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Lean Manufacturing and Environment

Robins U.S. Air Force Base

Lean Point-of-Use Chemical Management System at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia

Lean and Environment Case Example

Robins Air Force Base (AFB)—a major depot for repairing aircraft and producing spare parts for the U.S. Air Force—has implemented lean production since May 1999. This document describes one example of Robins AFB’s lean efforts; separate case examples profile other lean projects.

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Lean Project Scope and Operational Objectives

Through a series of rapid process improvement events, the environmental, safety, and occupational health (ESOH) staff at Robins AFB instituted point-of-use (POU) cabinet systems for distributing “right-sized” quantities of hazardous materials/chemicals for use on the shopfloor. Near each POU cabinet are initial accumulation points (IAPs) for collecting hazardous wastes and chemicals being discarded. The key operational drivers for these changes were to reduce the total time and distance that workers travel to retrieve hazardous materials.

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Before Lean

Prior to instituting POU cabinets, Robins AFB stored and distributed hazardous materials from centralized locations called “pharmacies” at most buildings. Each time they needed additional hazardous materials, workers left their shop area to go to the pharmacy. Workers then “checked out” hazardous materials and returned to their workstations to use them. This system allowed for close tracking of hazardous materials use, but workers wasted time making trips to and from the pharmacy. In addition, workers often took more chemicals than they needed for a given operation because of the inconvenience of making separate trips to the pharmacy.

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What Was Done

Using a combination of rapid improvement events, 6S, and visual management controls, hazardous material cabinets were installed close to where workers used them for repair and maintenance operations. Each cabinet contains up to a two-day supply of “right-sized” hazardous material containers for use at the workstations. Furthermore, each cabinet identifies the types and quantities of hazardous materials present and the approved processes associated with them. Pharmacists (often called “water striders” at other lean organizations) stock the cabinets daily and check usage against Robins AFB’s hazardous materials management system (HMMS). The accumulation of hazardous wastes for disposal takes place at IAP containers located near the POU storage cabinets.

As of October 2004, 65 POU cabinets were being used across the base. To ensure compliance with all applicable ESOH regulations, lean operators complete a Point-of-Use Request form to request installation of a new POU cabinet or changes to the chemical inventory of an existing POU cabinet. The form requires identification of the chemicals to be used and the applicable ESOH requirements for handling those chemicals. The POU requests must be approved by shop supervisors. ESOH staff reviews each POU request as well as inspects the POU cabinets throughout the year.

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Results

Converting to a right-sized POU chemical management system has:

  • Reduced the travel time for mechanics
  • Saved 1,500 miles of worker travel
  • Decreased hazardous materials use and hazardous waste generation by 20 percent on the flight line, and as high as 50 percent in one shop.

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