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Room to grow: transition into Bldg. 9001 leads to transformation in 551st CMMXS

Robert Thompson, 551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanic, installs the lower skin on a B-52 side cowling.  The B-52 Side Cowling Shop at Bldg. 9001 is one of many areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

Robert Thompson, 551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanic, installs the lower skin on a B-52 side cowling. The B-52 Side Cowling Shop at Bldg. 9001 is one of many areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

Painters Marlin Woods and Jason Blackburn, with the 551st CMMXS, remove masking from a B-52 side cowl.  The Paint Curing and De-Masking area is the "end of the line" for parts that are complete and ready to leave Bldg. 9001.  It is also one of many production areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Bldg. 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

Painters Marlin Woods and Jason Blackburn, with the 551st CMMXS, remove masking from a B-52 side cowl. The Paint Curing and De-Masking area is the "end of the line" for parts that are complete and ready to leave Bldg. 9001. It is also one of many production areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Bldg. 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanics, Matt Mansell and Enoch Hasbell, work at setting a latch stringer on a B-52 wrap cowl.  The Wrap Cowls Shop is one of many production areas that the 551 CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Building 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanics, Matt Mansell and Enoch Hasbell, work at setting a latch stringer on a B-52 wrap cowl. The Wrap Cowls Shop is one of many production areas that the 551 CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Building 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

Linda Osborne, 551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanic, installs nut plates on a moon rib of a KC-135 rudder.  The KC-135 Rudder Shop is one of many production areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Bldg. 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

Linda Osborne, 551st CMMXS sheet metal mechanic, installs nut plates on a moon rib of a KC-135 rudder. The KC-135 Rudder Shop is one of many production areas that the 551st CMMXS has implemented One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line improvements at Bldg. 9001. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

A long view of the B-52 Side Cowling Shop at Bldg. 9001 shows assembly line improvements made as part of the One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line concept implemented by the 551st CMMXS. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

A long view of the B-52 Side Cowling Shop at Bldg. 9001 shows assembly line improvements made as part of the One-Piece Modular Flow Assembly Line concept implemented by the 551st CMMXS. (Air Force photos by Dave Faytinger)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The 551st Commodities Maintenance Squadron is currently a prominent part of the largest facility transformation in Air Force Materiel Command history.

Bldg. 9001, the former General Motors automotive plant, spans across 407 acres. Many units began the transition from their old facilities to this building in 2009 and the final move-ins are scheduled to be complete by 2013.

The 551st represents about 50 percent of the entire 76th Commodities Maintenance Group.

"The commodities mission statement is to provide flexible and responsive manufacturing and repair of aerospace components for the warfighter," said Justin Hottle, production section chief in the 551st CMMXS. "We consolidated roughly 700 employees from three buildings into one, and we did it all organically."

The shift to Bldg. 9001 also has enhanced the working atmosphere for employees, with new lights, flooring and workstations, and the building is environmentally controlled as well. With nearly 20 metal shops, the 551st primarily works on sheet metal for several aircraft weapon systems including the B-1B Lancer, B-52H Stratofortress, E-3 Sentry (AWACS) and the KC-135R/T Stratotanker. This metal work represents 90 percent of the squadron's workload and the other 10 percent involves working with composite materials.

The sheet metal shops are set up as workstations where employees repair different commodities, or aircraft parts. Each part starts at the paint stripping area. Then parts are routed to the tear-down/inspection area before going to the repair shop. Once the repairs have been made, the part is routed back to the paint area. The final stage in the repair of an aircraft commodity is when it is sold to customers on the depot level and field level for the Air Force and Navy.

Before the transition, the 551st mission was divided among several buildings. The parts would travel from one building to another as each stage of the process was finished, causing a delay in the overall process and workflow. With everything now under one roof, it ultimately allows the production processes to run more smoothly and effectively in a more time-efficient manner.

"We really faced a huge challenge in the routing of our parts at a large time and monetary expense," Mr. Hottle said. "Here, we are just a few feet away from each other so there is really zero wait time."

The 551st team doesn't consider a commodity completely finished until it has been sold.

"Flow time begins accumulating upon induction of an asset (part) into our organization. The clock does not stop until that asset has been completed and sold to the customer," Mr. Hottle said. "We produce roughly 35 end items (parts) a day."

The 551st continuously works on process improvement initiatives, and have leaned out many methods.

"Our biggest asset is the implementation of a one-piece modular flow instead of the old cradle to grave philosophy. It's just affected everything we do in every one of our areas in a positive way," Mr. Hottle said.

Employees are a large portion of why the 551st transition, primarily including production, has been so successful. Mr. Hottle said employees within the department are certified in certain lean initiatives, which means they are coming up with ideas to consistently improve the quality of the squadron.

"This is not necessarily a management-driven change; it's been an employee-driven change," Mr. Hottle said.

Susan Kendrick, sheet metal mechanic, helps lead and incorporate these initiatives among her fellow employees. They meet on a weekly basis.

"We make sure it is the mechanics on the floor that meet because they are the ones who work every day," Ms. Kendrick said. "My ultimate job is to help them get their ideas out, help them rationalize and work it through together," she said. "It increases the production significantly. They don't feel like they are set on fire all the time, or rushing. There's a steady beat to it."

Since the move into Bldg. 9001, overall production turn-time of parts has gradually decreased. In the painting unit, process touch-time has been cut from 90 or more hours to 40 hours, which was accomplished in only three months.