Logistics and supply chain research at the Air Force Institute for Technology are sponsored by operational units of the service and are nearly always implemented, says Lt. Col Tim Pettit, assistant professor of logistics and supply chain management at AFIT. "We are not looking to create a thesis or dissertation that sits on a shelf," he says.
AFIT is the U.S. Air Force's graduate school for engineering and management as well as its arm for technical and professional education. Since it was founded in 1919, AFIT has granted more than 19,000 masters degrees and almost 400 doctoral degrees, says Pettit. "While our students primarily are Air Force junior officers, we also have Department of Defense civilians as well as private citizens taking our courses."
Each program requires an individual research effort that includes either a thesis or dissertation. Students and faculty are linked with operational sponsors for these projects through a center for operational analysis.
"A lot of sponsors come to AFIT for solutions to their operational problems," says Pettit and many of these are in the supply chain area. One supply chain project currently under way at AFIT is on high-velocity maintenance and repair network integration, he says. In this project, started a few years ago, "we are trying to see how the Air Force can get better aircraft availability" by managing their overhaul schedules. The goal is to keep planes in the air and off the ground, he says.
This project has two primary components. The first is to get more labor working on the planes at one time. "We looked at commercial jet overhauls, which are averaging a burn rate of between 500 to 900 man hours per day, and compared that to our Air Force depots, which do about 200 man hours per day," he says. "So we are working on process improvements there."
The second part of high-velocity maintenance involves trying to predict maintenance work that needs to be done to each craft in advance. "Typically an aircraft comes to the repair depot every five years," Pettit explains. "These craft are flying different missions all over the world, so when they come in and we open them up, there is a lot of variability in the work that needs to be done. We are looking at bringing the craft into depots more frequently, maybe at 12- or 18-month intervals, so we can do more preventive maintenance. Also, we are looking at how to plan and schedule work, particularly ordering parts that might be necessary for the next time a craft comes in. We hope this will help us be more effective in keeping planes in the air."
Another group project was recently initiated with the Ohio Department of Homeland Security. "Students who have been studying how to design supply chain networks get an opportunity to actually virtually attack those networks," says Pettit. "This is a fun learning experience where the students get to play the bad guys." Through that process and through annual seminars with public responders and transportation specialists, "students learn how they can make logistics networks more secure as well as more responsive," he says.
The future of AFIT lies in "leveraging both our operations research and systems engineering expertise with supply chain management," says Pettit. This will create "a win/win situation for both students and sponsors."
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