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“Lovin’ an elevator” – new MacDill system delivers

A 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron consolidated tool kit Airman reviews tool inventory at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 17, 2019.

A 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron consolidated tool kit Airman reviews tool inventory at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 17, 2019. The 6th AMXS purchased seven innovative vertical tool lifts to improve tool storage and retrieval efficiency and reduce man hours by 4,927 per year in tool accountability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Adam R. Shanks)

A vertical tool lift is installed in the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s consolidated tool kit section at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., June 26, 2019.

A vertical tool lift is installed in the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s consolidated tool kit section at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., June 26, 2019. The innovative lift systems will boast 189 flexible storage drawers with a maximum weight capacity comparable to two KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. (Courtesy photo / Staff Sgt. Brad Hillis)

Aircraft maintenance tools lay on a tray inside a new vertical lift tool storage system at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 17, 2019.

Aircraft maintenance tools lay on a tray inside a new vertical lift tool storage system at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 17, 2019. The 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron purchased seven innovative tool lifts to streamline the processes of consolidated tool kit technicians. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Adam R. Shanks)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, and at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, it came as a one-of-a-kind vertical lift storage system which boasts 9,025 cubic feet of storage space. That is similar to 573, 16-drawer tool chests.

Used by the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, this tool lift streamlines the processes of Airmen working in the consolidated tool kit section, or CTK. Using chains in an elevator-like fashion, the lift is controlled by a computer to call on drawers containing tools for use by KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft maintainers.

“What makes our lift system unique is the camera system installed in each unit,” said Tech. Sgt. William Ong, 6th AMXS resource advisor and avionics technician. “Two cameras take a high resolution snapshot of each drawer every time it is recalled, which allows us to see exactly what tool is taken at any given time.”

This feature increases the speed that technicians can conduct inventory during a shift change, because only the drawers that were pulled from would need to be inventoried. The system also keeps a transaction history, which guarantees overview of storage at all times.

“In our previous location, it would take three people around 30 minutes to fully inventory the storage,” said Ong. “With these vertical lifts, that process is cut down to one person spending 10 minutes.”

With three shifts per day, that equates to a 4,927 man hour reduction per year. Currently, the CTK team only has two of the vertical lift units and is slated to receive five more units in October of this year.

Before the lifts, CTK used “space saver” shelving units that were on a track system. However, lack of space in the old location only allowed one Airman to access any given shelf before the shelves could be moved on their tracks.

“Soon we’ll be able to punch in what type of maintenance task is being performed, and tool trays that correspond to that task will be grabbed in the lift and be ready to access at the push of a button,” added Ong.

Once all seven units are operational, CTK will be able to quickly retrieve common tools and have them ready for aircraft maintainers standing by. Additionally, the lift unit can learn which drawers get pulled frequently, and automatically store them lower in the lift to make retrieval even faster.

“Vertical lifts aren’t new to the Air Force or the CTK, but what makes MacDill’s so much more unique is the integrated camera system that takes photos of the drawers before and after they’re accessed,” said Staff Sgt. Brad Hillis, a 6th AMXS CTK technician. “As far as we know, our lift system is the first of its kind in the U.S.”