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Pursuit of the 12th man - MXS saves time and money

Senior Airman Tyler Sutherland, 62nd Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, inspects a tool kit at the 62nd MXS support section on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 23, 2017. The 62nd MXS support section, which provides tools for C-17 Globemaster III maintenance here at McChord Field, managed to save approximately 1,452 man-hours annually by streamlining their equipment cleaning process. (Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Naomi Shipley)

Senior Airman Tyler Sutherland, 62nd Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, inspects a tool kit at the 62nd MXS support section on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 23, 2017. The 62nd MXS support section, which provides tools for C-17 Globemaster III maintenance here at McChord Field, managed to save approximately 1,452 man-hours annually by streamlining their equipment cleaning process. (Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Naomi Shipley)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

In a time where the Air Force maintainer shortage is at 4,000 fewer Airmen than needed, any opportunity to save money and or manpower is more than welcomed and the 62nd Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is doing just that.

Maj. David Thompson, 62nd MXS commander, initiated a “Pursuit of the 12th Man” contest in his unit, where the 12 work centers within his unit compete to save man-hours by their own innovations.

The goal is to surpass 1,920 man-hours which equates to 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, the equivalent to having an extra mechanic. The reward is a well-deserved day off for whichever section saves the most man-hours.

The contest is still on-going, but it began in October 2016.

Senior Airman Brandon Mekan, 62nd MXS aerospace propulsion journeyman and the 62nd MXS support section, which provides tools for C-17 Globemaster III maintenance here at McChord, managed to save approximately 1,452 man-hours annually by analyzing ways they could save time with their equipment cleaning process.

“I was trying to find an easier way than cleaning our tools one by one,” said Mekan. “I wanted to find a better way.”

Mekan was referring to the more than 5,000 individual tools the support equipment flight manages that are required to be cleaned and maintained for their users.

The tool cleaning process originally took several shifts and up to several days, because there are thousands of pieces in a tool box.

“It’s an extensive process,” said 1st Lt. Erin Howell, 62nd MXS flight commander. 

And the shop is still required to respond to their customers checking out tool kits and managing more than $13 million dollars’ worth of equipment.

Overall Mekan said the lengthy process was his motivation to find a more efficient way of doing the job.

He set out to find a solution that expedited the process ended up at the desk of Tech. Sgt. George Alvarado, 62nd MXS support section NCOIC.

Alvarado suggested talking to a separate flight, which has several large equipment parts washers that clean their equipment.

“It was as simple as asking the hydraulics flight ‘Can we borrow your parts washer?,’” said Alvarado. “They didn’t have to say ‘yes’, because it does take time away from them, but they did.”

The machine enables the Airmen to place the tools in a cage type box and the process takes 10-15 minutes as opposed to multiple shifts and days on end.

According to Alvarado, cleaning the tools takes a lot of time away from other tasks and the less time they spend on cleaning the tools, the more time they can spend focused on their customers and other duties.

At any given shift there can be between 200 to 420 transactions processed in their shop.

“When I saw how much time we saved with one small box, I know we could save much more time on the larger tools boxes,” said Alvarado. “The whole process ended up being much easier and saved us a lot of time.”

Not to mention how streamlining the process can result in more predictability.

“We can create a schedule, look ahead and ask them [hydraulics flight] to use the machine,” said Alvarado. “We are able to focus on our customers now.”

Overall Mekan said there is less room for error and the flight is able to get the tools out to the floor faster.

The unit is also in the process of trying to get one of their own cleaning machines, specifically made for their tools.

According to Alvarado, managing their resources is essential for mission success.

“I want to give praise to the hydro shop and Mekan for helping us out,” said Alvarado. “We are truly one team.”

Working together these teams are working toward their commander’s goal of completing the “Pursuit of the 12th man challenge.”