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Tinker civilian applies Green Belt principles to real-world projects

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Toby Smith gets it and the proof is in his actions; just ask Brian deFonteny or Karl McCausey.

In March, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex tool program manager attended a five-day Green Belt class. When he returned to his work area, he put his lessons to use and is working on a value-added process improvement.

"We were really excited about Toby; he was pumped up in class, went back to his world and actually did this stuff, which is awesome," said Mr. deFonteny, Air Force Sustainment Center Lean/Six Sigma/Black Belt expert. "That's exactly the mentality we want out there."

Mr. Smith's journey began roughly six months before the Green Belt class when his supervisors asked him to improve the process of the main tool office. As it was, tools were ordered and delivery took between 45 days and six months. Realizing that process wasn't working, Mr. Smith changed the buying process. Instead of going through the AFSC Contracting Directorate or filling out a purchase request and waiting for results, the unit began purchasing tools through GSA Global Supply, a government vendor. Tools are delivered in less than seven days, which led to another issue.

"Now we're finding out we have way too many tools," Mr. Smith said.

With the discovery of excess tools, Mr. Smith was asked to decrease the stock by 50 percent over the next six months. There are roughly $4.5 million worth of tools in stock.

"I didn't have a clue where to start and that's where Green Belt came in," Mr. Smith said. "I had started working the process before the class, but I didn't have a clue about where it was going."

Mr. Smith said before he stepped foot in the classroom, he had an idea of what to expect. He had been told the class taught lean principles and reducing waste, but it covered far more information with examples than he anticipated.

The class primarily focuses on teaching students how to look at processes differently using a lean perspective. The class cites examples executed by private industry, as well as Tinker improvements. Since 2008, the class has been organically taught and typically hosts 20 students per session.

"It's all industry proven tools. None of this is government methodology," Mr. deFonteny said. "It's a completely different way of looking at processes and guides students to develop long-term solutions capable of saving significant money, time, and effort. Traditional approaches to problem solving often adds waste to a process - lean approaches remove it."

Mr. Smith said he got the point right away.

"I started seeing the benefit in the class the first day," he said. "But, it was probably the second to the last day when a light bulb went off in my head and I put it all together knowing if we got rid of the waste we have, I can improve the process without increasing any people or space. On the second to last day, I knew I could do it on my own."

The following Monday, he returned to his workspace and began working the numbers and gathering data on the stock and usage levels, and determining how often tools are replaced.

"I couldn't be more pleased," said Mr. McCausey, 76th Maintenance Support Group Production Support Division chief and Mr. Smith's supervisor. "Toby is already implementing what he has learned, undertaking a huge inventory reduction effort which will result in a substantial cost savings to the complex."

While Mr. Smith still has several steps to go before finishing the project, he knows what needs to be accomplished and is looking forward to the work.

"When you eliminate waste in one area, you identify waste in another area and it's constantly an ongoing process," Mr. Smith said.