Finding commonality in a 'job shop'
October 16, 2011
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- Tobyhanna Army Depot has come a long way since their Lean transformation started in 2003. Since the depot is a massive job shop that repairs everything from various radars to missile guidance equipment and surveillance systems, the focus has been on the value streams of individual weapons systems.
But to "Lean out" the total organization in a job shop, officials would have to find commonality among the unique differences. As a result, Tobyhanna is embarking on an Enterprise Approach to Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) starting in October.
An enterprise is a group of related products, functions or organizations that operate as one entity through the use of common processes. In other words, it means the whole business. For example, consider an automotive repair shop. Despite the fact that the shop may service hundreds of different vehicles, each vehicle follows equivalent common processes: An appointment is scheduled; the vehicle is dropped off; then serviced; and finally picked up by the customer who receives and pays the bill.
The Enterprise Approach suggests starting with a business focus on improving common processes shared among many product families, such as four-wheel drive vehicles, before working on issues that are specific to a product, such as the Ford F-150.
For a job shop, it requires turning the organization sideways, if not upside down. Before, improvement efforts focused on unique weapons systems as each passed through various operations; now the focus must be on those various operations (while looking for the commonality in those operations regardless of the specific weapons system at issue). In the garage example, it means improving the billing process regardless of whether the bill is for the repair of a Ford F-150 or a Jeep.
Tobyhanna plans to deploy the Enterprise Approach within the shelterized weapons systems product family, which represents the single largest category of the depot's workload and will touch every directorate. The shelterized weapons systems product family is comprised of 22 different assets, including a number of the depot's signature radar systems, like the AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37 Firefinders. The Enterprise Approach will start with a broad-based Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) focused on a common process. Subsequently, Tobyhanna will dedicate a process improvement specialist to each individual asset line within the shelterized systems product family to help implement the process improvements from the event; they will be responsible for making any system-specific adjustments that may be necessary for the improvements that result from the overall RIE.
The top-down Enterprise Approach has many benefits. Most importantly, it helps reduce duplication within the product family, which will, in turn, require fewer Lean events to tackle problems. Personnel will then be free to allocate their process improvement resources elsewhere.
Depot leadership is enthusiastic to begin the Enterprise Approach and ensure that all areas are on the same sheet of music. "I truly believe this is the way to go; this approach will allow us to really dig into our most challenging processes," says George Brady, deputy director of the Production Engineering Directorate.
The first event of Tobyhanna's Enterprise Approach occurred on Oct. 3 with the shelterized systems evaluation and inventory (E&I) process RIE.
"The objective of the event is to establish a clear E&I process -- to accurately define the scope of needed repairs; communicate that information to the applicable directorates; and to take immediate action on the E&I results," says Paul Roberts, event facilitator. "The bottom line is to mitigate any schedule impacts and I'm confident that the Enterprise Approach will help Tobyhanna achieve that goal."
Following the E&I event, Tobyhanna will tackle other common processes such as disassembly, refinishing, reassembly and final inspections.
"This enterprise approach will challenge all of us," said depot commander Col. Charles C. Gibson. "It will force us to look hard at some processes that represent 'the way we've always done things' and it will drive us to re-think some of our fundamental assumptions -- and that's a good thing for any organization that wants to improve."
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces. About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.