Lean improves Sidewinder repair process. Sidewinder

Lean improves Sidewinder repair process. Sidewinder

Jennifer Caprioli

TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. — A switch at Tobyhanna Army Depot from a complete Sidewinder overhaul process to ‘repair only as necessary’ saves time and money.

For the past seven years, Sidewinder Missile Branch personnel have completely overhauled the AIM-9(M) Sidewinder guidance and control sections for the Air Force, Navy, and foreign military sales. In response to a critical parts shortage, the depot developed an alternative to reduce parts consumption.

“With the customers’ approval, instead of overhauling each GCS, we in the Sidewinder branch would implement an inspect-and-repair-only-as-needed program,” said Branch Chief Wayne Watkins. The branch is part of the Command, Control and Computer/Avionics System Directorate’s Tactical Missile Division.

The AIM-9(M) Sidewinder is carried by fighter aircraft and is a supersonic, heat seeking, air-to-air missile, which consists of a high-explosive warhead and a dynamic infrared guidance system. The missile works by homing onto the infrared emissions from jet exhaust. According to the Navy, it is the most widely used air-to-air missile in the West.

When the guidance and control mission began in 2000, Tobyhanna would disassemble and then troubleshoot each GCS. Because of the changes the Sidewinder branch would be executing. Productivity Improvement and Innovation was contacted to help organize the shop’s workflow. Since April the Sidewinder branch has participated in five Lean events, and have already cut the average repair cycle time.


By removing non-value added steps for repairing the GCS, workers were also able to cut their manual cycle time. “Under the old overhaul process we worked about 70 hours per missile. Under the new process we work about 28 hours on each missile,” Watkins says.

“Going from overhaul to repair is effective because now we’re addressing a specific issue,” says Robert Kinsey, an electronics mechanic in the Sidewinder Missile Branch.

“We previously worked more than 600 hours of overtime,” says Watkins. “Under the new program we did not use any overtime.” The branch’s goal is to repair 150 missiles per month.

The team had five goals in mind as they planned each Lean event. They wanted to reduce parts consumption, repair cycle time, manual cycle time, and cost. They also want the missiles to last until 2028. “We decided we would analyze the missile as soon as it’s brought in,” says Kinsey, “because it is what the customer wants and because we use fewer parts.”

The initial Lean event focused on Value Stream Analysis and was implemented April 9-12. Through analysis, the Sidewinder Branch and Lean team discovered it could save time and parts by troubleshooting first and then performing a teardown on the GCS, if needed.

“We mapped out the current process and then mapped out the future process. We found the results would be dramatic,” said Watkins.

The second Lean event was held April 23-26, and this time the Sidewinder team’s focus was on baseline testing, implementing process data sheets and completing process flow sheets. These sheets accompany each missile during every step in the process: induction, leak and flow, boresight, rate table, final assembly, and the clean room.

Their research found that only defective missiles required work in the clean room. By removing this non-value added step the shop saves time and parts. “There is a six minute sixteen hour reduction, if the GCS’s seeker doesn’t go through the clean room,” says Watkins.


The third event, May 21-24, focused on the induction cell; during this event the team developed a standard tools list for each of the six cells, which reduces the time spent looking for tools. They also eliminated waste by creating signs, rearranging cells, and installing organized storage bins.

The Sidewinder branch had their fourth Lean event June 18-21. This event focused on the clean room. They rearranged the room to accommodate the switch from overhaul to the IROAN program. During this event they also developed a standard tool list for each cell.

The Sidewinder Branch completed their fifth event the end of July. This event consisted of eliminating the non-value added steps in the diagnostic cell area and analyzing the diagnostic success rate.

Three more events are scheduled. The events will focus on repair cell standard work, pre-final and final standard work, and process and planning for the floor plan layout.

“They need the Lean events to reduce their flow time and manual cycle time. By increasing output, it gives the shop the opportunity to bring more work in,” says Christopher Simko, a process improvement specialist in the depot’s Process Improvement Division, Productivity, Improvement and Innovation Directorate.

Through a database managed by the Information Management Directorate, successes and failures of the missiles are traceable.

The customer will track missiles by serial number then inform Tobyhanna if any fail. “Tracking is useful because it gives us feedback to make sure our product isn’t bad,” says Watkins, “and we want to make sure we’re producing a good product.”


4R–Rigor, Relevance, Relationships, and Results

ANA–Afghan National Army

APC–Area Processing Centers

C4–command, control, communications, and computers

CLC–Combat Lifesaver

CWID–Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration

DFAC–Dining Facility

ESB–Expeditionary Signal Battalions

ESTA–Enterprise Systems Technology Activity

ESV–Electronic Shop Van

IT–Information Technology

FMS–foreign military sales

GCS–guidance and control sections


JICSCC–Joint Incident Site Communications Capability

MOD–Ministry of Defense

MRX–mission rehearsal exercise

NATO–North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NCO–Non-commissioned Officers

NETCOM–Network Enterprise Technology Command

PfP–Partnership for Peace

PM–Production Management

SHAPE–Supreme Headquarters

Allied Powers Europe

SIT–School of Information Technology

SC–South Carolina

SES–Senior Executive Service

TACSAT–Tactical Satellite Communications

USARPAC–United States Army Pacific

VoIP–Voice Over Internet Protocol

U.S.–United States

Ms. Caprioli is a writer with the Tobyhanna Army Depot Public Affairs Office, Tobyhanna, Pa.

COPYRIGHT 2007 U.S. Army Signal Center

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning