Lean, Six Sigma prove cost effective for business operations
August 23, 2007
The depot this year saved more than $19 million after a program aligning two process-improvement activities helped eliminate waste and reduced variation in business and industrial processes.
Lean and Six Sigma, or LSS, training was implemented at Anniston Army Depot in 2004, with the first class completing projects and receiving their certifications in 2005.
Lean manufacturing, a methodology employed here five years ago, primarily focuses on elimination of waste while Six Sigma focuses on quality and variation reduction, said Billy Wilson, process improvement specialist with the Directorate of Engineering and Quality.
"These process optimization methods have a positive impact on the bottom line," said Wilson.
According to LSS practitioners, the measurable aspects of any process on depot, such as cost, quality and delivery, can be evaluated and improved through the use of continuous improvement tools and the involvement in certification projects.
While most process improvement activities at ANAD are conducted in the Nichols Industrial Area where combat vehicles and small arms are overhauled, the depot's administrative organizations are also actively improving their processes through participation in LSS projects, such as those that lead to Green and Black Belt certifications for successful implementation.
Depot employees this year completed 81 rapid improvement events, or RIEs, four Black Belt projects and seven Green Belt projects. And since ANAD's involvement in LSS, seven employees have been certified in Black Belt and 54 in Green Belt.
"This process has enabled Six Sigma teams to improve numerous business and industrial processes across the depot and, more importantly, to help us gain and maintain a competitive edge which will help sustain the depot for years to come," said Wilson.
Safety and savings
An employee selected to conduct a Six Sigma project for their organization forms a team of about six that comes together to identify a problem and determine its impact. These findings and a proposed goal are presented to a board of depot leaders that must decide whether or not to back the team's project.
Dale Larry, a safety specialist, and his team members aimed their project at reducing the threat of cadmium fume exposure in the welding operations on depot, starting with a 10-person sample group that welds and repairs vehicle top decks, in order to reduce the amount of time needed for safety compliance.
"Our project didn't just make the work area safer by reducing the threat; it proved to be a cost savings for the depot," said Larry.
In this welding production area, the team drew data from the past 10 years to find that the average level of cadmium exposure there was 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which was more than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard of 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Welders in the Six Sigma study area were taking a "great deal of time" away from the job when they left their welding booth because of all the precautions in place there to keep the fumes out of their biological system, said Larry.
Studying these 10 welders alone, around 3,000 hours were being spent on safety measures. The team found that its process improvements would save the government more than $150,000 each year.
At the time of the study the depot employed 152 welders. Larry said he is working with management to improve the other welding areas here.
New fume-reduction equipment and technology presented ways to reduce the exhaust at the source of operation, said Larry, whose team worked long hours conducting market research to find new welding guns, powerful local exhaust ventilators with high efficiency air filters and vacuum-assisted grinding tools.
Ultimately, the team's efforts reduced the exposure to a level below the OSHA standard of 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Although these welders no longer have to take the same precautions-such as 30-minute showers before leaving work and vacuuming their coveralls each time they exit the welding booth-to comply with federal safety laws, they will continue these processes until industrial hygienists determine the new technology there rids the need for these time-consuming steps.
"We can't afford to be wrong," said Larry, who also noted that welders will never stop wearing personal protective equipment in the shops.
A Green Belt certification for Michael Lehr in the Directorate of Information Management meant fewer information technology interruptions for the depot.
Since the Defense Department requires upgrades and updates for all personal computers within its area of responsibility to safeguard its information and employ the latest technology, ANAD's DOIM receives patches that must be deployed to all depot PCs.
Lehr said he and his team of depot employees focused their LSS project on the increase-23 to 42 percent-in customer downtime and the subsequent manhours spent on correcting the service interruptions.
"When these patches are sent out to depot PC users, these customers shouldn't notice a difference in the performance of their PCs," said Lehr.
But too often PC hardware and software is interrupted, causing a decrease in depot productivity. Lehr said in the first quarter of 2006 DOIM reported a total of 2,304 interruptions due to PC updates and upgrades. For the same three-month period in 2007, process improvement implementations cut the number of interruptions close to half-1,171.
The team credits this time-saving achievement to standardization.
"We reutilized our resources to provide more support to the customer," said Lehr.
The risk for interruption was reduced, he said, by 83 percent with the standardization and improvement of patch deployments. The creation of a test lab environment helped ensure all base applications are functional and meet requirements prior to deployment.
Other recent projects
Wilson said two other LSS projects were completed in recent months. Both are scheduled to provide a combined cost avoidance of $2.4 million over three years.
Dwayne Goss, Director of Engineering and Quality, and Sherilyn Latham, mechanical engineer, managed a team that focused on improving first pass yield at the 6V-53 engine test cell.
The team looked at ways to decrease the bottleneck at the test stand after noting an average FPY rate of 90 percent for the engine used in the M113 family of vehicles.
"There aren't enough test cells for the engines that were being sent back and forth for rework," said Latham.
A smoke leak detector for fuel, oil and water was incorporated into the repair process after their project identified the need for such a correction, said Latham.
The FPY rate now is 98 percent, decreasing manhours needed for additional repairs and increasing the capacity at the test cell.
This project yielded a Black Belt for Goss and a Green Belt for Latham.
Another project for engine testing focused on the AGT 1500 engine that runs the M1 tank. Scotty Arrington, chief of production engineering division, and his team improved processes at engine testing with a 23-percent increase in FPY performance. Engine testing before the project showed that 67 percent of the engines, on average, were passing performance criteria on the first test. The FPY is now 90 percent.
"The engine test cell project focused on identifying any defects that affected the first pass yield rate and developing countermeasures to eliminate the causes," Wilson said.