How the US Navy Uses Organic Manufacturing to Combat Supply Chain Constraints

A computerized numerical control lathe at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) manufactures an offset pin for use on an AV-8B Harrier. By manufacturing items like this pin when they are unavailable through traditional acquisition channels, the depot’s skilled machinists allow FRCE to continue to return mission-ready aircraft to the fleet. (Image: NAVAIR)

When supply chain constraints make it challenging to source parts for aircraft maintained at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), the depot’s organic manufacturing capabilities allow FRCE to continue to return mission-ready aircraft to the fleet.

Sometimes, parts become unobtainable through traditional acquisition methods employed by the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) demand and supply management organization. In cases like these, FRCE’s Manufacturing Machine Shop is called upon to step in and bridge the gap by manufacturing the items on-site at the depot, a process also referred to as organic manufacturing. The shop and its crew of skilled machinists offer capabilities that are put to work in service of military aviation readiness around the globe.

According to Cmdr. Blake Dremann, the depot’s Supply Officer, FRCE produces about 75 percent of the organic manufacturing completed across the Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) enterprise. COMFRC consists of nine Fleet Readiness Centers, including FRCE, that conduct maintenance, repair, and overhaul of U.S. Navy aircraft, engines, components and support equipment.

Over the past three years, this in-house manufacturing has translated into approximately $19 million in parts manufactured at FRCE. That represents around 10 percent of FRCE’s annual materials cost, Dremann said, but the larger benefit of the depot’s organic manufacturing capability lies in its ability to resolve supply issues that could otherwise keep aircraft grounded.

“It’s not a huge portion of the work that we do, cost wise,” Dremann said. “But the real impact of our organic manufacturing capability is that it’s a readiness enabler. We’ve had a lot of really big successes in that realm.”

Cmdr. David Odom, officer-in-charge of DLA Aviation at Cherry Point, said the organic manufacturing partnership between FRCE and DLA has proven beneficial to both commands and their customers on the flight line.

“As a team, FRC East and DLA have worked together to max out organic manufacturing opportunities for emergent requirements on the production line and future planning gaps for retail shelf stock,” Odom said. “To date, FRC East has been leaning forward in this capacity, and is at the top of the list for maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities across the services and the Department of Defense.”

The parts manufactured at the FRCE have a measurable impact on naval aviation readiness, whether those parts are used at FRCE or sent to DLA to fulfill orders from the Fleet, said Don Jeter, Planning and Operations Division director within the depot’s Centralized Coordination Department.

“We have a pretty robust organic manufacturing program here at FRC East. We manufacture a huge number of piece parts; throughout the enterprise, probably around three-quarters of what’s being manufactured in support of the warfighter, we do here locally,” Jeter explained. “While the dollar value of those parts isn’t an astronomical number, their impact to the Fleet can’t be ignored.”

When DLA has exhausted traditional acquisition avenues and requests manufacturing support from FRCE, there is a great deal work that goes into planning, modeling and testing before the order ever reaches the depot’s machinists. Once production begins, FRCE’s machinists often complete orders of just one or two pieces, said Matt Sinsel, head of the Manufacturing, Machining and Welding Branch – which is part of why the depot’s organic manufacturing capability is so important.

“What’s unique about us is that we can produce the one-off parts, the onsies and twosies,” he said. “When you go out into private industry, they often want to see orders in bulk. There’s more money in running a thousand of the same part on a console. The engineering and programming costs are involved no matter how many pieces you’re producing. A lot of vendors in private industry aren’t willing to do that for one-off parts and, if they are, there might be an astronomical price associated with it.

“We’re different,” Sinsel continued. “We know our capability provides a stopgap, and we’ve invested in that.”

The skill and professionalism of FRCE’s machinists allow the depot to produce a wide range of parts using a variety of methods and equipment, said Jeff Norman, Manufacturing Machine Shop supervisor.

“One day, they might be running a five-axis computer numerical control machine, and then next week they’re traveling to another location to fix something on an aircraft,” he said. “These artisans are not just machine operators – they are, in fact, machinists, and they have the capabilities and bandwidth to do it all.

“They’re very dedicated in what they do,” Norman continued. “I’ve never experienced the level of ownership that this team has in their day-to-day operations and in what’s expected of them. They take it and they own it completely, 100 percent, knowing that their capabilities can get an aircraft back in service to the Fleet. I can’t say enough good about them and the work they do, and my hat’s off to them, absolutely.”

At FRCE, this type of manufacturing-on-demand conducted to fill supply gaps is most common for the legacy aircraft maintained at the depot, including the CH-53E Super Stallion and the AV-8B Harrier. Without the FRCE’s manufacturing capabilities, some of the parts needed for these aircraft might become impossible to source.

“The work we do helps prolong the life of an aircraft system or mission system,” Sinsel said. “It’s hard to sustain some of these aging aircraft, but the parts we produce through organic manufacturing help these aging aircraft reach their full life limit and mission execution.”

Jeter agreed that the capability provides an often-overlooked, but necessary, component of military aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.

“We’re going above and beyond in our support of the warfighter, and that’s exactly what we exist for,” he said. “We’re the last resort to keep the warfighter flying, and that’s what we do.”