A team from the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Support Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, is applying some focused fire to workplace inefficiency. And now, they're seeing immediate results.
A group of Lean Six Sigma practitioners called green and black belts aimed to improve output for the center, which is a new Humvee engine rebuilding line for U.S. forces in Europe during a weeklong Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) held December 11-15, 2006 on Rhein Ordnance Barracks.
"We are the first to host an RIE in Europe ... because we want to see our process efficient," said Klaus Rupp, the facility maintenance manager. "The RIE is making this improvement possible in a very short time."
An RIE is a project designed to quickly identify inefficiencies and recommend immediate corrective action by using LSS, a process improvement methodology used in industry and being adopted by the military.
Every employee is involved and encouraged to offer criticism of current work processes and to suggest possible solutions to problems they've identified, said Klaus Kastrup, an LSS specialist from the George Group, a consulting firm assisting U.S. Army, Europe with this and other such projects.
"Lean Six Sigma is about people," Kastrup said. "If something doesn't work, they're going to know better because they see it daily."
The team spent the first days of the RIE observing mechanics at work and identifying specific areas in need of streamlining. Organizing parts and tools was one of the obvious improvements immediately incorporated.
"We must think about how much time the mechanic takes to find a tool or find a part," Kastrup said. "If he takes too long because we don't have the part where he needs it, that's waste. We are here to fix that."
Other improvements the team recommended: co-locating the engine disassembly and parts-cleaning centers; and improving communication between mechanics and supervisors by using a status-tracking board.
Rupp believes the changes will "improve life for everyone."
"It gives ownership of the process to the mechanics, improvements come from their ideas," he said, adding that it will also result in returning high-quality vehicles to field units.
Meredith Weber, 21st TSC LSS manager, said the USAREUR-funded event was ideal for improving the engine rebuilding line and could also be useful in improving any process throughout the command.
"An RIE is designed to yield maximum results in a minimal amount of time," she said. "It's fast-paced and can be stressful, but it's useful in identifying and correcting inefficiencies in any process, from manufacturing to office work. There's always something that can be improved, and this is a great tool to make that happen."