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Feb 13, 2024

FRCE Materials Engineering Division boosts aircraft performance, efficiency and safety

For those working in Fleet Readiness Center East’s (FRCE) Materials Engineering Division, the answers to complex questions can often be found by focusing on the smallest of details. Analysis of a microscopic fracture or the precise identification of a material’s elemental components can lead to enhanced aircraft performance, efficiency and safety that benefit the entire Fleet.

The division consists of approximately 36 personnel who provide crucial maintenance, engineering and logistics support for a wide array of military aircraft. The team of materials and chemical engineers, chemists and technicians utilize state of the art laboratory equipment to perform research, testing and evaluation activities as well as to develop and continually improve the processes in use within FRCE.

“We support all the industrial processes in the depot,” said FRCE Materials Engineering Division Head Robbie Mehring. “We provide lab services that verify materials and processes used in the shops. For example, chemical processing tanks, structural adhesives and metals used for manufacturing critical components are tested here. The lab helps to ensure that we're putting together a good product for the Fleet.”

According to Kevin Aycock, a materials engineer, the team’s efforts are instrumental to the development and validation of maintenance, repair and inspection processes at FRCE as well as the establishment of new capabilities at the depot.

“If the depot is trying to establish a new capability or develop a process, we'll provide our expertise,” said Aycock. “Because of our testing capabilities here in the lab, we also play an important role in identifying new technologies to bring here.”

The division works closely with FRCE artisans and the depot’s Fleet Support Team (FST), groups of experts who routinely deploy to the Fleet to collect data, provide consultation and training, and perform on-the-spot troubleshooting and repair. The division also collaborates with military aviation units as well as original equipment manufacturers.

“The thing I like the most is that we get something new every day,” said Latane Mason, a materials engineer. “This can also be very challenging. Since we support the FST and the depot, we get all the different aircraft, the various systems found on these aircraft and all the depot processes. We may work on electronics one day and hydraulics the next day.”

The division supports aircraft found throughout the U.S. military, including legacy platforms that have been in service for decades. According to Aycock, this presents unique challenges often involving components that are no longer produced by the manufacturer.

“We assist in identifying a substitute or producing a product that's either the same or better quality as the original design,” said Aycock. “It’s challenging but I take a lot of pride in this. We’re manufacturing high quality parts and meeting modern requirements using a drawing that is 50 years old.”

According to Mason, military aircraft often operate in environments that pose challenges the team must contend with.

“The maritime environment is harsh on all materials,” said Mason. “Polymers may not corrode, but they can degrade over time. Water can be an issue, especially with the moving parts we have on aircraft. You get water trapped somewhere and it can start to develop high concentrations of corrosive ions.”

In order to perform realistic testing that mimics these conditions, Mehring said the lab is equipped to replicate environmental conditions aircraft in the Fleet encounter.

“We have salt-fog chambers here to do comparative corrosion testing,” said Mehring. “For example, if there's a newly developed paint, we can compare it against the legacy paint and see how each holds up. It gives us confidence that a new material will be at least as good, if not better, than the legacy material.”

Testing and analyzing the corrosion and wear of materials is just one of the many processes performed in the lab.

Mason, who performs failure analysis, said materials and components are run through an exhaustive process when they arrive. Because failure analysis often requires cutting the item to be analyzed, he stressed the importance of photo documentation in his work.

“When we perform the analysis, we want to know exactly how the item came in because we are going to change it throughout our process,” said Mason. “We cut things and take them apart so it is extremely useful to have that original state captured in photos.”

According to Mason, capturing the original state of a part or component involves macro photography performed with a handheld digital camera. Once the item is cut down into a smaller piece, it is can be magnified using a scanning electron microscope.

“At this point, we’re seeing things at up to 250,000 times magnification,” said Mason. “We’ve moved beyond documentation and we’re now analyzing specific features. We can identify things such as the origin or mechanism of a fracture or corrosion. We look for the things the systems engineers need to know so that they can work towards a corrective action.”

In addition to high powered microscopes, the lab is equipped with a vast array of highly specialized equipment used to analyze the chemical and mechanical properties of materials. Mehring said these sophisticated tools provide the team with the data necessary to fully analyze, test and evaluate materials.

“We have various equipment that can identify the elemental composition of metals or evaluate the properties of different polymers and coatings,” said Mehring. “We have lab areas dedicated to chemical and analytical analysis, oil analysis, metallurgy, polymers, and corrosion. We also have the experts who know how to run these machines and get the maximum out of them.”

Lab staff also employ a variety of nondestructive testing methods on materials and components said Mehring.

“Our nondestructive inspection team works to develop methods and procedures that can be executed in the Fleet or here on site,” said Mehring. “It’s crucial work that can identify potential issues. This work is vital in the development of how inspections are conducted and written into instructions.”

The team also plays an important role in the development and review of manuals and repair procedures. Aycock said the team works closely with FST engineers to conduct materials engineering reviews which are crucial when writing or updating repair manuals.

“Our subject matter experts review all of those manuals for their applicable process,” said Aycock. “We’re making an impact that benefits the entire Navy when it comes to developing repair procedures.”

Mehring cited the close working relationship his team enjoys with departments throughout FRCE as well as partners outside of the depot as instrumental to the division’s success.

“We don’t do anything in a vacuum,” said Mehring. “We work closely with our customers and almost every department here at the depot. There's a lot of interaction, communication and collaboration that goes on behind the scenes.”

While the Materials Engineering Division is involved in wide a range of projects, Mehring said that the focus is always on providing capable, high quality aircraft to the warfighter.

“The cool part of the job for me is knowing the impact my team has on the Fleet,” said Mehring. “They are enhancing and ensuring the safety and performance of our aircraft. They support standing up new capabilities which are important to the future of the depot and the Navy. Whether in those capacities or running an urgent analysis to get an aircraft back up in the air, it's an honor knowing that we have supported these efforts.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Learn more at www.navair.navy.mil/frce or https://www.facebook.com/FleetReadinessCenterEast.

Feb 7, 2024

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast F414 engine product line soars past the NAE Engine Readiness Goal

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) was a key contributor to surpassing the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) F414 Engine Readiness Goal (ERG) of 1,451 ready-for-issue (RFI) engines for the first time since 2018 – eight months ahead of the planned recovery schedule. The achievement was a joint effort between FRCSE, the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265), Naval Supply Systems Command, Defense Logistics Agency, General Electric and other organizations that helped hit the goal.  

“By collaborating with several organizations, revisiting key processes and tapping into the power of our Fleet Support Team (FST), the F414 team wasn’t just able to overcome a significant backlog of engine demand, but achieved it in record time,” said FRCSE Commanding Officer Capt. Al Palmer. “It’s a true testament to FRCSE’s ability to dissect a problem and create innovative solutions to meet fleet demands.”  

The F414 engine, the power behind the Navy’s twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is a turbofan engine manufactured by General Electric (GE) capable of producing 22,000 pounds of thrust. It has been a staple workload at FRCSE for more than two decades.  

As the Navy’s sole source of repair for the F414 engine module, FRCSE rose to meet the lofty NAE goal of 341 mission-capable Super Hornets outlined during fiscal year (FY) 2019, but the upsurge in engines required to hit the goal put a strain all aspects of the program resulting in engine module shortages and sending RFI F414s in a downward trajectory.  

The FY 2019 goal meant the command needed to ramp up production efforts on all six F414 modules: the fan, high-pressure compressor (HPC), combustor, high-pressure turbine (HPT), low-pressure turbine (LPT) and afterburner, which ultimately depleted the available stock of components and parts, creating a kink in the supply chain. As the Navy worked to purchase and deliver more parts, FRCSE fought to sustain mission-capable aircraft. 

“From fiscal year 2019 to 2023, the F414 ecosystem was challenged to avoid letting engine numbers drop to bare firewall levels, while simultaneously increasing output to achieve ERG,” said Matt Lindberg, FRCSE’s Engines Production Line Director. “The increase put a strain on the supply system, which couldn’t fully recover until fiscal year 2023 and 2024.” 

Every aircraft engine plays a vital role in our military’s ability to remain ready to fight. However, considering the F414 is the power behind the Navy’s primary strike fighter aircraft, the need for innovative ideas to keep engine modules built and aircraft flying demanded creativity and a hard look at processes, FST efforts, workflow and personnel.  

The first step was to leverage subject matter experts. The F414 team found that by looking through the lens of the Naval Sustainment System and using the Navy’s “Get Real Get Better” principles, they could significantly increase production.  

They started by reallocating personnel – increasing the artisan workforce by 23 percent and support staff by 10 percent. While this step was vital to the overall outcome, the team struck gold when they evaluated the kitting stage of repair.  

“The kitting process can begin when all parts are accounted for to make a complete component or module assembly,” Lindberg said. “Production controllers gather the parts and put them in a specifically designed cart that is rolled out to the artisan to build. While it seems like a simple tactic, each module within the F414 engine has hundreds of unique parts. We focused our efforts in process improvement around this procedure because once the artisan receives the kit, they are able to build it quickly.”  

To keep the fine-tuned kitting process running smoothly, the team adjusted the focus of daily meetings and used various communication tools to make expectations clear and keep track of all parts.  

“The new method ensured that parts routed were tracked effectively through industrial processes, and it also became easier to manage shortages and pinpoint issues in advance,” Lindberg continued. “Ultimately, this led to an increase in module output of 35 percent.”  

Simultaneously, in early 2023, a foundation was laid for FRCSE’s F/A-18 Propulsion FST by way of a weekly NAE F414 conference call known as HUD, a weekly, enterprise-wide conversation to address and curtail F414 issues from every level of maintenance – organization (O) level, intermediate (I) level and depot (D) level.  

While FRCSE is a D-level facility and in-depth provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul of these engines, issues occurring external to the depot directly affect whether the command can meet its goals.  

Consequently, as the F414 team struggled to meet RFI module demand, FRCSE’s FST evaluated issues at the O and I levels in an attempt to eliminate constraints at other levels of maintenance.  

The team found that by supporting life limit extension on several key scheduled engine removal (SER) drivers, and by leaning into Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), a specific, data-driven approach to evaluate a situation or solve a problem, engines could be kept on wing longer.  

“By increasing life limits on two dozen critical subcomponents within the F414’s six modules, the team could drive down engine removals happening at the O-level, helping to cushion module supply at the I-level and, subsequently, keeping depot-level production advancing,” said David Renn, F/A-18 Propulsion FST Lead. “These changes are forecasted to decrease SERs by 10 percent over the next 10 years, resulting in more than $400 million in projected savings to the fleet. Since implementing the changes, SERs have decreased by over 35 percent. This reduction had an immediate and direct impact on ERG.”  

Furthermore, the team designed a dynamic digital tool to cut down on artisan time and predict usable Composite Outer Bypass Duct (COBD), an area of the engine most commonly connected to unscheduled in-depth repair. The COBD is a structural component of the engine within the HPC that acts as a pressure vessel containing engine bypass air. It also, simultaneously, works as an attachment point for several control and accessory components.  

The tool assigns scores to COBDs located within modules that were not ready-for-use. Any usable COBDs are extracted from non-usable modules and reallocated. The FST team delivered the tool to FRCSE Planners and Estimators in May 2023 and trained them on its usage shortly after that.  

“This tool increased the usable COBD rate from a historical recover rate of 35 to 76 percent because artisans were no longer wasting time on repairs that would never come to fruition,” Renn said. “An additional 41 COBDs were extracted from non-RFI modules, removing the COBD barrier.”  

From May to October 2023, back orders on engine module parts decreased from 338 to zero, and subsequently, the program reached its ERG of 1,451 RFI engines by November 2023 – for the first time in over five years. The milestone represents the most RFI engines available since the command started working on the engine in 2002. 

“We played our part in getting things done, but this was a Naval Aviation Enterprise team success,” Renn said. “An accomplishment of this magnitude speaks volumes about our ability to harness partnerships and overcome complex obstacles to meet or exceed fleet demand.”   

About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast 

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing approximately 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater US Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America’s military forces. 

Feb 7, 2024

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast F414 engine product line soars past the NAE Engine Readiness Goal

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) was a key contributor to surpassing the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) F414 Engine Readiness Goal (ERG) of 1,451 ready-for-issue (RFI) engines for the first time since 2018 – eight months ahead of the planned recovery schedule. The achievement was a joint effort between FRCSE, the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265), Naval Supply Systems Command, Defense Logistics Agency, General Electric and other organizations that helped hit the goal.  

“By collaborating with several organizations, revisiting key processes and tapping into the power of our Fleet Support Team (FST), the F414 team wasn’t just able to overcome a significant backlog of engine demand, but achieved it in record time,” said FRCSE Commanding Officer Capt. Al Palmer. “It’s a true testament to FRCSE’s ability to dissect a problem and create innovative solutions to meet fleet demands.”  

The F414 engine, the power behind the Navy’s twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is a turbofan engine manufactured by General Electric (GE) capable of producing 22,000 pounds of thrust. It has been a staple workload at FRCSE for more than two decades.  

As the Navy’s sole source of repair for the F414 engine module, FRCSE rose to meet the lofty NAE goal of 341 mission-capable Super Hornets outlined during fiscal year (FY) 2019, but the upsurge in engines required to hit the goal put a strain all aspects of the program resulting in engine module shortages and sending RFI F414s in a downward trajectory.  

The FY 2019 goal meant the command needed to ramp up production efforts on all six F414 modules: the fan, high-pressure compressor (HPC), combustor, high-pressure turbine (HPT), low-pressure turbine (LPT) and afterburner, which ultimately depleted the available stock of components and parts, creating a kink in the supply chain. As the Navy worked to purchase and deliver more parts, FRCSE fought to sustain mission-capable aircraft. 

“From fiscal year 2019 to 2023, the F414 ecosystem was challenged to avoid letting engine numbers drop to bare firewall levels, while simultaneously increasing output to achieve ERG,” said Matt Lindberg, FRCSE’s Engines Production Line Director. “The increase put a strain on the supply system, which couldn’t fully recover until fiscal year 2023 and 2024.” 

Every aircraft engine plays a vital role in our military’s ability to remain ready to fight. However, considering the F414 is the power behind the Navy’s primary strike fighter aircraft, the need for innovative ideas to keep engine modules built and aircraft flying demanded creativity and a hard look at processes, FST efforts, workflow and personnel.  

The first step was to leverage subject matter experts. The F414 team found that by looking through the lens of the Naval Sustainment System and using the Navy’s “Get Real Get Better” principles, they could significantly increase production.  

They started by reallocating personnel – increasing the artisan workforce by 23 percent and support staff by 10 percent. While this step was vital to the overall outcome, the team struck gold when they evaluated the kitting stage of repair.  

“The kitting process can begin when all parts are accounted for to make a complete component or module assembly,” Lindberg said. “Production controllers gather the parts and put them in a specifically designed cart that is rolled out to the artisan to build. While it seems like a simple tactic, each module within the F414 engine has hundreds of unique parts. We focused our efforts in process improvement around this procedure because once the artisan receives the kit, they are able to build it quickly.”  

To keep the fine-tuned kitting process running smoothly, the team adjusted the focus of daily meetings and used various communication tools to make expectations clear and keep track of all parts.  

“The new method ensured that parts routed were tracked effectively through industrial processes, and it also became easier to manage shortages and pinpoint issues in advance,” Lindberg continued. “Ultimately, this led to an increase in module output of 35 percent.”  

Simultaneously, in early 2023, a foundation was laid for FRCSE’s F/A-18 Propulsion FST by way of a weekly NAE F414 conference call known as HUD, a weekly, enterprise-wide conversation to address and curtail F414 issues from every level of maintenance – organization (O) level, intermediate (I) level and depot (D) level.  

While FRCSE is a D-level facility and in-depth provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul of these engines, issues occurring external to the depot directly affect whether the command can meet its goals.  

Consequently, as the F414 team struggled to meet RFI module demand, FRCSE’s FST evaluated issues at the O and I levels in an attempt to eliminate constraints at other levels of maintenance.  

The team found that by supporting life limit extension on several key scheduled engine removal (SER) drivers, and by leaning into Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), a specific, data-driven approach to evaluate a situation or solve a problem, engines could be kept on wing longer.  

“By increasing life limits on two dozen critical subcomponents within the F414’s six modules, the team could drive down engine removals happening at the O-level, helping to cushion module supply at the I-level and, subsequently, keeping depot-level production advancing,” said David Renn, F/A-18 Propulsion FST Lead. “These changes are forecasted to decrease SERs by 10 percent over the next 10 years, resulting in more than $400 million in projected savings to the fleet. Since implementing the changes, SERs have decreased by over 35 percent. This reduction had an immediate and direct impact on ERG.”  

Furthermore, the team designed a dynamic digital tool to cut down on artisan time and predict usable Composite Outer Bypass Duct (COBD), an area of the engine most commonly connected to unscheduled in-depth repair. The COBD is a structural component of the engine within the HPC that acts as a pressure vessel containing engine bypass air. It also, simultaneously, works as an attachment point for several control and accessory components.  

The tool assigns scores to COBDs located within modules that were not ready-for-use. Any usable COBDs are extracted from non-usable modules and reallocated. The FST team delivered the tool to FRCSE Planners and Estimators in May 2023 and trained them on its usage shortly after that.  

“This tool increased the usable COBD rate from a historical recover rate of 35 to 76 percent because artisans were no longer wasting time on repairs that would never come to fruition,” Renn said. “An additional 41 COBDs were extracted from non-RFI modules, removing the COBD barrier.”  

From May to October 2023, back orders on engine module parts decreased from 338 to zero, and subsequently, the program reached its ERG of 1,451 RFI engines by November 2023 – for the first time in over five years. The milestone represents the most RFI engines available since the command started working on the engine in 2002. 

“We played our part in getting things done, but this was a Naval Aviation Enterprise team success,” Renn said. “An accomplishment of this magnitude speaks volumes about our ability to harness partnerships and overcome complex obstacles to meet or exceed fleet demand.”   

About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast 

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing approximately 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater US Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America’s military forces. 

Feb 1, 2024

FRCE Mentor of the Year finds joy in helping others

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recognized one of its leaders as Mentor of the Year for their dedication to helping others in a ceremony held Jan. 30.

The command recognized Christopher Day, who serves as director of the Engines and Dynamic Components and Industrial Processes divisions, as the depot’s top mentor. Day’s special talent for educating his fellow employees and commitment to continual improvement earned him the title, leaders said.

Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Production Department Head Tina Rowe, Day’s supervisor, said he is exceptionally equipped to be a mentor as he clearly enjoys helping others.

“Chris shows real dedication to his mentees, and vice versa,” said Rowe. “He didn’t become a mentor for personal gain; he became a mentor because he truly loves helping his coworkers succeed. He is the type of supervisor everyone wants to have.

“Chris genuinely cares about his fellow employee’s growth and will do everything he can to help them along their journey here at FRC East,” Rowe continued. “He will stop whatever he is doing to help someone with a challenging situation. For that, I believe he is very deserving of this recognition.”

Day said he was honored by the recognition, which came as quite a surprise to him.

“When I learned I was selected for this recognition, I was shell shocked,” said Day. “I wouldn’t have expected someone to nominate me. I’m overwhelmed with the thought that someone took the time to do this for me.”

Day began his career at FRCE repairing AV-8 aircraft engines 24 years ago; he has been in his current position for a little under a year. While he officially became a mentor when Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) launched a formal mentoring program in 2007, Day said passing along helpful information to those coming into a new position has always come naturally to him. The mentors he had toward the beginning of his career instilled this in him and were a key factor in both why and how he became a mentor himself.

“When I first became a work leader, I had some great mentors. They spent hours helping to develop me into a leader. I think because of that, mentoring came naturally to me,” said Day. “I’ve always been interested in helping others and I’ve always extended a hand to those in need because if I can help, let me know. Come to my office and we can talk.”

According to Matthew Sinsel, head of both the Manufacturing, Machining and Welding Branch and the Clean and Paint Branch, Day is the type of mentor who is always willing to lend a helping hand, especially if it will aid in his mentee’s success. This made Sinsel’s decision to nominate Day for this award easy.

“Chris goes above and beyond. He is committed to helping others reach their full potential and be the best versions of themselves,” said Sinsel. “He is a good listener, provides constructive, non-judgmental feedback and is both passionate and enthusiastic about his role as a mentor. He demonstrates a positive outlook that inspires others to work harder.”

Sinsel said he nominated Day for Mentor of the Year because he has witnessed Day’s mentorship help many others, himself included, on countless occasions. Working with Day has provided him with numerous shadowing opportunities that have been beneficial to his job performance and improvement, he said.

“Chris’ reassurance and positive feedback kept me on the right track to make a positive impact,” said Sinsel. “His mentorship allowed me to challenge myself, work to broaden my knowledge and better understand NAVAIR’s mission.”

For Day, being recognized as Mentor of the Year is not the most fulfilling part of being a mentor; instead, he feels the real reward is simply knowing the information he provided to someone helped them along their journey.

“When someone realizes the information you gave them was of great value, and they come back and say how much it actually helped them, that is what being a mentor is all about,” said Day. “Simply knowing that one short conversation you had with that person will resonate with them for the rest of their career is rewarding. It is very gratifying.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.