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Creative prototype leads to fielded implementation

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Kavanagh, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of product support for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., explains to Chief Master Sgt. Frank Batten, command chief of Air Combat Command, how he designed a crate to better ship, house and store AFTAC's precision seismic equipment that is used to monitor worldwide nuclear activity.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Kavanagh, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of product support for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., explains to Chief Master Sgt. Frank Batten, command chief of Air Combat Command, how he designed a crate to better ship, house and store AFTAC's precision seismic equipment that is used to monitor worldwide nuclear activity. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

A sketch of a prototype shipping crate to store and house precision seismic equipment for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla.  The sketch was used to develop a workable solution to inventory issues at the nuclear treaty monitoring center's overseas detachments.  (U.S. Air Force illustration)

A sketch of a prototype shipping crate to store and house precision seismic equipment for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla. The sketch was used to develop a workable solution to inventory issues at the nuclear treaty monitoring center's overseas detachments. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

A computer-generated artist's rendering of a winch mast assembly crate that is now being used by the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., to ship and store precision seismic equipment.  (U.S. Air Force illustration)

A computer-generated artist's rendering of a winch mast assembly crate that is now being used by the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., to ship and store precision seismic equipment. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When members of the only agency in the Department of Defense charged with monitoring nuclear treaties discovered shipped equipment was not being accurately accounted for at forward supply points, they took to the drawing board to devise a solution.

Airmen from the Air Force Technical Applications Center here were determined to solve negative inventory trends, so they sketched out a conceptual prototype the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper.

One aspect of the nuclear treaty monitoring center’s global mission is to gather seismic data to detect underground nuclear activity. The center uses seismometers positioned throughout the world to accomplish that mission. In order to perform routine maintenance on their precision equipment, AFTAC Airmen rely on what’s called a winch mast assembly that is used to install, troubleshoot, remove and replace seismometers that sit in boreholes up to 500 feet below the earth’s surface.

When the assembly, with its multiple parts and pieces, is hoisted out of the borehole, it’s either placed in storage, shipped back to Florida for maintenance, or repaired on site. Over time, many of the parts were being separated from the main assembly, which ultimately caused inventory, shipping and maintenance issues.

So a team of AFTAC logisticians got together to figure out how to solve the problem. Tom Lehnerz, chief materiel manager and a supply expert with the 709th Support Squadron’s logistics flight, spearheaded the effort. Once he and his team had a viable concept, they built a prototype, modified it a few times based on inputs from depot and field technicians, and came up with a workable solution.

“We noticed there was an issue with inventories of our tilt mass assembly and realized our equipment wasn’t being accurately accounted for at forward supply points. With some brain power, some trial-and-error tests, and a lot of ingenuity, the team developed a process that should result in a $20,000 cost savings for the Air Force,” said Lehnerz.

“A prototype is worth a thousand meetings,” said Tech. Sgt. Timothy Kavanagh, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of product support. “That’s why we opted to go straight to the drawing board to diagram out exactly what we needed. We worked closely with the 45th Space Wing’s woodworkers from their Transportation Management Office who deal with shipping crates on a daily basis to help us go from concept to reality.”

According to David Paynter, 709th SPTS logistics flight manager, the crate the team developed will decrease maintenance preparation time by 50 percent, improve inventory accuracy of $40,000 worth of precision equipment and reduce annual inventory time by 50 percent.

“We received tremendously positive feedback from our remote seismic station operators at several of our overseas sites as well as from our technical schoolhouse in Texas after we completed field implementation,” said Paynter. “We showcased it to the commander and command chief of Air Combat Command when they visited AFTAC, and they seemed quite impressed with the team’s ingenuity and innovativeness. Any time we can save the Air Force money while simultaneously improving the process, it’s a job well done.”

To date, Lehnerz’ team has built 11 crates and nine of them have been shipped to AFTAC’s overseas operating locations.

“As we continue to collect and gather feedback from the detachment chiefs at the OLs, we will build additional assemblies to meet their needs,” said Lehnerz.