US Naval Air Force Reserve Optimizes Resources and Labor with Mobile Computers

Posted August 5, 2010

Intermec ScannerThe U.S. Commander Naval Air Forces Reserve (CNAFR) maintains and repairs military aircraft such as the E-2C Hawkeye, an early warning radar aircraft; AH-1 Cobra, a strike helicopter; and EA-6B Prowler, an aircraft that jams electronic signals. Other aircraft include the FA-18 Hornet strike fighter and C-130 Hercules transport plane. During times of war, CNAFR sends troops to battle, reducing manpower on the base. This means fewer Sailors are available to repair aircraft.

Each piece of equipment within the aircraft must be in working order to assure the safety of the aircrew and optimize the chances for success in combat. So at the beginning of the War on Terror, CNAFR wanted a way to optimize the manpower on base while expediting the repair process so aircraft could return to combat as soon as possible. To do so, CNAFR teamed up with Intermec Technologies and partner Diamond Data System to help develop its Base Level Inventory Tracking System (BLITS).

Manual Processes Delay and Dislocate
Several Naval Air Force Reserve bases have warehouses that store equipment and parts for the repair of military aircraft. So when a repair part is not available at one base, logistics personnel must input a requisition for stock from another.

“Before BLITS, the sailors had to call the other base and track down the repair part,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris Stevens of CNAFR. “Parts were often tracked using spreadsheets, so users in one base weren’t able to read the spreadsheet in another without having to call someone to look it up. Ultimately, it took a lot of work, wasting unnecessary time and labor.”

Before BLITS was deployed, CNAFR used a bar-coded form to track orders. Sailors would also have to use this form when requesting parts to repair aircraft. Whenever a part was delivered to the base, a driver took the part into the warehouse and had the form signed by a recipient. Once the driver returned to the warehouse with the form, the data was manually entered into a database used for tracking parts between bases. Using this system, it wasn’t uncommon for items to be misplaced.

“With the long strings of numbers associated with aviation components, typos were made when inputting data,” said Stevens. “This could wreak havoc on our system because it showed that the wrong part was ordered or delivered. Another problem was misplacing parts throughout the supply chain. This resulted in increased labor and expenses because of the time it took to determine the origin of the mistake or the location of the part. ”

BLITS Tracking Features Deliver
In order to reduce the opportunities for error and optimize labor, CNAFR turned to Intermec to install BLITS. A key component of BLITS is Intermec’s CK31G mobile computers, which are used for tracking repair parts. Using the new system, when a driver delivers a part, it must be scanned by someone’s Common Access Card (CAC) for it to be received. When the CAC card is scanned, the system identifies who received the item and the date and time. This information is stored on the CK31G mobile computer until it is docked and uploaded to a central server.

At each point of exchange throughout the warehouse, a CAC card must be scanned with the CK31G before the person can take receipt of the item. Data can be uploaded to the server at any point throughout the day, and personnel are asked to upload at least once each morning. This enables users to access the database to find out who has the part and when each part was received.

“With our previous system, the only way to determine the location of a part or status of an order was to call someone and track the product through the distribution chain over the phone,” said Stevens. “With the BLITS system, we can access the database at any point throughout the day and determine the status of an order.”

The initial intention of BLITS was to solely assist with tracking repair parts. Since then, the scope of the system has expanded to include tracking assistance with stock requisitions. Similar to the way an auto parts store might operate, users check the computer for stock and then retrieve the part from the shelves. The part is then scanned and removed from the inventory. The driver delivers the part to the flight line, scanning the CAC card of the individual who receives it.

Once Lost, Now Found
Since the implementation of the BLITS, CNAFR has recovered several pieces of equipment that might have otherwise been lost throughout the distribution chain. When parts are ordered and unable to be located, they have to be written off, causing CNAFR to incur an expense without having received the product.

“Last year, we had a situation at Naval Air Station Fort Worth where a squadron reported an infrared pod was missing,” said Stevens. “The squadron reported ordering the $2.3 million part but never receiving it; however, the Aviation Support Department (ASD) reported that the part was delivered. Using BLITS, we were able to execute a search and learned that the part was actually placed in the wrong area.”

Stevens shares another similar story in which a $56,000 part had been inadvertently left in the wrong place. When the squadron inquired as to the status of the order, BLITS showed that the part was delivered. Using BLITS, the ASD was able to trace the stops of the driver and locate where the part was dropped.

In addition to recovering misplaced parts, CNAFR has also reduced labor hours through BLITS; crews no longer spend long hours searching for parts because the new system keeps records of whether parts were delivered and where they were sent.

“BLITS saves us approximately 100 man hours a month at each location where it has been deployed,” said Stevens. “The overall satisfaction with BLITS users is great. No one has any complaints. I am continually reassessing the value of the equipment because the Navy is attempting to reduce the number of software applications. As a result, we are trying to introduce BLITS to more bases.”

CNAFR initially deployed BLITS throughout the New Orleans and Fort Worth bases. This system has since expanded to four other sites, including those in Atlanta, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and the Naval Air Facility in Washington D.C. Stevens hopes to see BLITS expand to other bases.

“BLITS has really helped enhance accountability throughout CNAFR,” said Stevens. “It is a force multiplier because it enables those on base to keep up with the extra responsibilities assumed during wartime. BLITS is a unique system that could grow throughout other branches of the military, which we would really like to see happen. It has helped CNAFR avoid unnecessary expenditures, so it would undoubtedly help other branches as well.”

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