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Improving the Automatic Reset Induction Process

Two years ago, the Army faced a problem as hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment were being moved from Iraq to the United States for reset. The existing automatic reset induction (ARI) retrograde process for the Army was unable to provide 100-percent total asset visibility (TAV) and in-transit visibility (ITV) to Army life-cycle management commands throughout the process.

ARI items are items that are automatically inducted into sustainment-level reset. Sustainment-level reset is performed above the organizational and direct support levels by installation directorates of logistics, contractors, and the Army’s industrial base.

The ARI process stretches across 7,000 miles from northern Iraq to Red River Army Depot, Texas. The key stakeholders are heavily involved on a daily basis supporting the war. An estimated 800,000 pieces of ARI supplies and equipment are scheduled to be retrograded to the continental United States (CONUS) in the next 2 years, and the retrograde pace will accelerate from 1,500 pieces to 4,500 pieces per month.

In June 2008, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) Lean Six Sigma staff combined forces with the Army Sustainment Command’s Continuous Process Improvement office to improve the ARI process flow of equipment from Operation Iraqi Freedom to CONUS source-of-repair facilities. The two commands oversee most of the ARI process— SDDC owns surface transportation and the Army Sustainment Command owns supply—so it was only logical to combine the staffs to work on the project.

Principles, Goals, and Objectives

Major General Robert M. Radin, who was then the commanding general of the Army Sustainment Command, provided the project’s basic principles, goals, and objectives. [General Radin is now the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, G–4, Department of the Army.] He directed that Lean Six Sigma be the methodology used to improve the process. Lean Six Sigma combines the principles of Lean (reducing and eliminating nonvalue activities) with Six Sigma (reducing variation and increasing quality).

Major General Radin’s six principles for the effort were to—

  1. Improve accountability.
  2. Improve visibility.
  3. Develop a single process.
  4. Maximize automation.
  5. Eliminate multiple touch points.
  6. Speed to the rear. (This refers to velocity—the need to return ARI items to CONUS as soon as possible for repair or rebuild to support Army Force Generation.)

His specific goals and objectives were to—

  • Provide 100-percent supply accountability (TAV).
  • Provide 100-percent in-transit visibility (ITV).
  • Produce a 20-percent reduction in overall process time.
  • Reduce duplication of efforts (such as rewriting radio frequency identification tags and military
    shipping labels).
  • Eliminate the manual process used to reconcile hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of ARI equipment annually.
  • Eliminate the Army’s associated liability of more than $700 million in lost equipment.

Identifying the Problem

During the measurement phases, the Lean Six Sigma team tracked and measured more than 251 ARI shipments in order to identify the exact point in the process where supply and transportation visibility and the ability to automatically close out shipments were lost. The loss was occurring when the original sustainment transportation control number (TCN) was changed to a unit movement TCN midway through shipping process. The effect is similar to a commercial carrier changing its shipment tracking number en route without notifying the customer or letting him know the product he received is really what he ordered.

The bottom line was that Army and Defense Logistics Agency supply automation systems did not interface electronically with Army and joint transportation and mobility systems.

Once the team identified where in the process the problem was arising and what was causing the loss of TAV and ITV, it immediately went to work to eliminate the cause and improve the process. This can be the hardest phase in a Lean Six Sigma project because some stakeholders are very apprehensive about change, especially while fighting a war, and it is crucial to not disrupt a step in a process that is working well.

Searching for a Solution

In December 2008, a team of supply, automation, and transportation subject-matter experts and stake­holders joined to collectively improve the process. From the collaboration, three courses of action (COAs) were developed.

COA 1 was a supply-centric process that mirrored current CONUS-to-overseas sustainment (supply) accountability and ITV. It was based on a commercialized door-to-door delivery enterprise solution. It worked well in a noncontingency environment, but it lacked the contingency surface transportation planning, vessel allocation, scheduling, priority, execution, and ITV functions needed to compete with unit deployment and redeployment movements and priorities.

COA 2 was to continue to use a modified unit redeployment process but implement it farther north in Iraq—basically the status quo COA. It did not provide real-time supply accountability and ITV. It was not a single process, and supply and transportation automation were still separated. Manpower to execute the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES) also was not available to process requirements; no one was willing to sign up for the mission in Iraq or Kuwait.

COA 3 was a combination of the other two, with the customer placing a requirement into JOPES for vessel planning, forecasting, and allocation. SDDC then would ship the item under separate supply and transportation TCNs with parallel accompanying documentation, radio frequency identification tags, and military shipping labels. The analysis of COA 3 proved that it would be very manpower intense and actually increase the complexity of the process by adding many redundancies, duplications, and efforts.

Finding a Solution

None of the three COAs were amenable to everyone. So a fourth COA was considered, but at first it was not widely supported because it meant dramatically changing the way the Army does supply retrograde transportation in a contingency operation for a long time to come. The COA called for developing a capability in the Transportation Coordinators’ Automated Information for Movement System II (TCAIMS II) to accept Army War Reserve Deployment System-generated supply TCNs and the associated supply and transportation data needed to efficiently and effectively plan, allocate, and execute ocean vessel support.

However, COA 4 met all of Major General Radin’s goals and objectives and every stakeholder and customer requirement. In June 2009, after an in-depth analysis, Lieutenant General Mitchell E. Stevenson, the Deputy Chief of Staff, G—4, directed that COA 4 be executed.

The improved ARI process is the beginning of a new era in which supply and transportation automation systems will be able to directly interface with each other. In November 2009, the software upgrades to TCAIMS II were completed. In late December, the upgraded TCAIMS II was fielded and training commenced in Kuwait and Iraq.

The first shipment under the new process pilot test was conducted to ensure that the changes made would in fact improve the process. Several ARI pieces of rolling stock were selected to test the process. The test validated the process improvement and resulted in:

  • 100-percent end-to-end TAV and ITV of ARI shipments (14 out of 14 shipments).
  • 92-percent ARI automated closeout and reconciliation at the source-of-repair facilities (13 out of 14 shipments).
  • 92-percent ARI married supply and transportation data elements (13 out of 14 shipments).
  • 27-percent reduction in ARI process time (105 days from 149 days).

The process is now being expanded into other retro grade processes, with the containerized ARI retrograde process currently under study. Further expansion into other areas of deployment, redeployment, and sustainment are being explored.

Mark S. Paun is a transportation deployment, redeployment, and distribution analyst at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. He holds a B.S. degree from Montana State University, is a graduate of the life-cycle executive leadership program at the University of North Carolina, and has completed Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification and supply-chain management certification from Pennsylvania State University.

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