by STEVEN ALAN BALL
Working in aviation is similar in concept to working in a hospital. Your operating room is the hangar floor or the airfield-parking ramp. Before you begin work you have to undergo very similar preparation to a surgical team because you’re doing the same kind of things to a machine that a surgeon does to a human body. Too bad the pay isn’t similar!
All work procedures on aircraft must be standardized. This means everyone doing a specific task will do it the same way, every time.
At top levels of the US Air Force guidance of a general nature is given: “You must control your tools, parts and equipment.” This is coupled with the manufacturer’s guidance for the aircraft or aircraft system involved: “If you are working on our product, you will do these things….” Localized procedures are added to ensure that individual processes involving tool control are addressed for that particular installation: “We at Location X will adhere to the following specific guidelines when handling tools and equipment….”
Corporations are no different. Top-down leadership directs maintenance practices all the way to the technician. These include procedures for security, control and accountability of all tools, parts and equipment — even to include expendable items such as rags, caps and safety wire. Losing a part, or a tool, activates established policy too: “When a tool room item cannot be immediately accounted for, the following guidelines are to be adhered to in order to achieve the maximum recovery effort before said item causes any damage…” Do what the book says, and it will turn out all right in the end.
One of the greatest mistakes any organization can ever make is to fail to listen to the workers. You can have the very best managers, scientists and engineers but what everything might come down to is a guy or gal working the floor who may have had six months of experience on the job. If they are unsure of what they have to do, including how to use and account for their equipment, then the aircraft they are handling could be in peril. If they find a flaw in the system, you owe it to the floor workers to hear — and resolve — their concerns.
Pre-Assembled Tools and Parts
As in routine repetitive surgery, your tool or parts kit can be set up ahead of time. In these cases, nothing extra need be present. Assembly trays should be “pre-kitted.” This means the items in the tray are counted out ahead of time, arranged or assembled so that they are easy to pick up, and if possible, organized to follow the work flow of the task ahead and be easily accounted for on completion. These kit trays can also be used for routine dis-assembly projects too. Some operations even bubble-wrap tool kits and have vending machines for tools that record the worker’s ID when a tool or kit is signed out. FOD bags and FODCANS should be at your workstation so everything is contained during the job in a continuing process known as “Clean-As-You-Go” — which means just that.
Ensure the parts tray or CTK (Consolidated Tool Kit) is clean and every tool is in good functional order. CTKs should be arranged to provide a quick inventory and accountability of tools. Each tool removed for use must be identified so if it is lost whoever finds it will know exactly where it belongs. Nothing should touch an aircraft or aircraft part that isn’t properly checked out and marked, including test equipment and accessories. Marking is commonly done through mechanical or laser etching.
A widely accepted method of tool inventory is to “shadow” the tools. Tool shadowing is done several ways but a preferred method is to use two thin layers of foam. The top layer is one solid color and each tool shape is cut all the way through it. This layer is firmly glued to a bottom layer of a contrasting color. What you get is a well-shadowed toolbox, with instant recognition every time any tool is removed. When tools are added or the drawer or tray they are in becomes too crowded, it’s time to re-foam the drawer, change the design or remove tools you may not be using.
Each CTK should contain a MIL (Master Inventory List) and a removed-tool form to tell the user the status and location of every tool. Consumable items mixed with tools are permissible provided they are itemized on the MIL. No personal tools should be allowed. Larger “common” toolboxes can cut down the need for smaller hand-carried items. Standardize multiple CTKs or trays that will be used for the same purpose to maximize efficiency and insure control. Speaking of control; in the best tool control systems, technicians have a go-between person responsible for checking out their tools, and a tracking system using bar codes or chits established to ensure positive control at all times.
The Team Assembles
Technicians can’t arrive at the work site unless they have the proper procedural guidance and on-the-job training. They must wear the right clothing; have no loose change or stuff in their pockets and, in certain places such as aircraft engines, be wearing pocket-less, button-less coveralls. They should have the time to thoroughly check their tools and equipment over, to receive a good “pass-on” from the earlier shift before starting to work. The smart guys and gals touch and lift tools in their CTK to see what else is in the box before they accept it. (The tool room folks should do this, too, when the tools and parts come back for check in.) Now they’re ready to commence…
Then the Work Really Begins
The work area may have to be cleaned and prepared. This means things have to be FOD free in much the same way as the operating room has to be germ-free. Usually there are access panels to open along with tools and equipment to assemble. Collecting hardware and fasteners in marked bags or trays and setting them safely aside goes along with good job site tool control. Accountability is the key.
Finally you get to do what you are trained to do. Whatever it is, stay the course, stay in the procedures, and “Clean-As-You-Go.” On completion, all tools, equipment and work-generated debris are to be accounted for before the aircraft is sealed up.
Want to learn more? Contact us for guidance on developing your FOD prevention program.