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Lean logistic owes its roots from the JIT philosophy formulated by Toyota Company. In United States, lean concept was initially applied in the manufacturing sector but has spread to the other sectors of the economy. This idea is aimed at getting rid of wastes such as inventories and had a series of specific approaches in achieving an organization’s objectives (Maidhar, 2005).
Thus lean objective is geared towards achieving minimum waste and to attain the lowest inventory. Lean concept is controlled by two aspects and that is to constantly reduce waste, and to add value to any production process (Guanyi, 2003).
The centre of lean logistics is a concept of stable improvement, elimination of potential wastes, serving the clients/customers promptly at a low cost and with the highest quality products/services thus enhancing the competitive capacity of an organization (Maidhar, 2005).
Lean logistics strategy tries to minimise inventory at the lowest possible level and only produce what can be consumed. This has helped many organizations to reduce costs associated with holding large inventories, improved their net income and eliminated kinks from their supply chain (Maidhar, 2005).
Lean logistics remains widely accepted among the automobile companies and other manufacturing entities that produce a long repetitive chain. This concept highly demands cooperation among different parties within the supply chain. In the non-manufacturing sector, lean logistical have been used in recruitment of human resources, supply and chain management, financial management, leadership structure among others.
Therefore, an organization or any business entity that applies the concept of lean logistics is swaying toward the realm of lean enterprise (Cohen, 1999).
A lean enterprise is defined as an integrated firm or company that effectively generates value for its numerous stakeholders by applying the principles of lean logistical management and practices. Efficient management of any business entity necessitates identification of the business dependencies and relations. Employees within a lean enterprise works together, recognize their place in the enterprise and are guided by the lean culture. Lean enterprise adapts lean principles in all the operations besides manufacturing process (Maidhar, 2005).
Transforming an entity into a lean enterprise entails employment of lean concepts, instrument s, and methods when formulating the organization’s goal and objectives (Cohen, 1999).
This on the other hand tries to consolidate the whole entity and its employees together when developing the core mission and vision of the organization. Transforming an entity into a lean enterprise minimises the excessive and burdening influence of the managerial and functional storage capacity, if any, with more focus on networking and consolidation of an enterprise (Guanyi, 2003).
Most government organizations ‘objective is service delivery and not profit making thus have limited measures associated with value addition/production. This increases the chance of more resistance by these organizations towards adopting lean principles. Therefore some of the government policies have affected the adoption and absorption of the lean principles among the government offices.
According to some studies within the US Air Force, there is always lack of consensus among the leaders and the general staff and as a result no clear standards on wastes and value have been achieved. In most cases, the US military command employs the top down approach to its policy and daily operations. Instructions for the junior members are received from above (Cohen, 1999).
Over the years, the Air Force have used wider logistical systems that are based on management practices and concepts that have been used again and again and are have become outdated (Guanyi,2003). Air Force logistical system is usually referred to as logistical pipeline and plays a major role in providing materials required at different bases.
These activities include buying, warehousing, supplying and maintenance services, which demands huge amount of investments to be sustained. This explains the reason behind lean logistics introduction in the Air Force (Cohen, 1999).
US Air Force Logistics
US Air Force department was established just immediately after the Second World War and was separated from the US Army in 1947 following the national security Act .Air Force responsibility has always been revised from time to time but its core value and mission of protecting the US air space has always remained the same. Air force is separated into four categories and sub categories (Christopherson &Stanke, 2005).
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Air force material command (AFMC) is one of the major divisions within the Air Force chain of command. Roles of the AFMC are material support, information technological systems, managing supplies, maintenance, scientific and technological work, testing and evaluation, managing information, and installations (Cohen, 1999).
Air force material command is subdivided into five categories namely: The product centre, Research laboratory, Testing centres, Air Logistics and major specialized centres. US Air Force Air Logistics (ALCs) is an autonomous enterprise but form part of the wider US Air force chain. These enterprise works with other enterprises from the Air Force Chain of command, to the Pentagon, to the entire defence department and also the Congress and the US President who is the top in the chain of command (Cohen, 1999).
US air Logistics centres deals with maintenance, repair, and overhauling of the Air Force facilities. Air Force uses these centres for planned or scheduled maintenance and unplanned maintenance. Besides maintenance, these centres also accommodate system program offices which are entitled with the responsibility of supply chain management (Christopherson &Stanke, 2005)…
Currently, the US Air Force has air logistic centres in OKLAHOMA, Ogden and Warner Robins. These bases were realigned in the 2005 to give it the traditional Air Force look. These centres are divided into wings namely maintenance section, Aircraft sections, combat sections and Air Base support.
The US department of defence uses base realignment and closure system to reallocate workload and financing among the military bases both within and without the country. The main aim of using the above realignment process is to minimise expenses, dispose old technology and invest in the current technology, thus equips the military effectively to respond to the ever changing war tactics (Cohen, 1999).
Application of Lean logistics in the US Air Force
The US Air Force Logistic centres have struggled very much to achieve the status of a lean enterprise. The centres are still working on establishing a comprehensive program for designing and collecting of enterprise level metrics.
On the other hand, the US Air Force has made a great stride towards achieving the lean enterprise status. One of the achievements made is the transformation of the leadership into a unit that shares common cause or shared mental model. This has helped in passing clear messages and giving direction to the juniors (Christopherson &Stanke, 2005).
Leadership transformation has witnessed more commitment and engagement among the top level department of defence especially the Defence Logistic Agency (DLA). The support of the defence logistic agency is very important in establishing the local supply centres and an integrated program to meet the Air Force Logistical demands (Maidhar, 2005).
US Air Force in general has also redeployed some of workforce to other defence departments and reduced its workforce to do away with some unnecessary positions especially that that add no value to the Air force operations. This has also placed a long term goal for success in Air Force operations. The above strategy puts national service a top priority and minimises tax burden to the citizens (Cohen, 1999).
Just like other commercial airlines, US Air Force operates a fleet of air craft ranging from the military choppers to a very sophisticated war planes. Time is a very crucial factor when responding to the aircraft logistical and inventory needs. US Air force uses has made improvements in reducing pipeline times and complexity in relation to logistical matters, thus have enhanced responsiveness and minimised costs (Christopherson &Stanke, 2005)..
With regard to the increasing budgetary reduction, the dynamic global security threats, and the need to enhance its logistical systems, the US air force though its logistical centres have started a number of programs geared towards realigning its logistics operations. These programs include base realignment and closure systems which are aimed at reducing cost, minimise workloads and invest in modern technologies (Christopherson &Stanke, 2005)..
Air Force is streamlining its corporate cultures within the top level leadership and upgrading its data systems. The main targets are the supply flows to the Air Force warehouses and internal distribution. They are also outsourcing some of the logistical services to private companies which are more effective in logistical matters. DLA is reducing the number of suppliers and improving their relationship with the remaining suppliers (Cohen, 1999).
The US Air force realignment efforts tackles intrinsic challenges with its logistics system. A number of efforts have been put in place to optimize the probable developments. Through the lean logistical measures, the US Air Force is starting to embrace practices that are synonymous with the private sectors such as disposing excessive inventories, prompt repairs to the damaged parts and quick transportation of logistics to the appropriate destinations.
In addition, the US Air Force has also embraced other practices common with lean enterprises such as mobilising the top leadership in supporting the Air Force initiatives, private partnerships in logistical services, maintain good relationship with the stakeholders, persuading their suppliers to use the nearest distribution centres, integrating repair and maintenance operations, and adjusting their facilities to accommodate lean practices.
However, there certain barriers that have stood in the way of Air Force in attaining lean enterprise status. The fist one is the top level leadership cultures that have been conservatively resistant to change and new concepts of operations.
Secondly, Air Force has always bestowed upon the DLA the logistical roles and this must be limited to achieve lean logistical status. The last but not the least is the use of outdated inventory systems. The DLA must work hand in hand with the rest of the Air Force units to find the best solution for the above problems.
Christopherson, T., & Stanke, A. (2005). Lean Enterprise Transformation: Ogden ALC Case Study, LAI Plenary Conference. California: Dana Point Inc.
Cohen, J.L. (1999). United States Air Force Logistics Centres: Lean enterprise transformation and associated capabilities. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Inc.
Guanyi, W. (2003). A review of Toyota production philosophy. Enterprise Management (Chinese), Vol: (6) pp. 82-85
Maidhar, V. (2005). Designing lean enterprise performance measurement system in an organization, Paper presented at the LAI Plenary conference in Dana Point. California: Siege publishers