News | Jan. 27, 2021

DLA Distribution Tobyhanna improves material identification with a simple continuous process improvement tool

By Diana Dawa, DLA Distribution Public Affairs

The majority of equipment that comes into the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, warehouse is electronic in nature and the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command is one of their major customers. There are times when equipment will come into one of Tobyhanna’s receiving bay without proper identification. In those situations, it would take up a lot of time for employees to run down the Army’s CECOM representative for assistance in identifying the item needed for processing.

Robert Dodson, DLA Distribution, supply management specialist, Distribution Modernization, was the deputy at DDTP at the time. “Tobyhanna was unique in that in their receiving section they had an Army CECOM employee that is stationed there to help identify material. He has a desk in the back corner of the section and when items came in without data plates, or missing information, in a lot of cases, he was able to identify it. That is kind of a unique thing that doesn’t happen at a lot of sites.”

John Sylko is the Army CECOM specialist Dodson referred to.

“When the material came through the receiving line that couldn’t be identified, the workers would walk it back to him (Sylko), resulting in some wasted time, moving back and forth. So, they were looking for some visual way to notify the CECOM rep to come check out the material without all the disruption of stopping the process and walking back.”

Steavon Allen, DDTP’s Wholesale Director, said it was a situation that needed some immediate improvement. “Sylko sits a little far away from everyone and had a hard time hearing people call for him. He devised a system that has a plastic rectangle with [an] orange piece of paper in it, which gets hoisted up via rope pulley system at certain stations in the receiving section of the warehouse. If a receiver needs him, they can just raise the flag up and he can easily see it from where he is sitting.”

“Distribution Tobyhanna handles radio equipment, computers, satellite systems, night vision goggles, all that high-tech stuff,” said DDTP’s Wholesale Receiving Supervisor Jeff Arnold. “There were issues with material coming in damaged, with the wrong paperwork, or data plates missing. It can be challenging and very time consuming trying to identify material like that coming in the door. A lot of places have frustrated material where they put stuff aside, but it builds up. Being able to set something aside and have somebody come over to look at it immediately expedites the process.”

With six stations receiving material, and one CECOM material examiner, it took up a lot of time walking around the bay trying to reach Sylko. 

Sylko is an interface between DLA, CECOM and Tobyhanna Army Depot. His job is to ensure inbound material is properly identified by National Stock Number and part number, and its condition code (disposition) are correct.

“Making sure DLA gets the correct item/model/version of an item placed in the warehouse is important for the soldier sending it, CECOM to track it and TYAD to get it for repair/overhaul,” said Sylko.

It was a challenge for DLA receivers to communicate that they needed Sylko’s attention on the receiving line. “We tried shouting, waving and radios to communicate in a timely manner – none worked very well,” said Sylko. “In factories you have the "candy cane" lights that let personnel know if the machinery is running properly. In a supermarket you have a light the cashier can turn on to let management know they need help.”

Sylko devised a communication system using a spool of nylon cord, shipping box dividers, orange labels and some eyehooks. “These items formed the basis of a simple, no maintenance, electric-free flag system for communication,” he said. “Simply, like a semaphore flag, the DLA receiver pulls the cord & hoists the plastic "flag" with orange stickers on it, to let me know they need help.”

“No more shouting, or DLA employees trying to find me, just raise the flag & I'll be there shortly to assist,” said Sylko. “I can see all the flags from where I am in the bay, and even if I am on the bay floor, it is easy to check if any flags are hoisted. The DLA receivers know that all they need to do is place their questionable item to the side (continuing on with other work), and when I am available, I will come help them.”

It was a simple fix to a communication challenge that improved the workflow. 

“No contracts were needed to design, build or install the flags. No extra expense was incurred to any agency or taxpayers. No electric power is needed. Adding more to the bay if needed is simple. Nothing about the parts of it is dangerous or require training to operate,” said Sylko.

“The time saved is substantial,” said Allen.” We have seven receivers on the floor and we’ve probably saved on average a half-hour a day per receiver.”

It’s like putting a red or blue light above the workstation and when there’s an issue, the light goes on, alerting that assistance is needed. It is very simple and of all the CPI projects done at Tobyhanna in the five years I worked there that was probably the simplest one they did. It got a lot of attention,” said Dodson.