TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. --Employees here continue to incorporate Lean into work processes to continuously improve the depot's competitiveness and customer support, and lower costs.

One method is to train employees to become experts in Lean Six Sigma (LSS). Four employees of the Productivity Improvement and Innovation Directorate recently reached the first step to this certification when they earned the Green Belt level of Lean Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma is the Army's continuous improvement methodology. Green Belt is a level of achievement given to employees certifying their level of training and expertise in LSS. Candidates manage and lead individual process improvement projects and are provided guidance and mentoring by a Black Belt.

Green Belt candidates use problem solving techniques such as the DMAIC method (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). Teams define the problem, measures it to establish the true state of affairs; analyzes and looks for potential root causes, proposes potential solutions and provides proof the solutions were tested.

Process Improvement Specialist Kimberly Appel and her team improved the AN/TPQ-37 Reliability-Maintainability-Improvement (RMI) Antenna Cleaning Process.

"The team brought so many things to light, like awareness on the use of corrosion inhibitors, standardized processes, point of use tools and a cell based work location," she said. "The key is to challenge existing processes and look for ways to reduce waste, with the freedom to take risks to achieve the greatest return on investment."

Appel noted that the projected financial benefits of this project will reduce the manual cycle time by 20 percent (66 labor hours per system per year). The approved financial benefits for this Six Sigma Green Belt certification project are $363,238 in cost savings for fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2014.

"It was a positive experience to go through the use of Lean concepts," she said. "It broadened the perspective of how our work processes currently are and how they can be improved. The success of the project was due to the team's dedication, hard work, and input.

"Earning the Green Belt is a huge achievement, but only a step in the journey to continuous improvement on a professional and personnel level," she said.

Management Assistant Danielle Benson and her team worked with the Security Division to streamline the Contractor Background Check Process by removing unnecessary and redundant process steps, improving the request form to include all necessary information and mistake-proofing methods, and implementing consistent means of submission.

The Process Lead Time (time it takes to complete one check) was reduced from 18 minutes to five minutes and produced a more user-friendly process.

"Since my team was mostly subject matter experts from the Security Division, it was easy for us to keep our eye on the prize in order to make significant improvements as quickly as possible," she said. "In a time where everyone is worrying about the budgets shrinking, it's great to be a part of a team that can help make Tobyhanna better."

Management Analyst Elijah Londo and his team worked to improve the Army Suggestion Program.

"We used the DMAIC process and each phase has different objectives and uses input from subject matter experts (SME) in various Lean and Six Sigma tools to drive out variability of a process," Londo said. "This project focused on the Army Suggestion Program and the administration that goes in to assigning them to evaluators as well as receiving evaluations and processing them for closure."

Londo noted that the Army Suggestion Program is a prime employee participation program that not only empowers employees but also improves depot processes.

"It's rewarding to see a tangible project and dollar savings for the depot that was generated by the hard work of a team," he said.

Jeff Wood and his team worked on reducing non consolidated purchase orders.

"I was on a team of system experts and we brainstormed, interviewed first line users, analyzed 36,000 lines of procurement data to establish a baseline and future state," he said. "We utilized Lean tools such as Perato diagrams, fishbone diagrams, process flow charts, just to name a few. We reviewed regulations, policies and local procedures in an attempt to improve the flow of work. When possible, we implemented 'quick solutions or wins' when they became apparent."

Contracts are now consolidated for the same part purchase, reducing purchasing costs and streamlining and reducing the overall number of contracts being generated by Tobyhanna.

"The most challenging aspect of this was gathering and analyzing all the pertinent information for the project," said Contract Specialist Cheryl Saylock, a team member on Woods' project. "One piece of information often led to another bit of information that was either overlooked or that wasn't initially known. This part of the process was very in-depth and required a lot of time and patience."

Saylock works in the Army Contracting Command -- Tobyhanna Division.

"It feels great to have achieved a Greenbelt that represents improving a process and cutting costs," Wood said. "The best part about achieving the belt was having had the opportunity to step outside my normal job and 'lead' a team of wonderful people who I did not know before this project. It allowed us all to focus on a greater good for Tobyhanna, learn, grow and, most importantly, get to know one another and the folks outside the team."

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 5,100 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 CECOM. 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.