By John B. SnyderJuly 18, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (July 2017) -- When it comes down to the Watervliet Arsenal being awarded a new Defense Department contract, there are three basic considerations -- cost, delivery schedule, and quality.
Although the Arsenal has limited ability to control the cost of goods - because the cost of goods is truly driven by the volume of work - the Arsenal still attempts to hold costs down through LEAN applications and other efficiency actions. The bottom line is that more workload tends to flat-line fixed costs more evenly across more products and therefore, lowers the cost of production.
Far too often, however, the volume of work directed to the Arsenal has very little to do with the Arsenal's cost of production. For example, Sequestration, a Congressional action that requires a series of across-the-board cuts to government agencies, directly effected the ability of weapons program managers to fund work here.
In regards to developing and maintaining a master schedule for delivery, the Arsenal has more control over the process than with cost, however, the Arsenal is still effected by outside forces out of its control.
Because the Arsenal requires highly specialized steel for tank, howitzer, and for mortar systems, its vendor base for raw stock materiel is very limited. If for any reason the vendor is late in providing materiel or the materiel and or service does not meet technical data standards, delays in production may be effected. As close as Arsenal production planners and business development specialists work with vendors, the Arsenal cannot dictate to outside vendors what their priorities should be or how to improve their manufacturing processes. The Arsenal can only recommend.
However, the control over the Arsenal's quality is a different story.
Beyond the cost of its products or its on-time delivery rate, many believe that the Arsenal's number one contribution to a Soldier's readiness relies in the quality of its products. The Arsenal's quality process often begins prior to the arrival of raw stock materiel and follows each line of production through the entire manufacturing process.
Just in the Arsenal's quality control division, there are more than 40 personnel who check vendor and product quality. These checks are in addition to the many checks that machinists and machine tool operators perform after every critical machining operation.
In addition to those professional quality control specialists is another layer of quality checks that are performed by an Arsenal government oversight office called Quality Assurance.
"We check the checkers," said John Michaels, one of two Arsenal Government Quality Assurance specialists. "What we do through our audits is to reduce risk of a quality issue on any one of the thousands of products that we ship out each year."
Robert Powers, Michaels' fellow specialist, said that while quality control ensures that each product meets a specified technical requirement, his office ensures that the Arsenal's quality control team and machinists are following a specified process. Because Powers and Michaels, as a government oversight office, are not part of the manufacturing directorate, they truly work for the customers by ensuring that standards are met to the customers' specification on every production item.
"We provide verification that the Arsenal's quality control process is sound," Powers said. "And, because the Arsenal should not and cannot do the final verification of product integrity, we (he and Michaels) do it."
During a recent audit where Michaels and Powers inspected operations in a production building, they explained that findings of non-compliance are rare and usually fall into an "observation," which is usually corrected on the spot. Nevertheless, more serious findings of non-compliance may result in a Corrections Action Report or CAR that goes directly up the chain of command to the Arsenal commander. If a CAR is initiated, it has the potential to immediately stop production until the finding is corrected.
In addition to spot checking the thousands of products that are shipped each year, Michaels and Powers also spot check the paperwork for each production line item.
"Given that we are only a two-man team, we check about 25 percent of all shipment paperwork to ensure all documentation is correct," Michaels said. "In a given month, Powers and I probably check about 100 to 125 items."
Some examples of the checks that Michaels and Powers do when they go through a production bay involve checking gages for calibration, machine certification, operator certification, quality control process, production paperwork, and whether or not the Arsenal is meeting all customer requirements.
"In any given month, we may check something as small as a firing pin for a howitzer or as large as an Abrams tank tube," Powers said.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 204th anniversary on July 14, 2017. The Arsenal is a subordinate command to TACOM LCMC and the Army Materiel Command.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and allied armies to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark had revenue in fiscal year 2016 that exceeded $126 million and provides an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.