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Robins U.S. Air Force Base - Lean Implementation


Robins Air Force Base (AFB)—the largest industrial complex in Georgia—is home to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, a major depot for repairing aircraft and producing spare parts for the U.S. Air Force. The Air Logistics Center is responsible for depot-level repairs for the Air Force’s F-15 fighter aircraft and the C-5 and C-130 transport aircraft. It provides support for 11 types of cargo and utility aircraft, four series of helicopters, three types of remotely piloted vehicles, and eight missile systems. Robins AFB is also a technology repair center for airborne electronics, gyroscopes, and life support systems for the Air Force.

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Lean Initiative Background

Robins AFB started to implement lean in May 1999 with pilot projects in the F-15 avionics and wing shops, after being faced with base closures, outsourcing of military repair and maintenance operations, and growing national pressures to delay purchasing new aircraft while relying, instead, on those in service. By September 2002, Robins AFB had extended lean to all of its depot repair processes and had begun applying lean outside of maintenance operations, including administrative processes. Robins AFB uses external consultants as well as internal lean “change agents” to guide its lean efforts.

Robins AFB uses the following lean methods, among others:

  • 6S (Straighten, Sort, Shine, Standardize, Sustain, and Safety)
  • Value stream mapping
  • Rapid improvement events (i.e., kaizen events)
  • Standard work
  • Point-of-use (POU) storage
  • Cellular manufacturing / one-piece flow
  • Strategy alignment and deployment (i.e., policy deployment or hoshin kanri)

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Lean and Environmental Management Integration

Robins AFB has taken a variety of steps to integrate its lean and environmental management efforts. Initially, these efforts focused on ensuring that process changes resulting from lean events were regulatory compliant. More recently, Robins AFB has applied lean techniques to its own administrative and environmental, safety, and occupational health (ESOH) processes and has adapted its pollution prevention methodology to closely align it with lean process improvement events.

To foster lean-environmental integration, ESOH staff engages lean practitioners by:

  • Verifying upcoming lean events weekly
  • Participating in lean events to identify environmental improvement and pollution prevention (P2) opportunities that also meet lean operational goals
  • Training lean facilitators in areas where environmental assistance may be needed
  • Developing lean event checklists to help lean facilitators to identify potential areas of ESOH concern
  • Sponsoring ESOH-led lean events to reduce major environmental impacts in repair and maintenance operations
  • Embedding points of ESOH interest—including compliance and liability concerns and environmental data reporting streams— in lean value-stream maps

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Examples: Lean Projects and Results

Chemical Point-of-Use Cabinets and Waste Collection

Robins AFB instituted lean, point-of-use (POU) cabinet systems for hazardous materials used on the shop floor to reduce the time and distance that workers travel to retrieve hazardous materials. These chemical POU storage cabinets have initial accumulation points associated with them for collecting hazardous wastes from work cells. Robins AFB designed and implemented these POU systems using lean rapid process improvement events, 6S, and visual controls. In addition, Robins AFB has developed a POU request form that allows ESOH personnel to review proposals for POU cabinets and ensure that the applicable requirements will be met for each chemical included in the cabinets. Installing POU cabinets has reduced travel time, saved 1,500 miles of worker travel, and decreased hazardous materials use and hazardous waste generation by 20 percent on the flight line, even while production was increasing. In one shop, hazardous materials use and hazardous waste generation decreased by 50 percent.

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Applying Lean to Hazardous Waste Management Processes

Robins AFB applied lean techniques–-such as Value-Stream Mapping, standard work, and 6S—to its hazardous waste management processes to reduce the lead time for collecting and hauling away hazardous wastes. After examining the non-value added time in its process, Robins AFB instituted a new system for collecting and transporting hazardous wastes; this system eliminated process steps, saved 1,500 hours of time handling wastes, and reduced the frequency that waste drums were handled (decreasing the number of times waste drums were touched by workers by 70 percent). Robins AFB also reorganized its hazardous waste management facility using 6S and visual controls to control inventory and work in process as well as improve flow. This made it easier to monitor the waste management processes and reduced the likelihood of accidents and spills.

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Other Lean Projects and Results

Robins AFB has implemented a variety of other lean projects that have had environmental implications, such as the following examples.

  • C-5 Maintenance Shop: Lean improvements in the C-5 cargo plane shop reduced “flow days” from 360 to 220 days, improved resource productivity by 30-50 percent, and saved $8 million in the first year alone. These improvements reduced raw material consumption, hazardous chemicals use, and waste associated with the C-5 maintenance processes. 
  • C-130 Aircraft Paint Shop: Robins AFB used 6S techniques to improve its paint system for the C-130 Hercules airplanes. Through a series of lean events, Robins AFB reduced flow days, increased production, improved worker safety, and reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, chemical use, and storage space.

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Summary of Environmental Results

Chemical Point-of-Use Storage and Waste Collection:

  • Decreased hazardous materials use and hazardous waste generation by 20 percent on the flight line—and as high as 50 percent in one shop–-while overall production increased

Lean Improvements in the Hazardous Waste Management Process:

  • Reduced the potential for spills and eliminated excess waste drums

Lean Improvements in the C-5 Shop:

  • Improved productivity ranging from 30 to 50 percent
  • Reduced:
  • Use of hazardous chemicals
  • Raw material consumption
  • Waste generation
  • Facility space needed for operations
  • Overall number of planes in repair

Lean Improvements in the C-130 Hercules Aircraft Paint Shop:

  • Reduced:
  • Excess tools, materials, and equipment by 39 percent
  • Emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Number of chemicals used from nine to three, as well as the overall volume of chemicals used

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