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Field Reset at Fort Bragg

The Fort Bragg Directorate of Logistics used Lean Six Sigma to improve its equipment maintenance and repair processes in order to help the XVIII Airborne Corps reset after its return from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The redeployment of Headquarters, XVIII Airborne Corps, from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January 2006 signaled the end of the corps’ mission in Iraq. However, as the welcome-home celebration ended, we in the Directorate of Logistics (DOL) knew that our mission was not finished. The field reset of tactical equipment for corps units that had begun with the return of early deploying units in September 2005 was not quite at its midway point when the corps headquarters returned.

Since 2003, DOL had been instrumental in preparing Active and Reserve component units for deployment. During that time, DOL had pushed nearly 100,000 pieces of combat-ready equipment without missing a port call. With its modern, well-equipped maintenance facility and highly skilled labor force, DOL naturally played a key role in the reset effort when the units redeployed.

The DOL reset program was established in 2004 as equipment began to return from Afghanistan and Iraq. This reset experience prepared our materiel maintenance division (MMD) to reset the corps when it returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom 04–06. However, the MMD and our primary logistics contractor, ITT Corporation, Systems Division, now had another tool in their kit bag that has since propelled productivity well beyond our highest expectations—Lean Six Sigma.

 

Lean Six Sigma Analysis

ITT brought in a Lean Six Sigma master black belt to measure and analyze our overall maintenance process. The value stream map he developed showed only 4 percent value-added time (time in which activity was being directly applied to improve the condition of a vehicle). The MMD goal for value-added time was 25 percent, which is the world-class standard for an activity of this type. The value stream map also proved to be an excellent tool for identifying the value-added and non-value-added steps in our maintenance process. It was a tough measuring stick.

When the original value stream map was developed, the MMD field reset program was completing about 50 vehicles per month. The vehicles returning from the desert, particularly those that had operated in the mountains of Afghanistan, were in bad shape. They needed a lot of hands-on time in the pits and component repair shops to restore their serviceability. The ITT process improvement team began identifying and eliminating the sources of non-value-added time by analyzing the primary causes of wait time for shop space, tools, parts, equipment, technical inspectors, and repair teams. Surprisingly, the analysis showed that 60 percent of the non-value-added time was attributed to awaiting shop space, primarily at the body shop. Although we knew that we had a problem there, the deliberate measurement and analysis techniques used in Lean Six Sigma clearly showed the magnitude of the problem. More importantly, it identified where we needed to improve to get the results we needed.

Process Improvements

Based on the results of the Lean Six Sigma analysis, we—

  • Improved the process of moving equipment from one value-added step to another.
  • Redesigned workspace to limit unnecessary motion.
  • Developed repair parts kits.
  • Outsourced work when requirements exceeded our capacity.

At the same time, we applied Six Sigma to identify the key input and output variables and establish the metrics that would help us measure performance and control the process.

The results were impressive. The MMD doubled its field reset program production in the first year of the program. Although we were making tremendous progress, this level of production still would not meet the timeline for the reset of corps units redeploying later in the year.

In July 2004, we implemented what became known as the field reset “pit stop” program. We selected the NASCAR pit stop as a best business practice to emulate. The idea was to place at the fingertips of our mechanics all the tools, equipment, parts, and information they needed to repair vehicles without leaving the pit. Our goal was to process 150 vehicles a month.

Equipment Flow

As we planned the corps’ reset program with the corps G–4, Army Forces Command, and Army Materiel Command (AMC), we realized that we would need to use all maintenance sources available and continue to improve productivity. Another lesson learned in our Lean enterprise effort—to move the workload from one value-added step to another as directly and quickly as possible—had to be applied to the overall process. We also needed to control the flow of equipment into each repair source to maximize the use of each capability without creating a backlog of equipment at any one location.

The corps elected to move its equipment from the railhead directly to a staging area for distribution, using contractors and drivers who had returned from the theater earlier in the year with the 507th Corps Support Group. This removed from redeploying units the burden of organizing rail load and driver teams just as their Soldiers were returning from block leave. It also eliminated the need to move equipment to the unit area. However, it placed a tremendous workload on each recently redeployed unit to sort through and prepare almost all of its equipment for support maintenance.

The DOL played a central role in this plan. ITT provided oversight of the process with visibility of equipment from the time the ship departed port in Kuwait, through the east coast ports of debarkation, and into the gate at Fort Bragg. ITT also was responsible for coordinating the movement of equipment through its initial inspection in the staging area and distributing it to one of five sources of repair for reset. For the first time in the DOL reset program, ITT had a steady, predictable, metered flow of equipment feeding the production line.

Results

The continued application of Lean Six Sigma has had a powerful effect on productivity and has yielded spectacular results. In November 2005, DOL reached its goal of 150 vehicles per month in the pit stop program.

Since the beginning of the field reset pit stop program, we have had the help of some remarkable partners. The national-level AMC Reset Program has had a significant impact. Because of this program, we seldom receive equipment that requires extensive shop work. The AMC National Maintenance Program and the Defense Logistics Agency also have ramped up their programs. We could not have tripled our production in 16 months without the major component and repair parts availability that we are experiencing now because of the increased output of those programs.

We also have expanded the program to meet increasing requirements by adding more pits with additional equipment and experienced mechanics. The total number of mechanics in the program has increased from 75 in July 2004 to 115 in November 2005. With this 53-percent increase in labor, we have elevated production by 200 percent, from 50 to 150 vehicles a month. We completed the reset of corps units in May 2006, a month ahead of schedule. It is clear that much of the success we have achieved to date has been brought about by a sustained commitment to process improvement using Lean Six Sigma.

Pit Stop Competition

It has not been all work along the way. ITT has brought its industry partner, Gould’s Pumps, and its racing partner, the Fitz-Bradshaw racing team, into the DOL facility. We hosted a team of Soldiers from the 82d Airborne Division and 1st Corps Support Command in a pit stop high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle (humvee) tire-changing competition. The winning 82d Airborne team then challenged the crew from Fitz-Bradshaw Racing’s Navy-sponsored car to match their time. I am proud to report that Army beat Navy. Following the competition, the Fitz-Bradshaw racing team hosted the Soldiers at their facilities in Mooresville, North Carolina, and at the race that followed at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The enthusiasm that these events brought to the program cannot be overstated.

Lean Six Sigma has helped make Fort Bragg’s field reset program a success. Using the Lean Six Sigma concepts, we were able to improve our production process enough to triple our output. We returned the corps’ equipment ahead of schedule, ensuring that they have what they need to train for future missions.
ALOG

Colonel Albert N. Love, USA (Ret.), is the Director of Logistics at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California. He is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.