MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Maintenance groups (MXG) Air Force wide dedicate countless hours to maintaining, repairing and inspecting aircraft in order to ensure mission capabilities. A recurring problem faced by many maintenance groups, such as the 35th MXG here at Misawa Air Base, Japan, is a high demand mission in an under-manned career field.
“In the maintenance world, the conventional approach is to work on any broken aircraft or equipment immediately regardless of if you have all of the tools, parts or maintainers to complete the job,” said Maj. Carrie Dumlao, 35th Maintenance Squadron operations officer. “We believed that as long as we started the work to fix it, we were making progress.”
Leadership from the 35th MXG realized this mentality was not practical, since it causes stress on personnel and delays essential maintenance.
This is where the Theory of Constraints (TOC) concept comes into play.
First introduced by Eliyahu Goldratt in his 1984 book “The Goal”, the TOC is described as a methodology for identifying the most important limiting factor standing in the way of achieving a goal and then systematically improving that constraint until it is no longer the limiting factor.
Since its creation, TOC has been a philosophy adopted by major marketing companies and, as recently as 2019, military installations to increase productivity, decrease parts production time and save money.
Dumlao explained, “How many times do you come into work, open your email, wait for something to load, open another email and start the response, then take a phone call only to realize you have started eight different things, but actually completed nothing and it is now noon? MXG was facing this same dilemma except with working on aircraft; that’s the reason we implemented TOC.”
TOC is a mentality shift that improves workflow by removing unnecessary maintenance multitasking, which ultimately reduces the number of aircraft in a ‘work-in-progress’ status.
In other words, it allows maintenance groups to focus the majority of their efforts on one jet at a time, utilizing teamwork to fully accomplish the maintenance mission.
“We are teaching our maintainers that it is okay to let work wait while we work other jobs from start to finish,” said Dumlao. “This way of working on aircraft allows us to determine our weakest link, such as not enough personnel, and find ways to strengthen that weakness by keeping maintainers focused on one job at a time.”
Dumlao stated maintenance has always tried to fix every broken jet at once, but with TOC, they have learned that multi-tasking creates an illusion of accomplishing a lot, while in reality it completes very little.
Although a new concept in the Air Force with a smaller data set to prove effectiveness and productivity, the 35th MXG has seen a quarterly improvement since the implementation of TOC approximately six months ago. The decision to test TOC on MXG units was made by squadron leadership in efforts to find innovative solutions to daily issues.
So far, Misawa has decreased 311 maintenance inspections per quarter by pooling resources and creating unique kits delivered to maintainers. This process also known as “kitting” is used to maximize mechanic touch time and eliminate waste while providing a quality product.
Currently, results approximate 60 hours of availability were returned to MXG. These hours were then used on professional development and additional training for Airmen. Early results also display an increase in fuel tank availability for aircraft by 18% due to dedicated manpower and reorganized workflow, allowing pilots to receive more time in air, ultimately increasing combat readiness.
The TOC methodology, not only beneficial to maintenance groups, is being implemented across the Air Force to train Airmen in all career fields on the concept to identify constraints and work to create solutions.
“Other bases like Kadena have actually applied it to their logistics readiness squadron, force support squadron, security forces and the post office,” said Dumlao. “There are many other bases that have started TOC as well, such as Shaw, Hill, Fairchild and Mountain Home Air Forces Bases.”
The 35th MXG is innovating; increasing readiness and creating more stable workloads for Airmen, while saving time and money.
“The maintenance Airmen at Misawa Air Base are one of the first in the Air Force to push and accelerate this new change in the Indo-Pacific region by operationalizing the mentality of TOC,” said Col. Jesse J. Friedel, 35th Fighter Wing commander. “We are looking to utilize TOC across more units on base to improve our defensive and offensive capabilities, ensuring our competitive advantage, while protecting our assets and personnel in the future.”