Maintenance Symposium at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida on December 13, 2022.

The squadron competed with nine other depot-level programs from all DoD Military Services.

"The 544th’s engaged leadership and precise application of the Air Force Sustainment Center’s “Art of the Possible” production management methodology combined to dramatically increase F135 engine production,” said Maj. Gen. Jeff King, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex commander. “I'm proud of the team for taking home this well-deserved DoD award."

The F-35 Lightning II faced unforeseen engine challenges, causing a large portion of the fleet to be grounded, and the 544 PMXS F135 Heavy Maintenance Center answered the call for help.

In January 2021, it took an average of 244 days to repair an F135 engine that suffered a condition requiring an unscheduled removal, and the shop could only work on 12 power modules simultaneously.  Leveraging theory of constraints principles, the production team knew they needed to reduce flow days to 122 per engine and increase production capacity to simultaneously work 21 power modules.

The team used Art of the Possible, a unique blend of theory of constrains and continuous process improvement techniques, to find constraints and implement solutions.  The process was instrumental in reducing flow days from 244 to just 105.

The team started by scripting the entire repair process and grouped like activities into gates, then further sequenced activities by defining micro-gates to optimize production activities.  This process identified production constraints, such as lack of equipment, technician training, materiel shortages, joint technical data shortfalls, delayed engineering response times, and more.

The team aggressively engaged with partners at the F-35 Joint Program Office and Pratt & Whitney to close the gaps. By December 2021, the team eliminated 100 flow days and shaved 38 more by May 2022.  In total, the team reduced F135 Power Module (which is the heart of the engine) flow days to an average of 105 days; a 60 percent faster return to warfighters.

“The team increased Power Module output from 14 in 2020 to 51 in 2021 and 73 in 2022” said David Herrera, 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron director. “That reflects  an estimated 27 percent increase over 2021 and a 400 percent increase over 2020’s production total.”

Ms. Bobby Hager, 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group Deputy Director added, “The F135 HMC is the largest and most capable of the seven F135 depot network nodes, and it is currently the program’s only organic depot-level repair activity.  The unit repairs more than half of all the F135 engines for the Air Force and our Navy, Marine and Partner Nation counterparts. There is no doubt the F135 HMC’s rapid increase in production was pivotal in reducing 48 F-35s grounded awaiting an engine in 2021 to just two by mid-December 2022.”