AFSO 21; Elmendorf unit saves thousands Published July 17, 2006 By Senior Airman Jared Marquis 3rd Wing Public Affairs ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- With cutbacks in the Air Force and the growing importance of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century, one unit is doing their part. AFSO 21 is about eliminating or reducing waste and the members of the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron's Nondestructive Inspection laboratory have found a way to save the Air Force approximately $213,000 annually. According to Tech. Sgt. Joseph Goff, the lab is similar to a doctor's office in that it inspects all 3rd Wing assigned aircraft for what might be ailing them; more specifically, internal problems that are hard for the naked eye to see. "We are trained to detect abnormalities before they become a problem," said Sergeant Goff. They are able to accomplish this using several techniques, like x-rays, ultraviolet light, high-powered magnets, using a spectrometer - like those used in CSI - to analyze particles found in oil. Transitioning from film to digital x-rays is how the lab saved so much money. The old way took two full shifts, and the members of the NDI lab had to take the x-ray, develop the film, which costs $14 a piece, and then inspect the results. And if a picture didn't come out right, they would have to repeat the process. In addition, they had to keep copies of nearly 800 images from each assigned aircraft. Now, with Virtual Media Integration Digital Imaging, it is all done digitally. They use a reusable plate to take the photo, scan it into a computer, and analyze it on a computer screen. According to Sergeant Goss, the new equipment cuts the time by 60 percent. The software and hardware provided with the systems are specifically designed and programmed to work together to process digital images into a usable format for the NDI Lab. This makes it easier for the lab techs to identify problems, said Sergeant Goss. "In the x-rays, we are looking for things like cracks; it's kind of hard to see sometimes, because all you have is the film. With digital, you have more options, you can zoom in, lighten the image, darken the image, you can do whatever you need to see the problem," he said. In addition, said Sergeant Goss, the film is reusable up to 10,000 times. So, there are no more hazardous chemicals to dispose of, and the lab only prints out the copies they need. Everything else is sent via e-mail. As with most technological upgrades, someone has to be able to fix problems with the equipment. However, this isn't a problem for the lab. "VMI manages and maintains the system software and hardware," said Sergeant Goss. "They cover 6-month periodic maintenance, upgrades to the system, cleaning, and part replacement if necessary." They also provide the lab with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week technical support with a response time of 60 minutes and maximum repair time of three hours. In the event problems encountered cannot be resolved in that time frame, VMI will ship a replacement unit to the NDI Lab within 24 hours. Since its integration, the VMI digital imaging process has saved the Air Force $144 million. Elmendorf was the first to test out the new equipment; however, it is being integrated at bases throughout the Air Force.