Photo by Steve White
Marc Obearle performs a low-frequency voltage test on a multimeter at the new Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory in Hangar 63.
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
Technicians who carry out one of Randolph's least visible but most vital missions have a new home in the same building.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony this week attended by Col. Richard Clark, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, officially opened the new 10,000-square-foot Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory on the south end of Hangar 63 - the opposite side of the technicians' former 4,000-square-foot workplace.
The new facility for the 15 technicians who calibrate and repair test, measurement and diagnostic equipment used at Randolph and other locations will help the PMEL achieve full certification by the Air Force Metrology and Calibration Program, lab supervisor Gabe Moreno said.
"Over the last eight years we have increased our inventory, and the old PMEL was too small to meet program requirements," he said. "The new PMEL exceeds the requirements and actually gives us room to grow. During our last audit in January 2006 we received high marks in every area except the facility. With the recently completed 10,000-square-foot facility, we are well on our way to becoming fully certified."
Mr. Moreno said calibration is defined as the "comparison of a device against a known standard in order to establish the accuracy or error of the device."
"Anything that is used on base to measure comes to us for verification of accuracy," he said. "There are 76 PMELs in the Air Force and they all do the same thing."
PMEL technicians calibrate and repair equipment ranging in complexity from torque wrenches to tactical air navigation radar. Each piece of equipment must be calibrated on a regular basis - some items as often as every three months.
"This recurring calibration ensures the equipment stays accurate and reliable," Mr. Moreno said. "Calibrations must be traceable and base-level PMELs are traceable to the Air Force Primary Standards Laboratory, which in turn is traceable to the National Institute of Standards and Trade."
He called traceability an "unbroken chain of comparisons all the way from the end user to NIST."
Moreno said the lab uses 600 items of its own inventory - including expensive, highly accurate calibration equipment of all kinds that also must be calibrated - to support a line-item inventory of 6,500. It calibrates an average of 400 items per month for Randolph and Lackland Air Force Bases, with more than half of its work coming from Lackland. Its production control section manages all the items that come in and out the door.
"Our workload has increased from 3,000 to 6,500 line items," he said. "That's what's driven the need for a new facility."
Moreno said the workload could rise to 9,000 items by 2009, but the new facility can accommodate the growth. He attributes the increases to base closures.
In addition to supporting equipment for trainer aircraft at Randolph and for fighter and cargo aircraft at Lackland, the PMEL calibrates items from units as diverse as the 12th Communications Squadron and the Air Force weather station at Fort Hood.
The facility meets most of Randolph's critical measurement needs, but some items are shipped to other bases for calibration, Moreno said.
The PMEL's highly trained technicians work in three measurement sections - two electronics sections and one physical/dimensional/mechanical section. He said some of the parameters the technicians support are voltage, resistance, current, power, impedance, radio frequency, microwave, temperature, humidity, pressure, vacuum, mass, torque, force, linear, angular and optics.
Their calibrations are so precise they can measure frequency to one part in one trillion, voltage from one millionth of a volt up to 15,000 volts, an inch to within 6 millionths and weight from 0.035 ounces up to 60,000 pounds, he said.
Because the accuracy and reliability of TMDE is so critical to the Air Force mission, the PMEL has an internal Quality Assurance Program, Moreno said.
"We do our own QA," he said. "We do 30 quality reviews of technicians' work per month. That's about 3 percent of our inventory. We also do recalibration to ensure accuracy."
Moreno also said the facility is inspected every two years by the AFMETCAL certification team, who choose 20 items and evaluate each technician's proficiency and processes during a calibration.
"That can take from 45 minutes to four hours," he said. "They make sure technicians are proficient and comply with standards."
Moreno said the facility is also evaluated in six critical areas, including facility size, a deficiency the PMEL's new home addresses.
The lab is a tightly controlled environment with temperature and humidity requirements.
"Elements such as static electricity, temperature, humidity and dust could adversely affect the calibration process, so work areas are treated with preventative measures such as airlocks, rooms with precise temperature controls and anti-static flooring," he said.
Moreno, who's been supervisor for 11 years, said his team, which includes four employees with at least 25 years of experience, was invaluable during the move to the new facility.
"The move was pretty much transparent to our customers, but internally it took a lot of teamwork to make it that way," he said. "I can't say enough about the employees.
Everyone is conscientious about providing quality customer support; they're always willing to go above and beyond to support the mission."