By Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published December 16, 2017
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- When Chief Master Sgt. Jayen Patel, vehicle management flight chief for the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron here, arrived in January 2017, he started identifying processes that needed revision to effectively maintain the installation’s 2,200 vehicles. The challenge was going to be coming up with and implementing the new changes; because the existing methods in place shaped how business had always been conducted within vehicle management during his entire 20 year Air Force career.
“In the first three weeks here, I realized we were not very efficient and needed to come up with some better ways to do business,” Patel said.
He had some ideas on how to increase productivity, but wasn’t sure how to exactly implement them. Luckily, help was on the way and soon his unit would make changes that would revolutionize the way vehicle management was accomplished here at AUAB.
Nearly a month after Patel arrived, Staff Sgt. Ismael Montecel, a vehicle mechanic assigned to the 379th ELRS, arrived for his deployment here. Patel knew of Montecel’s specific skills in data analytics and computer programming, and envisioned a way forward utilizing his skills.
Montecel received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics at the University of Texas and is currently working on a master’s in data analytics. According to Montecel, all the newly implemented changes started when the chief asked if Montecel could use his expertise to display spreadsheet data in a different way for easier use.
Every time Montecel would come back with the requested changes, Patel would push him a little harder to see if he could make the product more user-friendly.
“I used to always just tell him ‘yes’, before I knew if I could or not, and I’d figure it out later,” Montecel said.
After multiple revisions, Montecel started to code in Microsoft Access. He used Access to create software that would read raw data out of the Defense Property Accountability System, the primary fleet management information system used by the Air Force. In its current format, DPAS gives the user 17,000 rows of raw data to decipher, which makes for a difficult task for fleet management and analysis technicians.
In addition to coding the software, which would become known as the Vehicle Information Control Interface, Patel and Montecel wanted to figure out a better way to do business in getting vehicles back to their customers faster.
“We decided to step away from personal opinion and started using tangible information to make data driven decisions,” Montecel said. “It’s been really exciting. I remember we were staying late one night and [Patel] asked me, ‘what if we did it like this?’ I started doing some research, playing in Excel and pulled out a calculator.”
Using the knowledge from the college classes he was taking, Montecel started using queueing theory, which is the mathematical study of waiting lines or queues. After taking mass amounts of data and analyzing it, he figured out that if they changed the way they were currently fixing vehicles, which was first come, first served, and instead started breaking up jobs by the required amount of time to fix them, he could save the customers a significant amount of wait time.
“Based on how we work, all we have to do is move to shortest process time first and our average wait time would decrease to 33 percent of what it is now,” Montecel said. “A whole bunch will get out a lot faster, maybe one or two will stay a little longer, but overall, the length of your line is going to shrink, which means more vehicles out there.”
According to Montecel, this way of queuing could work in any career field, from communications to civil engineering.
Patel and Montecel then had to sell their ideas to the mechanics on the floor. They split the shops up into three sections: light maintenance, heavy maintenance and priority maintenance. Light maintenance are jobs that can be completed in 24 hours or less, while heavy maintenance are jobs that take more than 24 hours and priority jobs are ones that are essential for units to complete their mission.
As the Airmen in the bays saw the changes taking place, their excitement grew and innovation became contagious. Soon mechanics were coming up with ideas to help speed along different processes even more, which made jobs run smoother than they ever had before. They started seeing the number of vehicles in the yard quickly diminishing.
Airmen from the first six-month rotation then took these tools and methods back with them to their home stations when they redeployed and their bases started using them as well. Currently, 22 U.S. Air Force installations are using the methods created by the Airmen here at AUAB.
After four months of working on these projects, Montecel felt they were getting a good handle on the processes they were developing and decided to extend six more months in addition to his current six-month rotation.
He has used these past five months to solidify all of the work that was accomplished in his first six month deployment, ensuring the processes he and Patel came up with would be sustainable for future rotations.
Back in January, around 65 percent of the installation’s vehicle fleet was operational. Now in December the fleet is hovering around 85 percent, meaning that an additional 200 vehicles are driving around the base instead of waiting to be troubleshot and repaired.
Forty thousand lines of computer code later, VICI is being used in the entire U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility and has been identified as a best practice by the wing’s inspector general. It is now working its way up the chain to become an Air Force best practice.
“The best part of vehicle management process improvement has been to watch it grow from a vision back in January to an actual reality today,” Patel concluded. “Over the past 11 months, the men and women of the vehicle management flight are the sole reason why we have been successful with this change and it is an honor to be able to see this through with all of them.”