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New scheduling system streamlines test and maintenance planning

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Ensuring resources such as utilities, facilities and personnel are available to accommodate high-priority test and maintenance projects is essential to the success of the AEDC mission.

In an effort to reduce work impacts and delays due to resource unavailability and conflicts in testing schedules, a new single master schedule was developed by National Aerospace Solutions. It will improve near- and long-term planning, decision making, efficiency and effectiveness.

The Integrated Scheduling System, or ISS, is now in use at Arnold Air Force Base and, to a lesser extent, AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Maryland, and the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. The ISS is a set of databases designed to collect project management information for test, repair and investment, and maintenance projects to plan and analyze the most effective way to approach and complete these projects.

“Better planning and scheduling will optimize our testing capability,” said Kevin Chalmers, director of Integrated Resources with National Aerospace Solutions, the AEDC Test Operations and Sustainment contractor. “We’ll be able to do more. It’s all about when we hear that whir from the Propulsion Wind Tunnel facility. That’s a great sound. When you hear Sea Level Test Cell SL-3, the engines being throttled and pulled back, that’s a good sound. We want to hear those noises more often than silence. We can optimize the testing, have more air-on hours, with better planning and scheduling.”

The ISS can also create implementation plans. The system is loaded with mission capabilities, capacity and resources for numerous projects. The system then uses this information to predict and manage project performance through appropriate integration, de-confliction and optimization, allowing AEDC to meet its strategic, operational and tactical priorities.

“There are many competing interests here at AEDC that can impact the mission,” said NAS Schedule Supervisor Sean Neary. “Schedule conflicts can develop between multiple high-priority test customers. There are multiple competing users of utilities such as high-pressure air, cooling water and power. Facilities require maintenance that can impact testing.

“Funding alone cannot solve all of these conflicts, so what the ISS process does is it adds time as an additional resource that can resolve operational restraints by finding the best sequence to perform the priority work. This allows AEDC to maximize test time in the most fiscally responsible way possible.”

The ISS can also project adequate staffing levels to serve projects slated to begin weeks, months and even years in advance. Chalmers said this helps give TOS managers a leg up. They can use this information to line up the completion of the steps necessary to move resources around, bring the new hires onboard, and get these new employees trained and up to speed to get started on the test or maintenance undertaking when needed.

“We have seen an increase in the craft work being scheduled, which optimizes the productivity of our workforce,” Chalmers said. “Since September 2018, we have measured a significant increase in identifying the work ahead of time and having the work ready for our workforce to execute. This is good progress, but we have a lot of work yet to do.”

The ISS, which will be utilized by TOS contract employees, DOD civilians and Air Force teams across Arnold, views projects in four distinct time horizons which can be accessed by users to serve different project management needs.

The first of these, the tactical horizon, includes projects up to two weeks out. This horizon is used primarily for sequencing and de-confliction of near-term test and outage work.

The focus of the short-term planning horizon, which includes projects up to six months out, is the integration of opportunistic maintenance work with priority test and outage work.

The mid-term planning horizon includes projects six months to two years out and focuses on resource allocation and staffing.

The long-term planning horizon, which includes projects two to seven years in the future, focuses on AEDC capacity and capability.

“The work process of plan, de-conflict, test has been in operation here at AEDC for many years,” Neary said. “The world-class professionals in each of the mission areas are extremely effective in reacting to near-term change as it occurs to ensure advancement of the mission. To fully implement the mid- to long-range planning with the ISS requires a forward-looking mindset that will ensure that the work marches into the near-term in a well-planned, de-conflicted and organized manner.

“This will allow AEDC to maximize mission capability and provide greater schedule adherence for the test customers.”

Project management software used in the ISS provides the scheduling engine that defines the scope of work and predicts future outcomes by defining activity durations and required sequences for that scope. Additional software utilized by the system provides the daily and hourly work planning and crew management that allows near-term work to be integrated at a more granular level. Both software tools require trained operators to manage.

The development and implementation of the ISS was part of the National Aerospace Solutions proposal for the TOS contract with AEDC. The system falls under the leadership of AEDC Test Operations Division Chief Col. Keith Roessig.

“The dramatic increase in workload demand and change in national priority of the types of programs AEDC tests requires a level of integration across AEDC test capabilities that has not been required for many years,” Roessig said. “It is imperative that we have an integrated schedule that can be viewed by all personnel as a trusted source of information for the planning and execution of test operations, maintenance activity and capital improvement projects.”

ISS test and integration is managed by Lt. Col. Charles Harding.

“The ISS certainly has great potential,” Harding said. “It has great potential to help us better manage and de-conflict shared resources and infrastructure, which is a big deal here at Arnold as there are few test cells that can operate independently. Although the ISS can help identify problems early on, it is only as good as what is put in it and is not a substitute for good project management, nor is it a crystal ball if things are not put in it at all.

“In the end, the ISS is our effort to improve how we test at AEDC with the ultimate goal of improving our warfighters’ lethality and being better stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

The system has the full support of TOS leadership.

“The ISS serves as an important management and planning tool for NAS,” said NAS General Manager Dr. Rich Tighe. “We use it to monitor progress on key projects, including the projects we review each Friday during the NAS project ‘watch list’ meeting. The ISS also assists us in planning and de-conflicting resources – people, equipment and facilities. I believe the ISS has been an asset to the Air Force during planning for summer turnarounds and other mid- and long-term projects. We’ve made progress toward fully implementing the ISS, but we continue to work to refine and improve.”

This summer, the ISS served as the primary tool used at Arnold AFB to integrate Air Force and contractor leadership teams for turnarounds in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility, Engine Test Facility and Propulsion Wind Tunnel facilities.

Along with the establishment of necessary work processes, a handbook that identifies ISS framework, process inputs and outputs, horizon schedule definitions and review cycles has already been issued and published to the Schedule Integration SharePoint. Introductory training on the ISS has been provided to key stakeholders, and plans are in place to roll out a more detailed system training for project managers and operations officers to enhance inputs and outputs.

This past May, Air Force senior leadership, leaders in the Combined Test Forces and those on the integration teams started a routine review cycle of data in the ISS.

“The team has made significant progress in the last six months with issuing the ISS handbook, implementing the process to receive CTF inputs needed to generate the various horizon schedules, and conducting successful horizon reviews with the Air Force,” said NAS Project Controls Manager Paula Wynn. “We are committed to building on this foundation and continually improving the process. If we do this right, it should make next fiscal year’s planning more streamlined, empowering all of us to start planning earlier on known priorities.”

Schedules for the 2020 fiscal year are in development for finalization in mid-September. A more refined scheduling structure is also being implemented for the 2020 fiscal year. This evolution, which will allow for higher quality ISS outputs by adding more consistency to the inputs, will be available starting this October.

“When you have a good plan and you execute that plan well, you’re optimizing our testing time here, and that’s a huge advantage that we need to give the Air Force,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers said some have voiced concern that the ISS is too complex and adds risk to the AEDC program. He said the information the ISS is capable of providing should ease those concerns.

“You have to work at it,” Chalmers said. “You have to get the whole team used to the battle rhythm of good planning and scheduling, good schedule reviews and updates. That’s necessary to make sure we maximize our time testing for our customers.

“If we don’t do it, we won’t be hearing that good sound of the engine in SL-3 or the whir at PWT as often as we want to.”