By employing Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma methodologies, the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Test Center was able to improve the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of its vehicle maintenance operations.

Six Sigma’s DMAIC method gave the Aberdeen Test Center the necessary tool for improving its cycle time, significantly decreasing the wait for its clients between when a vehicle comes into the shop and when it leaves.

The Aberdeen Test Center Had a Problem

In May of 2007, the Aberdeen Test Center showed its commitment to the Lean Six Sigma methodology by starting a Lean Six Sigma Division, headed by Thea Fowler. Once established, it became commonplace for a regular worker to find something that was an irritant that needed fixing and suggest it as a Lean Six Sigma project.

One such situation came from the ATC’s Deborah Furnari. The cycle time for vehicles coming through the Aberdeen Test Center was having an effect on morale, causing space issues, creating time issues, and diminishing the value of the center in the eyes of its customers.

Something had to be done.

Furnari Received Approval To Utilize The DMAIC Process

The Six Sigma methodology that Furnari would have to learn puts a focus on accuracy and precision. It is an application of analytical tools that drives decisions that are based on data with the goal of significantly improving processes. Champions of this methodology believe in total commitment from an entire organization in order to successfully improve.

The first step in solving the problem was to get Furnari trained as a Six Sigma Black Belt. This required four weeks of training. One of the biggest focuses of the training was the DMAIC method. This required looking at problems in processes and breaking down your improvement measures into five primary steps. The main steps of the DMAIC method are define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.

Some might see these types of process alterations as a tool for cutting down on employees. Instead, Furnari saw the situation as an opportunity for the reallocation of workers in whatever manner proved to be the most effective. The project also fostered an examination of the transfer of personnel from one ATC location to another, in order to maximize efficiency. This concept is called loading. It serves to make sure that workers are neither undertasked nor overtasked. This was accomplished by tracking how much scheduled maintenance there would be in any given year versus unscheduled maintenance. Unscheduled maintenance includes incidents and accidents such as blown tires. Furnari began working with the equipment manager to work towards a 70% scheduled maintenance percentage so that there would be 30% of the time available for situations that arise that are not scheduled. This would significantly cut down on the need for as many overtime hours. Full utilization also helped to cut down on the turnaround time.

They also looked at parts inventory, which they were able to improve and save by improving purchasing and acquisition processes.

The Outcome Was Impressive

By utilizing the Six Sigma business model and its DMAIC process, in particular, the Aberdeen Test Center was able to cut its costs by $390,000. Looking at the project’s five-year Project Objective Memorandum, however, the cost savings would total a stunning 3.4 million dollars.

A consistent backlog of vehicles was also greatly reduced with the process improvements. At any given time, the Aberdeen Test Center would usually have between 85 and 100 vehicles awaiting service. The maintenance process would not be limited to tactical vehicles either. This number could include anything from cranes to weed whackers. The process improvements led to better utilization of the fleet as well as a reallocation of underutilized assets.

The project also led to a greater use of onsite repairs when bringing vehicles into the shop was unnecessary. With the ATC having a limited amount of space and time, it found that sending someone out to pick up a vehicle, bring it back to the shop, and take it back out when its servicing was completed contributed to a lot of time waste. In order to cut down on non-value-added time, the shop began sending out its mechanics to do repairs onsite, which cut down on the use of valuable resources, namely space and time.

The cost savings allowed for the reallocation of that money into areas where it could be better used.

The decrease in wait time as well as the ability to reallocate funds to other areas that were needed at ATC had the result of significantly improving the experience for ATC’s customers.

At the completion of the project, Deborah Furnari made a storyboard, going over all the steps that the process went through. It was submitted for the Lean Six Sigma area of the Army in the hopes that it would be approved for showcasing at a Department of Defense Lean Six Sigma conference. Not only was it shown, but the project also received a blue ribbon for being the best project in the maintenance division. The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Maj. Gen. Roger Nadeau presented her with his coin as well as that of the technical director.

3 Best Practices When Using Six Sigma and the DMAIC Method to Address Turnaround Time Issues

The Aberdeen Test Center learned some great lessons when it came to how to best handle its turnaround time issue as well as overall bettering its processes. Here are some key takeaways:

1. Place workers where they are best utilized

The ATC found that with better utilization of its workers, it was able to significantly cut down on its turnaround time. Furnari also found that shifting workers from one part of the maintenance pipeline to another helped cut down on bottlenecks when employees were being underutilized elsewhere.

Your employees need to be where they are able to do their best work. Not only that, but making sure that the workload does not lead to some workers being overburdened is actually best for your bottom line. Not managing the workload properly overutilizes a percentage of your workers, which can wind up costing you significantly in overtime as well as lead to worker burnout. This could actually lead to an even greater turnaround time in the long term. Finding ways to utilize all of your workforce and not simply overtax a few individuals is best for the overall health of your team as well as the bottom line.

It is also important to make sure that you are setting up your workers for success by aligning them with work that they are engaged by, that plays to their strengths, and that they find meaningful. Workers that are well-utilized and doing work that matters to them will give you results of higher quality that are accomplished in a shorter and safer amount of time.

2. Use your resources efficiently

The ATC realized that a lot of time and space was being wasted by having its workers go pick up a vehicle to service at an already packed shop, do the maintenance there, and then return it. Instead, for simpler fixes, it found it to be a much better use of resources to go out to the vehicles and repair them onsite. This had a significant impact on how the time was spent by the workers as well as preventing the facility from being overstuffed with vehicles with minor issues that would take the focus off of bigger service jobs.

An important takeaway from this is that, in your business, you need to make sure that you use your resources wisely. The time that an ATC worker had to spend getting a vehicle back and forth was cut by a third. If the trip to a vehicle each way takes an hour, that means that if a worker makes that kind of trip every work day, there are now five extra hours a week that could be put towards other things. Those hours can add up significantly if we are talking about a large number of workers doing these kinds of repairs.

Efficient use of your resources can add up to big financial savings for your organization as well as more time where quality work can be done.

3. Have support at every level of your organization

One of the keys to the success of Furnasi’s Six Sigma project was that there was support coming from every level of the organization. In fact, the ATC had a Lean Six Sigma division in place.

Having buy-in from colleagues, higher-ups, and employees goes a long way toward ensuring the best results with a Six Sigma project. Launching a major project can require a cultural shift in an organization to make sure that everyone believes in the change and is doing their part to ensure its success. For the methodology to work properly, it requires a total commitment by all levels, from top-level management to junior employees.

If there is not already a Six Sigma-level culture in place in your organization, getting this kind of support will likely take some significant planning and time.

Six Sigma and DMAIC Bring a Faster Turnaround

By embracing Six Sigma and the DMAIC process in your organization, you find yourself with the proper tools for improving the processes in your business. This will lead to greater customer satisfaction, a happier and better-utilized workplace, and shorter turnaround times.

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