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Firms join Air Force-MIT effort

Two aerospace industry leaders have joined the Air Force-MIT Lean Sustainment Initiative, a move that signals new industry commitment to streamlining the Air Force's $5.3 billion dollar maintenance, repair and overhaul operations.

Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), as a joint military-industry endeavor, forms a core part of the operations and maintenance effort that involves one-third of Air Force personnel and costs $28 billion a year.

The Boeing Co. and Chromalloy Gas Turbine Corp. each contributed $100,000 to Lean Sustainment Initiative (LSI) research on applying lean production principles to the sustainment operations, business processes, and enterprise integration that keep the backbone of America's air defense system--old airplanes like B-52s, F-15s, F-16s and KC-135s--in the air. Boosting sustainment efficiency could increase the percent of US war fighters that can go into immediate action--now about 75 percent.

In 1997, the Air Force initiated and then funded LSI's research on making their sustainment enterprise faster, cheaper and more efficient. The effort was pioneered by the Air Force Materiel Command, the Manufacturing Technology Program of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the three air logistics centers.

"Now we have industry seeing the opportunity to influence change and to collaborate to improve overall support for the nation's war fighters," said Wesley Harris, director of LSI and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

Cooperation between government and industry is crucial since the Air Force obtains 50 percent of its depot-level maintenance services from industry contractors. Greater efficiency in managing repair of very complex systems and replacement of hundreds of thousands of parts is essential to a strong US military defense and a viable aerospace industry. And the industry is sizable. The worldwide MRO industry supporting commercial aircraft operations alone forecasts $42 billion in revenue in 2001.

Rande Cruze, director of Boeing's repair, overhaul and exchange services and an LSI co-director, says LSI has created valuable neutral meeting ground. "LSI enables government and industry to collaborate on breakthrough improvements to transform the US aerospace MRO industry. Working together to identify key areas of improvement will enable all of us to save time and money. Boeing is committed to good business and good defense."

In case studies and by identifying best practices, LSI has targeted areas where data coding and communication problems have prevented accurate forecasting of parts needs and developed a joint approach to problems that face both the government and industry maintenance services suppliers.

"MIT research has directly influenced the implementation of pilot projects at several Air Force MRO locations," Harris said. "These pilot projects, budgeted at more than $16 million through the US Air Force Manufacturing Technology Program, are test beds to evaluate the impact of LSI research-based recommendations on enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of operations."

Both industry and government have much to gain from this collaboration. "LSI is a new approach to government-industry cooperation with great potential. Chromalloy is making a commitment to that potential," said company spokesman Kenneth Eickmann.

The Lean Sustainment Initiative is an Air Force/industry/academia partnership supported by MIT's Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development, a multi-industry research enterprise that applies intellectual tools from engineering, management and the social sciences to critical industry issues. CTPID's nine research programs investigate sustainable, global solutions to challenges in aerospace, automotive production and transportation, Internet technology and policy, materials systems, and technology and law. For more information, visit the CTPID web site.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 7, 2001.

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