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Letterkenny's excellence recognized

February 15, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - These are Lean times at Letterkenny Army Depot, and despite an increased workload and growing work force, the Army is looking forward to an even leaner future.

Lean manufacturing, a comprehensive and continuous approach to eliminating waste and improving productivity, was adopted at the depot about three years ago. The success of that system in maintaining, repairing and overhauling the Patriot missile air defense system was recognized Tuesday with the 2005 Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing.

The award named for the late Shigeo Shingo, who helped develop the Toyota production system, was presented by Ross E. Robson, executive director of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing and a management professor at Utah State University.

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"We know there's still opportunity for you to improve," Robson said during the ceremony in Building 370. A crowd of depot workers watched the proceedings amid radars, launchers and other components of the Patriot surface-to-air missiles serviced there.

Production gains such as those at Letterkenny and other companies awarded the Shingo Prize over the past 18 years help maintain the nation's manufacturing base and standard of living, Robson said. Last year was the first year in which government facilities were eligible for the prize, he said.

"It takes fewer steps to do the job," Dennis DeWalt Sr. said of the Lean system. "You condense it, cutting time and cost," said DeWalt, who has spent 13 of his 29 years at Letterkenny working on Patriot radars.

"It's your example here at Letterkenny that is leading the Army Materiel Command," said Lt. Gen. William E. Mortensen, the deputy commanding general of the AMC. "Your sister depots have learned a lot from Letterkenny Army Depot."

As a result of applying the Lean philosophy, Mortensen said the depot raised customer satisfaction to 99 percent, increased its workload 52 percent and increased personnel by 27 percent. As a result, he said, employee bonuses soared while Lean applications saved the military $18.5 million over three years.

Lean has spread to other installations, Mortensen said, citing examples from depots in Alabama, Texas and Pennsylvania that have adopted its methods to cut costs, cut time and improve quality.

The ultimate customer, said Maj. Gen. James H. Pillsbury, commander of the Army's Aviation and Missile Command, is the soldier in the field. The country is involved in a "long and protracted war" and the work of supplying the armed forces is integral to fighting the conflict.

"This is a big deal," Pillsbury said of the prize, the first awarded to an Army depot.

Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq "rave about the great job of up-armoring vehicles and the lives it has saved," U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said. Robson later said the depot is entering the 2006 competition for its work on Humvees.

Depot Commander Col. Robert Swenson credited his predecessor, Col. William Guinn, with bringing Lean to Letterkenny and the employees with making it work.

"You have a feeling of pride and integrity in what you do," said Roy Flythe, a Lean facilitator who has been with the depot 26 years.

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