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News | July 31, 2017

Continuous Process Improvement and Safety at DLA Distribution Korea

By DLA Distribution Korea DLA Distribution Public Affairs

Combining Quality Assurance inspections with Continuous Process Improvement enables DLA Distribution Korea to transform how business is conducted on a day-to-day basis. These programs allow for improvement of operations while staying true to the requirements of Audit Readiness and meeting the needs of the warfigher and material owners.   

“When standing on the warehouse floor and looking up at the top racks, it is extremely difficult to estimate whether individual packages are stored too close to the sprinkler heads that are critical to the fire suppression system in the warehouse,” explained QA inspector, Yong Ki Kim. “We learned there was a problem and we were unsafely storing material within 18 inches of the fire suppression sprinklers.”

Once the chain of command was aware of the safety hazard, they had the problem locations corrected immediately. At that time, they also realized there were no tools or visual aids in place to prevent the problem from potentially reoccurring with the next stow of an item in the top racks.

Talking over the problem with senior leadership, the decision was made to initiate a Rapid Improvement Event through the CPI process. Hyon Yong O, a process improvement specialist, worked closely with Chong Kyu Hwang to develop a charter that was staffed and approved by the Supply Chain Integration group back at DLA.

Initial research led to the conclusion that there were two root causes contributing to storing material in the top racks that was too close to the sprinkler heads. First, no one in the distribution center knew the true distance between the base of the top rack and the sprinkler heads. Second, there was no process or visual aid to alert an employee working in a top rack location that they were potentially violating the safe fire-suppression stand-off distance. To overcome this knowledge gap, Edward Keener, a wage leader, physically measured the distance from each sprinkler head to the base of the top rack, and measured from the sprinkler head to a point 18 inches below the sprinkler head on the rack frame.

Once the team had accurate data, it was easy to work through the plan and develop solutions. Two solutions were eventually selected.  First, with accurate distance information the type storage codes in Distribution Standard System were adjusted so the system would not drive materiel to top rack locations, exceeding the minimum safe stand-off distance from the fire suppression sprinkler heads. Second, a simple, cost effect visual aid was developed to alert anyone working in a top rack location, or anyone walking through the area, that material is stacked too high and violates the safe stand-off distance.

The visual aid is a piece of bright yellow tape with a label. This aid is placed on the post of every top rack storage location in the warehouse. With these visual aids in place, anyone working in a top rack location, or anyone walking past on the floor below can look up and quickly determine if material is stacked too high and in violation of the safe stand-off distance.

“The labels say, in English and Korean, ‘Don’t stack material above this line.’” Keener explained. “To install a visual aid on every post in all of our warehouse bays was a task we turned over to the Aisle Managers of our UCare program. I went around and placed the initial visual aid on the first post of the top rack in each aisle in the warehouse. I then asked the aisle managers to place the visual aids on all the other posts in their aisle when they were doing their aisle maintenance at the close of each day.”

“By using CPI, and having the UCare Aisle managers, it was easy to develop solutions and assign responsibility and accountability for the placement of the visual aids. Hopefully, we’ll never have a fire at the facility, but if we do, we can rest assured we’ve done everything we can to make sure the fire suppression system operates as designed, and we haven’t done anything to inadvertently impede putting that fire out quickly,” said O.

“I’ve been around DoD for 37 years and can honestly say having the Quality Assurance program and the Continuous Process Improvement program are some of the best tools I’ve ever seen to quickly determine the root cause of problems and find inexpensive solutions that have an extremely high probability of success. With the staffing shortfalls, overtime constraints and budget limitations we’ve faced the past few years, we absolutely could not have made the improvements we have at DLA Distribution Korea without CPI and QAE,” explained DLA Distribution Korea’s deputy commander, David Harris.