In recent years, conversations about management
issues, in both the Army and the private sector, often have
included two terms: “Lean” and “Six Sigma.” Although
both terms originated in the private sector as managerial concepts,
they quickly coalesced into a philosophy to live by—and,
more important, survive by—throughout the Department
Commanders, officers, noncommissioned officers, Soldiers,
managers, shop-floor workers, administrators, secretaries,
clerks, mechanics, drivers, equipment specialists—literally
everyone in every Army organization—now are, or ultimately
will become, involved in Lean Six Sigma activities.
Implementation of Lean Six Sigma is not easy, nor will
it ever be, because these processes involve new and different
ways of thinking. A “business
as usual” attitude cannot be tolerated by any organization wishing
to remain competitive in the 21st century. The changing of long-established
deeply ingrained habits is the most difficult challenge any organization
faces in adopting Lean Six Sigma. Fortunately, the Army has had some success
the challenges of implementing Lean Six Sigma, and one of its success stories
can be found at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama.
Army Materiel Command (AMC) organizations such as Anniston
Army Depot do not receive appropriations to fund their operations.
Instead, they must pay their way using the revenues they generate
from the missions they are assigned.
Anniston’s primary missions are maintaining and upgrading
both heavy and light combat vehicles and their components and
individual and crew-served weapons, land combat missiles, and
small arms. Receiving, storing, and shipping conventional munitions
are also key components of the depot’s overall activities.
Ultimately, the depot’s bottom line is a process that
continually produces a high-quality product, on time and within
or below established budgets, so that equipment can be returned
to the warfighter quickly and at the lowest possible cost to
Because of the extensive support the depot is providing for
our Nation’s ongoing conflicts, Anniston‘s workload
is greater than ever. For instance, in 2004 the depot was given
the task of completing 4 million
direct labor hours of mission-essential work. This workload
increased to 5.5 million hours in 2005 and is projected to
be 6.3 million hours in 2006. The ongoing conflicts in Southwest
Asia also have created a need to shorten repair-cycle times
to ensure that readiness is maintained.
As the depot has increased the size of its workforce in recent
years to handle its expanding workload, the expansion has been
managed to maintain the right mix of worker skills. Normal
attrition and potential future retirements have been considered
in developing long-range hiring plans. Such planning has been
essential to ensuring that a capable core workforce continues
to be available and that, when a workload decrease does occur,
no reduction-in-force actions will be necessary.
Anniston Starts Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement—the operational philosophy underlying
Lean Six Sigma—is nothing new at Anniston Army Depot.
In the spring of 2002, the
depot began implementing a new way of doing business called
the Process Optimization Initiative (POI). This is a holistic
approach to improving all depot processes, whether in production
or administration. POI encompasses several improvement strategies,
but its major components are Lean manufacturing and the tools
of Six Sigma.
Continuous improvement concepts also have been applied to the
depot’s organizational structure. As in most industries,
the depot was organized by departments such as Planning, Material
Handling, Production Continuous Improvement, and so forth.
Early on, depot managers realized that each department had
different objectives, which often led to conflicts within the
overall depot production operation. Organization by departments
also did not create a single process owner for what the depot
Today, Anniston is organized by value streams, with each value
stream having a process optimization manager who has total
control over the resources needed to accomplish its mission.
[For definitions of such Lean Six Sigma terms as “value
stream,” see page 10.] Each day, depot personnel recognize
the benefits provided by this structure, which allows them
to focus on a common goal in each industrial process.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
Lean manufacturing is based on a commonsense approach to improving
efficiency. It does this by identifying and removing waste
from various processes and by adding or streamlining organization,
standard work, and visual aids. In other words, it is based
on working smarter, not harder.
Six Sigma tools are not new. They are just a matter of taking
many of the improvement tools that have been around for years
and packaging them into a single toolbox. Six Sigma is a structured
approach to improving overall effectiveness by implementing
the “define, measure, analyze, improve, and control” process.
Implementing Six Sigma projects follows a more rigid approach
because each project must be presented to the depot’s
Lean Six Sigma Review Board. The board, composed of top-level
managers, reviews all proposed projects for their impact on
depot operations and return on investment before it approves
implementation. The board also reviews projects periodically
to determine if they should continue or be cancelled. Completed
projects ultimately are presented to the board for final approval
and permanent implementation.
All of Anniston’s improvement efforts are focused on
the things that are important to its customers. For instance,
troops in the field do not care about costs; they just want
to receive quality products in a timely manner. Bill-paying
customers, such as AMC’s major subordinate commands and
program managers, want to get the most for the dollars they
are spending. So the depot’s day-to-day focus continues
to be on all factors that affect cost, quality, and schedule.
The depot’s plan is to continue to use Lean manufacturing
principles to increase efficiency and Six Sigma tools to provide
further improvements in identified processes. By using an aggressive
approach within all production value streams and administrative
areas, the depot anticipates that it will achieve additional
cost-avoidances and savings. This will benefit not only the
depot and the taxpayer but, most important, the military forces
who are the ultimate users of depot products.
The Hardest Part: Change
The hardest part of a continuous improvement effort is change
since the initial reaction of almost everyone involved is resistance.
To be successful, however, everyone has to buy into the recommended
improvements, from the hands-on worker on the shop floor to
upper-level managers and everyone in between. It is essential
that any improvements that are implemented are not viewed simply
as a program but become a way of life for all parties.
Too many times, proposed improvements in an organization fail
because individuals resist or do not buy into the need for
change. Attitudes such as “But we’ve always done
it this way,” “If it’s not broken, why fix
it?” and “If I hold out long enough, they’ll
go away and leave me alone” reflect mindsets that often
are found in the workplace.
Implementing Lean Six Sigma Processes
A continuous improvement process starts with a brainstorming
session called a “value stream analysis.” This
is where process owners map out the current process and identify
the wastes and inefficiencies of that process. The next step
is to develop an “ideal state map” that lays out
what the perfect process would look like if there were no constraints.
A “future improved process map” then is developed
that fits in somewhere between the current and ideal states.
This future map identifies what is (or might be) achievable
within 6 to 12 months. Finally, an action plan is developed
that identifies all of the activities that must take place
to achieve the future improved process. This plan includes
things to do, projects, “kaizen” (continuous improvement)
events, and Six Sigma projects, complete with identification
of action officers and due dates.
The kaizen events follow a standard 7-week cycle. During the
first week, the process management group develops a kaizen
team profile that includes the scope, measurable objectives,
and team members for the event. Kaizen teams are made up of
floor-level workers, managers, upstream and downstream customers,
and process support personnel. Team members then use the next
2 weeks to collect and process data and plan the specific improvements
that will occur in the fourth week, which
is the actual kaizen event week and the time when dramatic
changes take place. On the Friday of the kaizen event week,
the kaizen team briefs top-level managers on the results of
their efforts. Briefing
top-level managers conveys to all floor-level workers the importance
of the improvements.
The data-collection phase is critical because data not only
are needed to determine success or failure but are vital to
determining what the new process will be. The last 3 weeks
of the cycle are used for follow-ups to ensure that the new
process is working as intended and to hand off the new process
from the kaizen team to the first-line supervisor.
The important thing to note in this process is that, while
the kaizen team is presented with objectives, it also is empowered
to find ways to achieve them. Management provides guidance
and pulse checks, but only in rare cases do the workers have
to be told what to do, for they truly are the experts on their
|One of Anniston
Army Depot’s major Lean Six Sigma success stories
is the M1 Abrams tank assembly line. Workers went
from a bay-style operation (above) to a one-piece
flow operation (below), which reduced throughput
time by 56 percent (from 4.5 to 2 days).
Transforming to a One-Piece Flow Operation
Even with this very structured process, success is not always
immediately achievable and persistence is required. Anniston
Army Depot’s most successful work cell—the AGT–1500
M1 tank turbine engine rear module assembly line—probably
was the hardest to transform.
Before implementation of Lean, assembly of the module was performed “bay
style,” with each employee assembling an entire module
from start to finish. The objective of the kaizen event was
to install a balanced, one-piece flow process in which the
work of assembling a module is broken down into balanced segments.
The team members worked on the cell’s operations and
made some improvements. They organized the work area and eliminated
unneeded work steps. However, they said that a one-piece flow
operation would not work in their area. They then were asked
to go back and try again, but they again returned with the
same negative answer. On their third attempt, they decided
to prove to management that implementation of the one-piece
flow system would not work. However, what actually happened
was that team members proved to themselves that the one-piece
flow process really did work. This change reduced the assembly
time by 2.2 man-hours for each module and the staffing requirement
from five to four workers.
Today, the members of this team would fight long and hard before
going back to the bay-style assembly process. They recognize
the benefits of the one-piece flow process and are some of
the strongest advocates of Lean at the depot. One heavy mobile
equipment mechanic in the module cell said recently that “breaking
down the production line into stages along a single line makes
it easier to train new employees and simplifies the operation
for all concerned.”
An added benefit of the one-piece flow process is that, if
a quality problem arises, there are fewer variables to consider,
which makes it easier to identify and fix the problem quickly.
Mechanics also use toolkits that contain only the exact number
of tools and kits needed, which has cut the cost of tools contained
in each toolkit by about $3,000. Multiply this number by 65
toolkits, and immediate savings of $195,000 are realized.
Lean Six Sigma Across the Depot
Another of the depot’s Lean Six Sigma success stories
involved the M2 machinegun assembly line. This project eliminated
waste and transformed work cells from batch processing to a
continuous, one-piece flow system. Assembly time for this weapon
went from 2.5 man-hours to 1 and required staffing from 18
to 15; production increased from 50 to more than 100
machineguns per month. Projected savings for fiscal year 2006
are $1.1 million, and these savings will continue in the future.
Similar improvements on the M16 rifle process allowed the depot
to produce an additional 1,200 weapons—a 25-percent improvement.
As indicated earlier, one of the depot’s primary missions
is the disassembly, refurbishment, and reassembly of light
and heavy combat vehicles. Under the refurbishment process,
the depot brings old equipment back to a like-new condition
before returning it to service. Although refurbishment often
produces additional challenges, Anniston’s continuous
improvement activities ease those challenges significantly.
By going to a one-piece flow process with point-of-use
tools and standardized work, the M1 Abrams tank
disassembly line process time was reduced from 260 to 230 hours—a
12 percent improvement.
Before the implementation of Lean Six Sigma in the depot’s
reassembly operations, mechanics often spent a significant
amount of time chasing down needed parts; this obviously was
not part of the mechanics’ job. Now, parts are configured
by workstation requirements and are placed at the point of
use by materials handlers. This allows the mechanics to continue “turning
wrenches” and produce a refurbished combat vehicle in
a shorter timeframe.
To improve efficiency, signals have been put into use in the
assembly area. If a mechanic encounters a problem, such as
a missing or defective part, a “red flag” is raised—literally—and
help is soon on the way.
Another recently completed Six Sigma project improved the first-pass
yield for the M1 tank’s AVDS (air-cooled, V-engine-configuration,
superturbocharged) 1790 engine by 10 percent. This success
is expected to have a return on investment of $1 million over
the next 3 years.
Anniston Army Depot has an aggressive improvement plan. In
2006, the depot expects to complete 186 kaizen events and 42
Six Sigma projects. The goal is to achieve efficiencies that
save at least 900,000 direct-labor hours. A reduction in hours
creates increased capacity and shorter repair-cycle times.
But users of Lean Six sigma should be warned: At times, the
multifaceted Lean Six Sigma processes can be very frustrating.
This is particularly true in the beginning, when employees
often are very reluctant to actually buy into the processes.
Lean Six Sigma also can be soul-searching and
gut-wrenching when nothing seems to be going according to plan.
It is extremely challenging to try to make all the pieces of
depot operations fit together logically and logistically. However,
it is very satisfying when positive things happen and results
are apparent to all participants. Ultimately, it is exhilarating
when the final product is delivered and goals once thought
unachievable have been accomplished.
Today, throughout the depot, workers are encouraged to come
up with solutions to problems. The person doing the hands-on
work is usually the best one to devise a solution to a problem.
Unfortunately, before the implementation of Lean Six Sigma,
workers often were not asked to provide input or their ideas
were dismissed out of hand by managers.
Continuous improvement is a never-ending journey and has now
become a way of life at the depot. Lean Six Sigma is a fast-moving
train and ultimately a great ride.
For additional information on Anniston Army Depot’s Lean
Six Sigma activities, contact Patti Sparks at email@example.com.
Colonel Alexander B. Raulerson is the Commander
of Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. Previously, he served as
the Chief of Plans, Programs, and Exercises (G–4) at
Third Army at Fort McPherson, Georgia. He has an M.S. degree
in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Patti Sparks is Anniston Army Depot’s Continuous Improvement
Manager and has been involved in the depot’s Lean Six
Sigma activities since their inception. She is a graduate of
Gadsden State Community College in Alabama and the Quality
Assurance Intern Program.