Modernization in motion! Modernization is the key to keeping Distribution competitive and relevant in the new world of DOD Reform

By Dawn Bonsell, DLA Distribution Public Affairs Officer

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DLA Distribution’s holistic modernization strategy leverages our people, processes, automation and technology to drive increased productivity and greater efficiencies across the entire Distribution network. Modernization is key to keeping Distribution competitive and relevant in the new world of Department of Defense reform.

DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania’s Eastern Distribution Center, the largest warehouse within DoD, is the cornerstone project of the strategy. The EDC modernization effort is Distribution’s paramount modernization effort to date since the EDC opened for business more than 20 years ago.  The project is an amazing opportunity to dramatically transform the way we do business, bringing the best 21st century technology to our largest and busiest distribution center.  Over the past several years, we have worked closely with an industry expert to better understand our options, leveraging the successes found throughout the commercial sector. This modernization opportunity promises increased efficiencies, reduced costs, and improved support to the warfighter.

One significant pilot project, currently underway at the EDC, is an unmanned automated guided vehicle. The AGV is currently moving materiel from location to location, freeing up employees to focus on materiel order receiving and processing. Quick response codes, suspended from the ceiling of the EDC, guide the AGV from a pre-programmed route that directs it from receiving to storage, out loading and then back. In addition, a collision avoidance system is installed in the vehicle and utilizes a laser to detect obstacles in the AGV’s path.   According to Ramona French, chief, J4 Integration Division, “We just heard that DLA Research and Development was approved to do another AGV/Vision Guided Vehicle pilot.  While we don’t currently know the timing of that effort, it is exciting to be able to look across the landscape for this type of automation to find one that best supports our Distribution mission.”

The EDC modernization plan has a return on investment of four years and will cost approximately $107 million. Interestingly, the estimated cost to refurbish the existing equipment is $57 million. So, in addition to being very cost effective, the solution also provides available modern technology that will support current and surge workloads—268 percent of current— while providing a strong return on investment and business case analysis. Funding is approved and the acquisition planning process is in the works.  According to Paul Abel, J4 Director, “We are very excited about the future of the EDC and will be looking to replicate some of these same technologies across the Distribution network where it makes sense.”

In addition to the EDC modernization project, efforts are taking place throughout the entire Distribution network. The new processes include additional AGV/VGV pilots, goods to man technology, yard management, automated weigh and offer stations, real-time location and pushback racking. Distribution Corpus Christi, Texas is piloting a new warehouse management system that will support the Distribution enterprise now and into the future. DLA Distribution Korea is building a new warehouse that updates a 1960 era warehouse with a state-of-the-art facility that incorporates modern automated material handling systems.

DLA Distribution’s western Strategic Distribution Platform and DLA’s primary distribution point to the western United States, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California, has been dubbed the “Innovation Center,” and will pilot efficiency improvements aimed at reducing customer rates. Pilot process and productivity improvements are already in motion, including improving workplace organization, workstation layout and technology to support efficient pick and stow activities. Drones, materiel handling equipment, and robotic process automation pilots are also planned activities at the innovation center. New customer offerings will include video-based utilization, slotting and pick sequencing, digital planography and innovative partnerships with industry.

The worldwide Distribution workforce is also discovering a wealth of advantages with wireless and portable technology—specifically tablets and wireless printers. The tablets offer extreme value in the pick and inventory processes, allowing employees to simultaneously search WebFLIS (a system that provides essential information about supply items through a web interface connected to the Federal Logistics Information Service), work in the warehouse management system, take photos, and remain connected via email.  This is a huge improvement over the radio frequency guns that cannot connect to the internet or email. The tablets’ on-demand, instantaneous results, without the time lapse are much more efficient, potentially saving production time every day.

The tablets are lightweight and durable, while the printers print labels in record time. Armed with a tablet and a mobile printer, employees can work more efficiently throughout the warehouse, without having to go back and forth to a traditional workstation to input information or print labels; and, depending on how far away employees are from their workstation, that can be time consuming. The mobile printers, designed to allow process workers to print labels in location during the processing of materials, reduce travel time, improve end-to-end process time and enable process completion in one location.

As the modernization strategy gains momentum, the agency will continue to look for every opportunity to reduce costs and improve performance across the agency.  The Distribution modernization strategy is to design, build, automate and equip the agency around simplified processes while leveraging the latest and greatest technology to provide better support to the warfighter.