By Ed Lopez, CECOM CorrespondentJune 26, 2009
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- In a "hot action" battlefield scenario, a weapons system designed to detect and destroy incoming missiles simply can't be inoperable for very long. Yet, if there is a chronic shortage of spare parts needed to maintain this and other key systems, the Warfighter faces higher risks.
As modern warfare grows in complexity and technological sophistication, having an adequate supply of spare parts on hand becomes even more critical. That goal is also balanced against the need to cut the costs of excessive inventories of spare parts.
How can such a balance be achieved' What tools can be applied to arrive at the right answer' And what standard, ongoing process can be used to resolve similar issues'
The spare parts problem, along with a wide range of other challenges and issues, often falls in the domain of the G3/5 function (Operations and Plans) at the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J. In close collaboration with CECOM organizations, G3/5 tackles solutions for a broad spectrum of challenges.
"We provide structured analysis of processes with the intent to streamline the things that we do every day," said Raoul Cordeaux, director for Operations and Plans
"The end result, if we're successful, is identifying where we can save time, material or money. The net result is that we are either able to apply more resources to the Warfighter or get things to the Warfighter faster." The two main beneficiaries of the process are the Soldier and taxpayers, who get efficient use of their tax dollars, Cordeaux said.
While the behind-the-scenes work isn't glamorous, such initial and ongoing analysis is nonetheless fundamental to sustaining various aspects of modern warfare.
"We work with the mission organizations and they, introspectively take a look at their own processes, and select targeted processes for improvement," Cordeaux added. "Typically, they are the key processes that are part of their mission work."
Lean Six Sigma (LSS), the process-improvement method chosen by the Army to support Army Business Transformation, is a key part of streamlining processes and finding cost-savings. Using a team approach, LSS is designed to eliminate non-value steps and reduce process variations.
The process of wringing out more efficient operations can involve multiple components. In one situation, it was Muslim prayer times.
When it was taking too long for contractors working with U.S. forces in Iraq to enter the country, an LSS team examined procedures at an in-processing facility in Kuwait. Processing was taking from three to nine days. Bottlenecks were common. Passports and visas arrived all at once in a huge stack instead of a more even distribution throughout the day.
To determine the best times for additional delivery "runs," the LSS team considered shift changes at Kuwaiti immigration, bus times from Kuwait International Airport, and Muslin prayer times. With a new method developed with LSS tools, processing time was cut to 2.4 days.
Rosemary Dellera, LSS Deployment Director for CECOM LCMC, said that a common misconception about Lean Six Sigma is that it's not inherently part of an employee's job or is somehow in addition to other duties.
"We try to stress that LSS projects reflect process issues already of concern to management-LSS provides a structured, documented approach to problem-solving," Dellera said. "We're not asking them to step outside their lane. We feel that it's in everyone's job description to be more effective and efficient."
LSS projects can vary in scope and complexity, which in turn reflects two levels of training involving "Green Belts" and "Black Belts." A Green Belt receives two weeks of training and works on projects that are smaller in scope and may involve internal issues within an office or organization.
A Black Belt receives four weeks of training over four months. Projects are wider in scope and complexity, may be cross-functional, and have financial benefits in excess of $500,000. Dellera emphasizes that organizations must be practical when deciding on possible LSS projects.
"We tell them, 'Don't try to come up with some oddball projects that aren't going to go anywhere and really don't mean anything to your mission. Think about something that's really an issue on the job, and let's take that, or something you're already working on, and see if it's LSS-friendly.' "
The LSS method uses a process-improvement road map with major categories such as Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. For LSS results to be credible and withstand potential audits, an independent review by the G8 cost-analysis group is needed when establishing baseline costs in the "Define" step and validating financial benefits in the "Improve" stage.
Another area of Operations and Plans is the Systems Analysis Division, headed by Vincent M. DiNicola. Division personnel use mathematical techniques to analyze and solve a variety of operational issues. Those techniques include applied mathematics, modeling, simulation and queuing theory
"We get involved in determining the best ways to maintain systems once they're fielded," DiNicola said. "It's a lot of coordination and communication because there are certain priorities that project managers are trying to achieve."
Acting as in-house consultants, Systems Analysis works with groups called Integrated Process Teams, which develop different support plans for various systems. "They ask us to analyze them and determine which one would be the best value for the Army. Then we use computer models to analyze those different alternatives and evaluate them on cost and logistics performance.
"After the analytical phase, then comes the implementation phase," DiNicola said. "We determine what they should measure out in the field to determine how well the system is being supported, by either the contractor or Tobyhanna Army Depot."
While cost is one consideration, the method ultimately selected to support a system will reflect the priorities established by a product manager. Those priorities could include technical capability, repair time, stability of the organization and responsiveness to repair.
"One of the jobs that we always get asked to do is to determine the amounts of spares needed to support a system, given the failure of parts of that system, and to determine what spares we should get that would keep costs at a minimum while still achieving a certain level of performance," DiNicola said.
"We just recently finished development of a model that was able to avoid $52 million of unnecessary spares," he said.
That project was headed by Devon Morrese and used Lean Six Sigma principles. A previous model for determining sparing levels assumed only one configuration for a weapon system. Yet systems with multiple configurations are becoming more common as the Army transforms into a modular force. A new algorithm was developed for more accurate sparing level recommendations.
DiNicola underscores the importance of factoring in the time and effort needed to perform a sound analysis of a problem or process.
"No one should try to use gut feel to make a decision," he added. "As obvious as a decision might be, it's not always the correct decision if you don't analyze it properly. These kinds of analyses require some time, but they pay off."
DiNicola emphasizes the need for detailed information. "It can get so methodical and so exacting that some people get a little bit turned off by the amount of detail that you have to get in order to do the job."
The analysis chief's experience, however, is that support for the analytical process is often embraced at higher levels of command.
"They're always asked to defend their positions, and they're more than happy to have analysis that shows the position they are taking is the correct one and wasn't made on a gut-feel basis."
(This article appeared in Spectra, the magazine of the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. To access the full issue in PDF format, 3.2 megabytes, click on the link appearing in the "Related Links" box at the start of the article.)