Iowa Army Ammunition Plant professionals earn Lean Six Sigma belts

Annette Parchert


MIDDLETOWN, Iowa — Staff members with the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant recently completed a Lean Six Sigma black belt project designed to decrease excessive transportation costs to ship ammunition with no, or a long, lead-time required-delivery date to storage facilities.

Previously, the process relied on a single mode of transportation, which may not have been the most-efficient mode of transportation. The project title was “IAAAP Improves Transportation Mode Efficiencies.”

In early 2011, former commander, Lt. Col. Tommie Hewitt, asked for cost-cutting ideas from IAAAP staff. Ideas were gathered from a focus group and IAAAP Installation Transportation Officer Robert Brewster presented an idea that was selected as a Lean Six Sigma project.

Debbie Wirt, who is a contract price/cost analyst and an LSS green belt at IAAAP, led the LSS project in an effort to earn an LSS black belt. Brewster participated as a subject matter expert on the team in an effort to earn an LSS yellow belt. In addition to working on the project, both were required to complete additional training on LSS concepts.

The goal of the project was to improve the efficiencies and reduce cost for transportation of munitions out of IAAAP, bound for any of four ammunition depots. Additionally, the goal to reduce annual cost per short ton by five percent was a major focus.

The project used the Electronic Transportation Acquisition® system to pull historical transportation data from previous years for analysis. Some of the changes that were implemented included the use of integrated applications such as Defense Connect Online®.

The nine-member team assembled to carry out the project along with black belt coach, William “Tad” Holburn, from Joint Munitions Command headquarters, was made up of personnel from JMC headquarters, IAAAP, American Ordnance and Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.

American Ordnance is the operating contractor at IAAAP.

Improvements made included regular scheduling of meetings via DCO and establishing a rail-car pool. Communication and time management was essential in this project. The pilot lasted six months, allowing the test team to conduct analysis of historical data to new data gained during this test.

“These improvements did not come without challenges,” said Wirt. “All of our weekly communication was done via telephone or email. This additional element was very difficult. My only regret is that I never got to meet Coach Holburn in person. He passed away October 21, before I had a chance to thank him.”

The project, when finished, was a great success because the original goal of five percent cost reduction was exceeded. The pilot resulted in a reduction in cost per short ton by 13.4 percent and a cost avoidance of $176,514.59 over six months.

JMC’s continuous process improvement office awarded an LSS yellow belt certificate to Brewster, Oct. 23, 2012. The award citation states, “In recognition of Mr. Brewster’s contribution and participation as a core Team Member on the Black Belt Project: Iowa Army Ammunition Plant Improves Transportation Mode Efficiencies.” Brewster’s knowledge as the subject matter expert had a significant impact on the success of this project.

Wirt was awarded a black belt and is the only black belt in a government-owned, contractor-operated installation. Her guidance as a facilitator kept the 17-months-long process on track.

“She takes great pride and ownership of the improvement process and focuses on recognition of team members. She used her own resources to travel to Scott Air Force Base, near St. Louis, to recognize a team member with a certificate and a commander’s coin. She went that extra mile for her team,” said Julie Solinski, chief of contract management.

IAAAP is a subordinate organization of JMC, and responsible for producing tank practice rounds, artillery rounds and 40 mm grenades, and for pressing missile warheads.

From its headquarters in Rock Island, Ill., JMC operates a nationwide network of conventional ammunition manufacturing plants and storage depots, and provides on-site ammunition experts to U.S. combat units wherever they are stationed or deployed. JMC’s customers are U.S. forces of all military services, other U.S. Government agencies, and allied nations.