'Lean' Manufacturing At Letterkenny Saves Soldier Lives

Six Sigma and kaizen practices not only increased efficiency but decreased pollution as well

Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD — May 29, 2007 — In 40 percent less time than it normally takes, employees at the Letterkenny Army Depot fabricated almost 900 reinforced armor door kits for upgrading High-mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) deployed in Iraq. Their efforts to address the significant threat to American Soldiers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) saved lives and prevented countless injuries.

Despite their already-humming manufacturing pace, the depot crew delivered the door kits four weeks early, came in $1 million under budget and worked into the process an annual savings of $1.4 million dollars — enough to provide 27 free HMMWVs per month to the Army since August 2006. How did they do it?

"When the call came in to deliver the door kits we were experiencing production rates twice as high as normal," said Randall Quinn, chief, Environmental Management Division. "Even though we didn't build new facilities to accommodate increased production, instituting 'lean' manufacturing methods enabled us to meet the need of our Soldiers in Iraq."

Lean manufacturing at Letterkenny is the result of the depot's commitment to the Army's Lean Six Sigma management approach. The lean core team utilizes the kaizen and value stream analysis lean tools to discover and eliminate waste by reducing floor space, flow time and distance traveled as a means of increasing productivity. More than 80 percent of the workforce at Letterkenny has participated in at least one Lean Six Sigma rapid improvement event (RIE). RIEs are exercises designed to identify inefficiencies quickly and recommend immediate corrective action.

Lean manufacturing revolutionized pollution prevention at the depot, too. Iterative improvements to lean initiatives have vastly improved waste reduction and eliminated sources of pollution.

In fiscal year 2006, Letterkenny reported a 58 percent solid waste diversion rate in the amount of 4,756 tons. It accomplished this goal by implementing aggressive reuse, recycling and reclamation programs. One of these programs included collecting diesel fuel drained from vehicles being overhauled and recycling this fuel for reuse in the main heating plant. This action saves disposal costs and reduces the need to purchase new fuel oil. The depot also set up a program to sell its used motor oil through a qualified recycling agent.

In addition to recycling waste, Letterkenny reduced the amount of waste it generates. Since the beginning of FY 2005, the depot has eliminated the use of any new chemical formulations containing methylene chloride, trichloroethylene and other hazardous chemicals. As a result, the depot met its environmental management system goal of reducing hazardous chemicals use in existing products by 75 percent.

Aggressive waste elimination and management with lean process improvements is netting Letterkenny Army Depot big savings in production time, impact on the environment and dollars. The lean manufacturing production methods combined with environmental initiatives save the depot almost $15 million per year.

Improvements made to the existing manufacturing facilities and the incorporation of lean manufacturing approaches produce real world results vital to the success of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. As the Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence for Air Defense and Tactical Missile Systems, Letterkenny civilian professionals continue a 60 year tradition of providing critical support to the Army.