Precision down to the millionth

By Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez on June 24, 2016

Team McChord airmen provide global airlift on a daily basis, and airmen from the 62nd Maintenance Squadron Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory contribute some uncommonly known services to make that happen.

The PMEL shop, part of the 62nd MXS test measurement diagnostic equipment flight here, is responsible for calibrating equipment that is used in virtually every phase of maintenance on McChord Field and throughout numerous government organizations in the Pacific Northwest.

The airmen from the PMEL shop use exacting attention to detail to take measurements in increments as small as millionths to ensure equipment is properly calibrated from torque wrenches for C-17 maintainers to jet engine test cells in Oregon.

"Many people think we just do pressure gauges and torque wrenches," said Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Stevens, 62nd MXS test measurement diagnostic equipment flight chief. "We have a very large scope of responsibilities and a wide variety of equipment we calibrate."

The PMEL shop provides services for customers, such as the U.S. Coast Guard District 13, the Oregon Air National Guard, and the Western Air Defense Sector.    

"We are a customer-focused organization," said Master Sgt. Daniel Thomas, 62nd MXS PMEL section chief. "The four things we ensure for every piece of equipment is safety, accuracy, reliability and traceability. This is our goal and mission."

With this approach and Department of Defense-wide force reduction, the PMEL shop had to make dramatic changes to perform more efficiently with less airmen. Over the last two years, the shop's manning has been reduced from 33 airmen and civilians to a team of 22 people.     

"When we started losing people, we changed our operating mindset," said Thomas. "We looked at how we could streamline processes and improve turnaround time with less manning."

With this mindset, the PMEL shop identified that their quality assurance program could be improved. The shop's quality assurance process used to require regular inspections of a large number of items being serviced. This created an increase in the amount of time it took to perform simple processes and delayed the turnaround time for jobs. Identifying this as ineffective, the PMEL shop decided to implement a more efficient process that focused on only inspecting and evaluating jobs more prone to errors.

"We started to focus on risk areas to identify jobs more prevalent to have issues," said Thomas. "This helped us reduce man-hours and our customers with turnaround time."

In addition to this change, the PMEL shop also helped reduce man-hours needed for servicing customer equipment by taking a greater initiative to evaluate customer inventories and assist in recommending better equipment.

"We are constantly looking to find alternative solutions for customers' equipment that are more reliable and have longer calibration cycles," said Thomas. "We want our customers to have more efficiency when buying new equipment."

One example of this initiative recently, was PMEL advising the 62nd MXS aerospace ground equipment flight in purchasing new type of gauges that would be more reliable and have longer calibration cycles, said Stevens. The purchase resulted in more than 1,000 PMEL man-hours saved yearly.     

"One of my goals is to help customers to examine their inventories for ways to better their efficiency," said Thomas. "With a reduction in our manning, we have to think smarter."

With saving time on man-hours and bettering processes in mind, the PMEL shop has also been diligently working to identify jobs that can be automated and implementing automation processes to calibrate and distribute equipment faster.

"Turnaround time ties into equipment availability rates and shows us the total percentage of equipment that is being used to further the mission by the customers," said Thomas. "We want to get equipment out of here fast as we can so they can accomplish the mission."

Many of these processes are worked on and developed by airmen in the flight, and can take up to a few months to complete, but once approved have resulted in saving thousands of man-hours for the flight and the Air Force as a whole.

The end result is calibrations that would usually take a few days, being completed in a few hours, said Thomas.       

Since 2014, the McChord Field PMEL shop has reduced its turnaround time for calibrations from 12 days to less than seven.

"Since I've been here, we have always been focused on striking a good balance between efficiency and effectiveness with a leaner force," said Thomas. "If there is one thing we have internalized here, it is not doing more with less but rather doing the best job we can with what we have."