In an effort to reduce waste and improve quality while ensuring a superior product for the customer, former safety specialist Dave Kane and heavy mobile mechanic supervisor Joe Cox put their heads together, and the results reaped huge benefits.

A few years ago, while working on a Lean Six Sigma green belt project, the two employees began closely observing how the mechanics on the M1 vehicle line were performing their processes.

Using large torque tools and manipulators in the suspension bays in the Stanley Maintenance Facility, the mechanics were manually installing single- and eight-spindle sprockets to the road wheels. Not only was this labor intensive, but it was hard work on the employees, said Kane. Additionally, to lift the various components, the use of overhead cranes was required throughout the day. After conducting extensive research, Kane and Cox found tools and sources that would drastically improve the mechanics' quality of life. Pooling views with the employees on the shop floor, they discussed ways and practices that could be applied to decrease costs and increase efficiency through the purchase of an electric torque tool system.

Contracting gets involved

Immediately, Kane prepared a specification sheet outlining the recommended requirements. When the paperwork reached the Directorate of Contracting, Dorothy Dutton, began solicitation. Based on the stipulations, Dutton, a contract specialist, awarded the contract to a local vendor, with a price tag of more than $850,000 and coordinated the appropriate training. Finding solutions to situations to make things better for our direct labor employees, whose skills instantly affect the mission, is a rewarding experience, she said.

Following the fabrication process, two DC torque machines and two manipulator arms/zero gravity lifting devices were delivered in mid-June.

According to Cox, the versatile lifting devices allow employees to lift and maneuver naturally, as if the device was an extension of their own arm, thus minimizing the potential of work-related injuries.

Other key players

Turning a dream into a reality involves numerous participants. Robert Amos, an engineer technician, served as a liaison between the contractor and the installation. Providing technical information as needed, Amos was the expert on electrical and mechanical connections. As with any specifically designed equipment, the vendor adjusts the equipment to meet Cox's staffs' needs, he said.

"There is a big difference in using an impact wrench versus the torque equipment," said George Holloway, HME mechanic on the M1 reassembly line who uses the equipment daily. "What used to take one and one half hours to complete is now accomplished in seven minutes."

Cox noted that this improved efficiency has decreased cycle time by approximately 2.3 hours within that bay, thus increasing production capability.

Spreading the wealth

Seeing the value added from this idea, Kane shared it with Bee Finley, a Tracked Systems Division heavy mobile equipment mechanic supervisor, whose organization is responsible for disassembly in the same 250,000-square-foot building. For initial trials, Finley received two single head spindle torque machines last month for her staff of 43 employees. "It makes a huge difference," she said. Because of multiple vehicle configurations, additional tooling for the machines will be added in the future.

"The heavy impact wrenches cause major wear and tear on the body and we are grateful for the relief and look forward to receiving the robotic lifting devices," Finley said.

"Using the torque machine takes a lot of physical strain off of us," said Latrella Allen, a HME mechanic of two years.

"Production has also increased, shaving time off compared to using the old tools. It's a drastic improvement."

Editor's note: Dave Kane accepted a promotion at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado on June 8. Though he never got to see his idea become a reality, he was always happy to assist in evaluating work environments and helping to prevent injuries caused by non-ergonomic factors. By telephone, he expressed his gratitude to all of the key players who helped with this lean initiative.