Artisan Relocation Continues to Reap Benefits

Aircraft mechanic/work leader Rodney Abad operates the winch to install a gear box in a CH-53 Super Stallion at FRCSW. (U.S. Navy photo)

More than a decade after the U.S. Navy relocated many of its depot artisans to reduce costs for maintenance and repairs, the move not only saved $200 million in fiscal 2017 but has given maintainers a chance to learn from one another.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission established Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs), merging Naval Air Depots with Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Detachments into six centralized FRCs.

Sheet metal mechanic Kris Dipraseuth repairs a structural crack on an H-60 Seahawk at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW). (U.S. Navy photo)

In forming the FRCs, about 100 depot-level artisans were relocated between 2006 and 2008 to intermediate-level maintenance facilities closer to the flight line, an initiative known as Beyond Capability Maintenance Interdictions (BCMI). The goal was to reduce costs and increase production of ready-for-tasking aircraft at the FRCs.

Previously, if maintenance technicians at an intermediate-level facility—where Level II maintenance is performed—could not fix a failed component, it was declared “beyond capability of maintenance” (BCM) and shipped to one of three depots—which handle the highest Level III repairs—or to the component’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for repair. Depot artisans then had to disassemble, repair and reassemble the component before repackaging and shipping it back.

Under BCMI, a failed component could remain at the intermediate facility and be worked on by both intermediate-level technicians and depot-level artisans. This process returns components to the flight line faster than the old production model—one high-priority component- saw its turnaround time decreased from almost two years to less than two weeks, while another went from taking a year to repair to needing only 15 days.

The resulting cost avoidance can be considerable, said Chief Petty Officer Chris Almond, an aviation ordnanceman and Level II Readiness coordinator supporting FRC Mid-Atlantic.

Artisan Robert Newberry installs a landing gear harness at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE). (U.S. Navy photo)

For example, expenditures on factors like parts, labor and packaging for a radar receiver shipped to a depot would exceed $240,000, said Don Fincham, COMFRC Aviation Maintenance and Material Department Level II Readiness coordinator. Meanwhile, expenditures on labor and parts for the same radar receiver repaired through BCMI would be less than $18,000, a 92.5-percent savings, he said.

“Cost avoidance increases are due to rising component costs across the remaining platforms as Naval Aviation replaces legacy aircraft—the CH-46 Sea Knight, F/A-18A-D Hornet and P-3 Orion—and because newer aircraft require more in-depth technical repairs that are performed by depot artisans,” Fincham said.

BCMI had its best performance yet in 2017, closing out the fiscal year with an unprecedented cost avoidance of more than $200 million, bringing the program’s 11-year total to the initial BRAC goal of $1.2 billion. The FRCs and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadrons (MALS) issued about 4,800 ready-for-issue (RFI) components in fiscal 2017 for an average cost avoidance per component of roughly $43,000.

For comparison, in fiscal 2016 and 2015 more than 4,800 and 5,100 RFI components were issued at a cost avoidance of $118 million and $120 million, respectively, Fincham said.

Aerospace engineer Nathan Cox operates the pressurization test lab control station while fellow aerospace engineer Duy Nguyen, foreground, monitors the inside of the test chamber. (U.S. Navy photo)

In addition to saving time and money, BCMI has also produced another benefit—the opportunity for technicians and artisans to share their knowledge and skillsets.

Thanks to working alongside depot-level artisans, the technicians in MALS-11’s Structures Shop at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, now better understand composite repair tasks and maintenance discrepancies that require more than intermediate-level maintenance.

“Many of the discrepancies that come to us require depot-level maintenance. We understand how to do them, but because of policy and established processes, we are not allowed to perform the repairs,” MALS 11 Production Control Chief Master Sgt. Rafael Soriano said. “Having a more qualified member within our division to help with some of the responsibilities and discrepancies reduces our workload, quickens our turnaround times and improves our effectiveness.”

FRC artisans like Ronald Word, an advanced composite fabricator who works alongside the technicians at MALS-11, feel it’s their responsibility to improve technicians’ skill sets and mentor the next generation.

“At Miramar, I am the only composite artisan that the Marines can go to when they have questions,” Word said. “The Marines know that they can come to me and if I don’t know the answer, I always know where or who to go to. I also give training to the Marines on a case-by-case basis. I instruct them on how to complete repairs and [critique] past repairs.”

Jennifer Nunez, a materials engineer with FRCSE, uses a surface coding tester to detect the presence of conductive coating on an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet during the stripping process. (U.S. Navy photo Kaylee LaRocque)

“At [FRCSW] the artisans don’t communicate with the engineers one-on-one, but here at Miramar I have an open door policy with the F/A18 [Hornet] engineers,” Word said. “They are just a phone call away and they are always willing to assist me with any repair or help me with any questions I have. I am always learning new ways of researching repairs.”

Shawn Gubernath, a composite fabricator in the Advanced Composite Repairs Shop, said he has seen a lot more part inductions and variation in parts than when he was working at FRCSW.

“Being here working next to intermediate-level technicians has increased my skill level and my awareness of their challenges,” he said. “Repairs are performed faster because of the seamless transition between intermediate-level and depot-level work, especially, when a project has multiple repair levels.”

Soriano said technicians have seen faster turnaround times for repairs and replenishment of components. “We can identify [different] types of repairs and send them to the artisans quicker,” he said.

For many artisans, seeing firsthand how their work supports the warfighter evokes a sense of pride.

“The most important thing that I have learned is how important the BCMI program is, how it saves the Marines money and gets aircraft parts back to the fleet quicker,” Word said.

“I’ve been able to experience the end result of our works,” Sanchez said. “Seeing our system components fly and make mission is satisfaction that we, the artisans, are truly part of our nation’s defense.”

Jacquelyn Milham is a communication specialist supporting Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.