Army refitting more Humvees faster with new approach

The U.S. Army has cut to a fraction the time it takes to rebuild battle-damaged Humvees with a new assembly-line process at Red River Army Depot in Texas.

Red River recently was one of 12 Army commands to receive the Shingo Prize Public Sector Award for Excellence in Manufacturing and Achievement, called by Business Week magazine “the Nobel Prize for Manufacturing.” And, Red River was one of only three Army depots to receive Shingo’s Gold Medal.

In 2004, Red River was overhauling only about three Humvees per month, according to the Army Materiel Command. Now, an average of 23 rebuilt Humvees roll out of the depot daily.

Lean Six Sigma principles were used to transform business practices at the depot, Red River Commander Col. Douglas Evans told an audience recently at the “Warrior’s Corner” exhibit at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting.

“We could not have accomplished this without the help of every employee,” Col. Evans said. He added that when he arrived at the depot two years ago, he told everyone the he was “all about changing people, or changing people.” He said employees embraced the mind-set of business transformation, and now he has staff members with yellow, green, brown and black belts in Lean Six Sigma.

Red River, near Texarkana, runs both a reset and recap program for Humvees. Under recap, the Army is changing old Humvees to one of the new variants, Col. Evans said. Under reset, the Army is rebuilding up-armored Humvees damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The depot has used an assembly-line or “flow” process to recap Humvees for some time, and that program is actually what earned the depot its Shingo award. But Col. Evans said the reset program is what underwent the biggest changes most recently.

A “bay” process was used for resetting Humvees a few years ago, Evans said. A Humvee would be parked in a bay for up to 450 work hours as one employee was primarily responsible for overhauling the vehicle. And, only the parts that needed to be replaced were changed out.

“Now we strip them down to the frame,” said Mike Cox of the depot’s Business Management office. He said everything is now replaced either with new or reconditioned parts.

This makes the Humvees more reliable, according to Col. Evans. He said in the past, reset Humvees would sometimes have engines that seized up or other parts go bad, just weeks after leaving the depot, giving the program a bad name.

Replacing everything is actually no more expensive than replacing selected parts, said Michael Lockard, chief of Enterprise Excellence at Red River.

Even though more funds are now spent on parts, fewer man-hours make up the difference, according to Col. Evans. In fact, he said that 65 additional Humvees were rebuilt in fiscal year 2006 with no additional funding.

The difference comes from “flow, velocity and efficiency,” according to Lockard. That comes from adapting the type of assembly-line system that had been used for recap.

“We minimize the scope of work, minimize the cost and maximize the number of vehicles reset,” he said.

In the flow process, a Humvee is supposed to move down the line to a new station about every 15 minutes, Col. Evans said. With each employee on the line specializing in one job, he said, workers become more efficient and finish that job much faster than if they were working on the entire vehicle.

“A lot of companies are now coming to Red River to benchmark against us,” Col. Evans said.

The depot has also initiated a number of partnership programs with private industry, Lockard said, and Red River is helping a number of companies by picking up Defense-related repair work that those firms didn’t have the capacity to complete.

Red River is always looking for more work because its processes are constantly becoming more efficient, providing the opportunity to increase capacity, Lockard said. He said the depot plans to begin using the flow or line process to refit larger vehicles within the next year.

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