Richmond, Va –
A room full of parts at Defense Logistics Agency Aviation gives prospective vendors a clear view of opportunities to do business with the Department of Defense while reducing production lead times and prices for warfighter supplies.
Almost 200 items are included in DLA Aviation’s Replenishment Parts Purchase or Borrow Program, a “parts library” that allows vendors to buy or borrow parts they hope to become approved sources for by replicating them with already existing technical data or reverse engineering.
“If you’ve got a downed aircraft and your lead time is two years on a part, getting a new vendor qualified to source the part might reduce that lead time to three months or so. Overall, the program improves support to our customers,” said Ed Lilly, lead engineer for DLA Aviation’s Sourcing and Reliability Programs Branch.
Created in 1987, the program increases competition, particularly among small businesses, for sole-source items. Cost reductions have been dramatic for items like push-pull control cables for jet engines, Lilly said. The cost of one cable went from $3,700 to about $1,000 after a new vendor became an approved source through the RPPOB Program. DLA has so far saved $3.4 million on the item, and the lead time went from nine months to four.
Sixty-five items were approved for purchase through the parts library in 2016 and 43 in 2017, including wiring harnesses and electrical cable assemblies used to power HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters. Parts currently available for purchase or borrow range from fuel assembly caps and hydraulic valves to aircraft seat cushions. They’re chosen based on prior purchase prices and should-cost analysis.
“Sometimes our contract specialists will refer an item to us because the price has increased. Say, for whatever reason, it’s priced three times higher than it was three years ago and we can’t negotiate it down. That’s a good opportunity to get a new source,” Lilly said, adding that all items have an annual demand of $40,000 to make the RPPOB process attractive to vendors.
Vendors can see the parts in person at DLA Aviation’s display room in Richmond, Virginia, or view the online RPPOB Parts Catalog. And if prospective suppliers believe any of the other 1 million items DLA Aviation manages are good candidates for the RPPOB Program, they can submit a request for consideration.
The RPPOB process begins when a vendor submits a reverse-engineering request via DLA’s website. DLA follows up with information such as demand patterns to help vendors determine whether it’s in their best interest to make the item, said Stephen Kelly, a special projects officer for the RPPOB Program.
“If so, we prepare a purchase or loan contract for the item and forward it to the supplier. Once they return the signed contract and pay for the item, it’s shipped to them,” Kelly said.
“The more sources we have for an item, the better because competition saves taxpayers’ money and Can Also help improve readiness by decreasing lead time and reducing the possibility of back orders.”Stephen Kelly
DoD owns technical data for about half of the items in DLA Aviation’s RPPOB Program, but the other half lack technical drawings and must be reverse engineered at vendors’ expense. In this case, vendors purchase parts rather than borrow them, knowing they will be broken down and sometimes destroyed.
“The parts end up being destroyed more than you’d think because that’s the only way vendors can find out what the composition of the material is. They do x-rays, hardness tests and a whole litany of things,” Kelly added.
Vendors can take anywhere from months to years to develop plans and processes for reproducing parts. When the work is completed, vendors prepare a Source Approval Request with reverse-engineered drawings, detailed manufacturing plans and other information that demonstrates they can successfully manufacture the item for the government.
DLA then acts as a liaison with military engineering support activities, which are responsible for approving prospective suppliers’ packages. ESAs review the vendors’ designs and conduct tests to ensure items are safe and built to specification.
“If we already have a design that works, engineers can be hesitant to approve a new source because of the risks associated with it,” Lilly said, adding that vendors also bear the costs of testing and qualification.
Vendors given a green light by ESAs are eligible to compete on future solicitations for the item.
“The more sources we have for an item, the better because competition saves taxpayers’ money and can also help improve readiness by decreasing lead time and reducing the possibility of back orders,” Kelly said.
DLA uses the RPPOB Program to inspire collaboration with vendors at events such as industry days and research and development outreach events. Suppliers interested in participating in the RPPOB Program can start by viewing the DLA Aviation RPPOB website.