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Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Charleston: leads the way in the global war on terrorism with Lean Six Sigma: improved manufacturing processes and a dedicated team help to aggressively ramp up MRAP vehicle production.

SSC Charleston is leading the charge protecting warfighters with state-of-the-art technology by overseeing the integration of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) suite into Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which are responsible for saving countless lives on a daily basis in the global war on terrorism.

Because of their unique V-hulled construction, which provides increased protection against underbelly blasts, MRAP armored vehicles are required to increase the survivability and mobility of troops operating in hazardous fire areas against known threats such as small arms fire, improvised explosive devices and other threats.

The MRAP program is currently the Defense Department's top acquisition priority--with $24.5 billion in funding. SSC Charleston stepped up and demonstrated the capability to fully integrate 50 vehicles per day with a full complement of C4I capability. This accomplishment helps demonstrate that SSC Charleston is a world-class military systems engineering organization, accomplishing a goal that many believed to be impossible in the eight months it took to stand up the program to full rate production.

SSC Charleston's utilization of Lean Six Sigma principles and tools in a true industrial setting is being held up as a shining example to the rest of the DoD. Using LSS methodology significantly reduces waste and variation in manufacturing.

When the program began in March 2007, the MRAP integration facility was producing an average of five vehicles per day. But SSC Charleston never imagined that the requirement would expand to a $24.5 billion requirement. To assist in the expansion, SSC Commanding Officer Capt. Red Hoover requested that a command Black Belt report to the MRAP facility and stand up a team to help meet the task of integrating 50 vehicles per day using LSS principles.

I took on this assignment and assembled a team of 10 individuals to tackle this challenge. The team members, all fully committed, highly energetic and brilliant, worked extremely hard to remove waste from the process and increase production of MRAPs through the use of Kaizen, often called Rapid Improvement Events.

What is most amazing is that the average age of the team members is 24 years old and most have just a year of work experience.


During the first four months of the MRAP LSS team's presence at the vehicle integration facility, their efforts contributed to an increased output from five to more than 50 vehicles per day, the number we had committed to in response to the demand signal.

The next--and an ongoing step--is to consistently sustain this output rate for a significant length of time, while reducing overall cycle time and increasing the quality output from the MRAP facility.

The integration of government furnished equipment into the MRAP vehicles presents the command with one of its chief opportunities to effectively implement continuous process improvement.

Some of the other Lean Six Sigma successes include the following.

* Welding--By modifying the welding process and instituting efficient material handling, the MRAP program shortened production time on this step from two hours to 20 minutes, roughly an 80 percent reduction.

* Quality Assurance--While increasing production from five vehicles to 50 vehicles per day, the QA process was modified and total quality related deficiencies have been reduced by 25 percent across the entire integration facility. It is noteworthy that quality related rework incidents were substantially reduced despite the fact that production increased and 400 new hires came onboard.

* Non-core Competency--SSC Charleston identified, drafted and communicated several engineering change plans for several non-C4I competency tasks, or tasks not related to integrating the C4I suite into MRAPs, including hole-drilling, welding and turret subassembly and installation. Removing this non-core work from the integration lines and passing it back to vehicle vendors to perform will save at least 15 man-hours per vehicle.

* Digital Rack--Through the utilization of complex LSS methodology and tools, the MRAP program redesigned the digital rack buildup process reducing the four-hour process to a 25-minute continuous flow process to completion.

* Vehicle Variant Takt Time--Through a comprehensive analysis, standardized work packages for each of seven vehicle variants were developed, allowing a reduction of required workers from four to three, while simultaneously cutting the overall process time by 50 percent. (Takt, German for metronome, is the total time specifically spent in manufacture of producing one object.)

The MRAP program is a glowing example of what can be achieved by utilizing the methodology taught in Lean Six Sigma, and it has drawn high levels of interest and attention.

The MRAP integration team demonstrated the capability of the program in more than 60 formal visits in a six-month period. This required long hours by many to coordinate visits while maintaining the operational tempo in the integration facility, at the same time, the visitors brought additional synergy to the process.

On January 18, 2008, their efforts were recognized by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates when he visited Charleston to congratulate the workforce and regional community for their hard work. He acknowledged that the MRAP program has been the largest and fastest military acquisition buildup since World War II--quite an accomplishment for the entire DoD.

There is no doubt that SSC Charleston and the Navy have performed above and beyond in support of the warfighter, as well as the nation. The lessons learned utilizing sound systems engineering and Lean Six Sigma will be valuable to future SSC Charleston programs, as well to the Navy and the Defense Department.



By Susan Piedfort, SSC Charleston Public Affairs

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited Charleston Jan. 18 to thank employees of SSC Charleston for saving warfighter lives by integrating, testing and installing advanced electronic systems communications equipment on MRAP vehicles.

At the MRAP integration facility, Gates thanked the government/industry partner team installing C4ISR equipment in the vehicles. Gates told more than 400 assembled workers at the MRAP integration facility, "You delivered under pressure with warfighter lives on the line."

SSC Charleston Commanding Officer Capt. Red Hoover said he is proud to be part of the MRAP effort which is truly making a difference by saving lives. "I am extremely proud of the hard work the SPAWAR Systems Center Charleston team is doing, and we are honored to be part of such a significant program. Your success is a testament to what dedication and determination by a government and industry partner team can do."

Gates called IEDs the weapons of choice of our adversary because they are cheap, deadly and difficult to detect. While there is no fail-safe measure to reduce loss of life and limb in war, a vehicle like the MRAP gives warfighters the best protection available, the secretary said. The troops love the MRAPs, Gates told the crowd, and commanders say they sleep better at night because of them.

Gates echoed the sentiments of another recent visiting dignitary, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, when he praised SSC Charleston and the community's ability to mobilize MRAP integration and ramp up the production line. The secretary said that in the 1940s the war effort mobilized the country's entire economy. While that is not true today, it does not take away from the importance of the task at hand at SPAWARSYSCEN Charleston. "Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the people of this country to raise their sights, to let no one say it can't be done, to keep raising their sights.

"And now I say to you, keep pressing on. IEDs will be with us for some time to come. The need for these vehicles will not soon go away," Gates said. "There can be no better description of the service you are providing: you are saving lives."

Among the distinguished visitors accompanying Secretary Gates were the Honorable John Young, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, senior military advisor to the Secretary of Defense.

Lt. Brian E. Phillips is the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle LSS deployment champion.
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Author:Phillips, Brian E.
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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