Innovating inventory processes: 386th maintainers laser cut toolkits

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natalie Filzen, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office

At any given time, a computer’s screen at the check-out desk of the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Sortie Support Component Equipment Maintenance Flight glows with a list of all the tools that are in circulation on the flight line. Each tool has a barcode that is scanned when it leaves the shop, as its serial number appears on the screen to show it has left to complete a task.

In addition to standard accountability of equipment, it is also a safety concern to be aware when a tool is missing, as it could potentially become a foreign object obstruction should it fall down the wrong pipe in the aircraft, or damage a wheel if it is left on the taxiway during takeoff.

While all members in the SSCEM flight act as composite tool kit technicians within their shop, this is a secondary duty and temporary position separate from their main Air Force Specialty Coded job.

“Over a week there's probably a couple thousand transactions that we have going on with switching tools out, [checking out] different tools, so lots of foot traffic,” said Senior Airman Daniel Logan Hopton, a composite tool kit technician and fuel system mechanic with the 386th EAMXS/SSCEM Flight.

Thousands of intricate and sophisticated tools serve specific purposes to ensure that proper maintenance can be done on aircraft to keep the mission running. Oftentimes, tools that typically work together in a certain job are grouped together in a tool kit, in which foam is inserted and carved in a way to show tool-shaped crevasses where the exact tool belongs. This also allows for users to easily identify where tools belong and which tools have not been returned to the box yet.


“[The foam in the toolboxes used to be] cut out with razor blades that weren't quite as accurate,” said Staff Sgt. Justo Allen Boggs, a composite tool kit technician and fuel system mechanic with the 386th EAMXS/SSCEM Flight. “To get that kind of quality done [would be expensive] but we've been doing it ourselves for a quarter of the cost [only paying for foam] and using the laser etcher. When I got here, a few people knew how to use it.”

Typically, the Boss Laser HP2440 was used for etching tools with standardized worldwide identifier numbers required for tracking. As the tools are acquired from various manufacturers with their own naming conventions and serial numbers, the SSCEM shop acts as a hub for all aircraft maintenance tools, branding each tool with their unique shop’s identifier.

“We've been utilizing [the laser etcher] since we got here for a different purpose–to make toolboxes nicer to where the tools don't get lost,” said Boggs. “Because it was an issue that we encountered, but I saw that we had the capability and we just weren't using it. It was a learning curve figuring out how to use the program and make the first few boxes but we've gotten better over time. We've been saving the files [in the program that connects to the tool] for the boxes that we've made, so it'll get to the point where anybody can use it. They just turn on the laser and press start and it'll laser cut the foam for the box.”

While the flight’s main focus is to support maintenance with their suite of C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, service members from other branches and coalition partners have also entered the shop to check out tools.

“Sometimes [coalition forces] will come over and borrow tools, or aircraft en route to a location [will] stop by our base,” said Senior Airman Albert Garcia, a composite tool kit technician and crew chief with the 386th EAMXS/SSCEM Flight. “If they need help with the actual maintenance, our fuel systems mechanics or non-destructive inspectors will go out and work on their aircraft.”

As the SSCEM flight continues to improve their processes, think creatively about innovative ways to use their existing resources, and share their skills and knowledge with our coalition partners, they help get sorties out every day to maintain security and stability in the region.