In 2015, during a training exercise with the Republic of Korea, the United States Army 7th Transportation Brigade realized something important. One of their watercraft models – the “modular warping tug” – wasn’t performing up to standard. Specifically, the processes and procedures required to maintain the tugs weren’t efficient or effective enough.

That was a big issue because the modular warping tugs (also known as MWTs) were of critical importance. They created something called the Modular Causeway System – which is an impressive way of saying, “they created an on-demand bridge.” The MWTs, when functioning at full capacity, could create physical connections, or causeways, between ships to allow for easy supply movement.

However, because of inefficient maintenance processes, the MWTs weren’t always available when they were needed.

So, how’d they address these issues?

Systematically, of course. With Lean Six Sigma, following the proven methodology of DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control).

Step One: Define the Problem

The Army recognized that the MWT maintenance process could be improved, so… simply stated… they decided to improve it.

Step Two: Measure the Baseline for Current Processes and Procedures

The Army needed baseline measurements for three points of data…

  • Care of Supplies in Storage (what was the availability of all the supplies required to keep MWTs up and running?)
  • The MWTs’ operational readiness rates (when they needed the modular warping tugs, were they healthy enough for service?)
  • The Modular Causeway System’s availability rate (when they needed a quick bridge, was it available?)

Step Three: Analyze the Cause of the Issue

After studying the Care of Supplies in Storage, the operational readiness rates and the causeway system’s availability rate, the Army realized that two-thirds of their total MWTs needed to be functional at all times if they expected to meet their performance goals.

The MWTs had to be in use a lot, and that didn’t leave much time for operational maintenance. That was bad, because when an MWT went down for maintenance, it was out of service for a long time.

Why was maintenance taking so long? Turns out, the parts and components needed to repair MWTs weren’t easy to come by. How were they solving this problem? They were using old, broken parts, which was hurting the performance (and overall lifespan) of the MWTs.

Step Four: Improve the Process

The Army found many ways to improve the lackluster performance of their MWTs, but the solution that stands out the most is also the simplest one.

Improve communication between the MTW operators and the organization who provides the repair parts. To do this, they proposed a “repair parts list.” Operators would update the list frequently, detailing out all the parts they needed, and those requests would be passed to suppliers.

Step Five: Control the Process

How’d they control their simple solution? With another simple process – regularly update the stockage lists for required parts.

This is a great reminder that solutions don’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Simple measures can often lead to significant outcomes.

The Results

Maintenance time went down for all MWTs. They were more readily available, and since their parts were newer and stronger, they also performed better too.

The projected savings are an estimated $33,000 – and as significant as that is, it’s another drop in the bucket for the Army’s longstanding history of Lean Six Sigma implementation. They know better than many organizations… if you cut out what’s unnecessary and simplify the complex, you can achieve monumental change.

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