By Amanda SpockJuly 9, 2013
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- Lean improvements made to an Army radio system's repair process are becoming the model for all shelter system repair methods used at Tobyhanna Army Depot.
As part of the depot's overall Lean strategy, the Shelter Enterprise Value Stream's moving repair line was established to stabilize and standardize the AN/TRC-190 High Capacity Line of Sight (HCLOS) Radio Terminal Reset process. The moving line is made up of a series of sites each shelter progresses through until the process is completed. The moving line has the shelter moving to the employee rather than the employee moving to the shelter.
The movement of the line establishes a choreographed work flow that sends a powerful visual signal regarding the progress of the repairs, according to Lorraine Henry-Hunt, Communications Systems director.
The AN/TRC-190 is a multi-channel radio that has the capability to link point-to-point ultra high frequencies with nodes of the Mobile Subscriber Equipment communication system. When paired with the AN/TRC-170 Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Radio Terminal, it can be used in over-the-horizon voice and data communications.
Various improvements were implemented to stabilize and standardize the AN/TRC-190 Reset processes, including standard work/key point sheets, standardized inspection checklists, a central kitting area and kit cages, point-of-use material, process tool boxes, visual management, and production control board.
First-hand observations of the work showed opportunities to balance the workload among each major step in the process. A standard work checklist for the inspection of the system helped eliminate variations in the inspection process and ensured both the shop and quality were on the same page.
The changes were welcomed by employees, noted Henry-Hunt. "Without their teamwork and cooperation none of these improvements would have been possible."
"The entire shop was involved in the development of the process from cradle to grave," said John Morcom, electronics worker in the Communications Systems (CS) Directorate's Digital Group Multiplexor/Mobile Subscriber Equipment Branch. "Prior to the improvements, the overhaul process was unorganized and contained no standardization; everyone was doing their own thing."
Morcom pointed out that a lack of standards resulted in high queue times, excess material and long distance travel between the shops. By introducing point-of-use materials, excess inventory decreased and a cost avoidance of $205,225 was achieved.
The improvements allow the workforce to respond quickly to process constraints and produce high-quality products faster and at a lower cost, added Morcom. "The biggest improvement is the quality of the product going out the door," he said, "and that is one of the greatest achievements we could ask for."
A new strategy led the repair team to deliver [or pull] shelters based on demand instead of scheduling production [day-to-day] to meet anticipated demand and then pushing them through the process.
Shortly after the moving line was set up in the Tactical End Item Repair Facility, direct labor hours decreased by more than 20 percent and travel distances were cut by 75 percent. In some cases, in-process queue times were reduced by as much as 10 days, which reduced work-in- progress.
Employees have processed 60 systems so far this year and are seeing vital improvements already, noted Morcom. Tobyhanna has been working on the AN/TRC-190 Reset mission since 2007.
"Streamlining the organization made things easier and reduced non-value added work," said Frank Wallick, electronics mechanic, Voice Communications Division. For example, he noted that before the process improvements, all parts came in one large box, with smaller parts (typically used first) on the bottom. "Time was wasted sorting through all the parts."
Tom Styer agreed. "I was happy to see other organizations become more involved in the parts process. It definitely made the process faster by not having to sort through all the parts." Styer is an electronics mechanic leader in the Voice Communications Division.
Overall, employee dedication to continuous improvement has cut costs for the depot's AN/TRC-190 radio support mission.
"Making this vision a reality would have never been possible if it wasn't for the dedication and experience of the technicians involved," said John Scott, process improvement specialist, Productivity Improvement and Innovation Directorate.
"This team of dedicated individuals constantly looks for the best ways to support Tobyhanna Army Depot, the customer and the Soldiers in the field," said Henry-Hunt. "Success with this system shows the moving repair line is an improvement we should apply to all sheltered systems. That's what an enterprise approach is all about."
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 3,500 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics 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.