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General Dynamics Tempers Links in Supply Chain

General Dynamics C4 Systems and their Strategic suppliers invest in the GD/MassMEP Supply Chain Program

The term "supply chain" and the concept of manufacturers working with their suppliers to improve efficiency may not be new, but here’s a unique idea. How about a program that partners an OEM with its suppliers and state or federal grants, with each providing one-third of the cost and, therefore, sharing interest in its success? Working with MassMEP project manager Rich Emmons, the Lean Six Sigma Program Manager at General Dynamics (GD) in Taunton, MA, Bill Sylvia, helped develop just such a program. With the support of his senior vice president, Sylvia convinced his company of the benefits of participating and investing in this new supply chain effort.

"Creating long-term relationships with suppliers is critical to our success," Bill Sylvia said. "Doing so extends ownership and risk. GD can’t do everything ourselves; we must rely on other sources to collaborate with us – like our suppliers. The more suppliers understand these principles, the more successful they will be at helping us meet our goals.

Syliva continued, "Suppliers need to be integrated into production and engineering. For instance, they must be able to address product life cycle issues during the production phase, not just at product launch or end-of-life. By involving suppliers in true partnerships we see positive results in cycle time reduction, continuous improvement, and cost reduction.  Helping our suppliers get better at helping us makes us more competitive in the long-term."

Meeting Contract Goals
In 2003, General Dynamics C4 Systems (GDC4S) started working with Mass MEP and Rich Emmons on a large system assembly challenge. GDC4S was manufacturing communication shelters and needed to reduce their cycle time to meet contract goals. Materials to construct the shelters came randomly sorted from another warehouse and had to be unpacked and organized before overall assembly could be done. Packing and unpacking materials are non value-added procedures which allow a greater risk of damaging components, many of which have been finish painted.

Value of Dealing Directly with Suppliers
As a solution, standard kit carts were created which housed all the materials for each job and allowed easy transport to the assembly area. The carts were very visual. Everything had a place and shortages could be seen immediately. The result was a cycle time reduction of 27%.

Hardware was also an issue. Suppliers replenished hardware in storage bins and employees walked back and forth and counted out what they needed, resulting in excessive travel. One supplier, CDP Fastener Group, Inc. worked with GDC4S and created hardware kits that contain all the parts needed for one individual hut. Each kit could be taken right in to the hut where the work was being done, eliminating the excessive travel and counting of parts. 

An added benefit of this approach is that CDP Fastener Group was able to employ people with developmental disabilities through the Lifeworks, Inc charitable organization to fill the kits, creating new jobs. Similarly, GDC4S communicated directly with JEM Electronics, their cable supplier, and were able to get pre-cut lengths of cable, packed in kits for a specific job which eliminated the time they used to spend measuring and cutting large coils. Developing this kind of relationship with CDP Fastener Group and JEM showed General Dynamics C4 Systems the value of dealing directly with their suppliers early on.

Practicing What They Preach
Over the past four years, General Dynamics has worked with Rich Emmons and Mass MEP on their Lean Implementation. Many folks at GDC4S, Taunton participated in the Basic Lean Training (Time wise® Lean101) to learn what Lean was and why it was being done.  "We did not want people to feel that Lean was being done tothem, but that they were an important part of the process," said Bill Sylvia.

Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen events happen regularly throughout their facilities and are now valuable tools for the company. They use Lean above the shop floor for the office and paper environments. Data and photos from the activities are prominently displayed which gets people involved and encourages them to share ideas. It shows that the process is working to help solve problems.

Sustainability has not been a problem at GDC4 since they implemented an audit system. In 2006, after several years of successful Lean implementation in-house, GDC4 wanted to take it to the next level and begin working with their suppliers. Bill Sylvia and Rich Emmons collaborated to develop a program that would benefit all parties involved. Then they went to senior management at General Dynamics to see if they would consider being the pilot for this new offering.

Reacting to Customer Needs
"General Dynamics became involved in the supply chain program to give us and our suppliers tools to use to get Lean and to consolidate spending," said Brian Fraser from the General Dynamics C4 Systems Strategic Sourcing Team. "Why? We want to maintain sustainability from our vendors to the contracts we supply. When we can ensure that the vendors and products are in place, we can immediately react to the needs of our customers."

Supply Chain Program Process
To participate in the program, suppliers had to meet several key criteria:
–     Be willing to change
–     Be committed to Continuous Improvement,
–     Participate without the explicit guarantee of additional work from General Dynamics for doing so

The OEM, suppliers, and grant funds each provide one-third of the supply chain program costs. MassMEP was able to utilize Department of Labor ETA funding for initial supplier assessments and Economic Stimulus grant monies toward other program costs.

To start, an assessment team visited participating suppliers and used specific tools to analyze facilities and processes. Next, the team met with the suppliers to discuss their goals; these were combined with suggestions from the assessment findings and used to devise an individual plan. Ultimately, each supplier chose the training that best fit their needs. Once training is complete, a second more comprehensive assessment will be done at the supplier locations to see how changes are being standardized and sustained and assist with follow up needs. Finally, a Capstone Event is held to share results and ideas in a roundtable forum.

In fall of 2006, the first external supply chain event kicked off with a meeting between the suppliers and GDC4S to help develop relationships. Topics of discussion included earlier visibility-to-design, and better pricing for stability and predictability. General Dynamics sent this message to suppliers: "You will be more competitive if you do Lean."

Results: NuVisions, John Marcil, Director of Quality
NuVisions has been providing printed wiring assemblies to GDC4 for 10 years. They determined that they would come up with some of their own goals in working on the supply chain project and one of them was to win the Shingo Prize. Focusing on trying to win the prize will help them concentrate on doing Lean overall and to aim for meaningful metrics that will benefit them as a company. NuVisions CEO is fully supportive and obtained a WFT (workforce training) grant. Training is mandatory and a training calendar has been published. They use a structured approach to continuous improvement. It is a journey not a destination. Nu Visions chose to do the Time Wise Le101 basic Lean training and then TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) and Set-Up Reduction Kaizens to help reduce set up and change over times.

The Returned Materials VSM Event they participated in with General Dynamics showed a huge bottleneck. Their current state map was 32 slides long and illustrated a process that took 25 days with just 244 minutes of value added time. The future state map fits on a single slide and shows a 5 day turn around with 120 minutes of value added timeResults: Time for repairing damaged boards was reduced bu 88%, from 23 days to 2-3 days.

Results: JEM Electronics, John McDonald, President
JEM is a contract manufacturer of cable and electromechanical assemblies with locations in Franklin, MA, Tijuana Mexico, and Asia. They are audited regularly by auto industry clients and maintain excellent standards. President John McDonald says that all JEM management staff is on board with Lean and there is a team feeling in the company. They began with Le101 events, a big undertaking since JEM has only 50 employees. That meant each training day took away half the workforce. Since November, JEM has experienced 35% growth and wondered how they could they afford the training time?

But, McDonald is glad they did because everyone was engaged. He stated, "Lean training created excitement at all levels. The Le101 got us started on the right foot. You definitely have to have support from top level management but it cannot come as an edict."

Next, JEM performed some Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and were able to reduce process time from 8.5 days to 2 days on an existing motor that they have been building for years. Now they build this motor on the floor and deliver it in 24 hours.

JEM has taken VSM to other areas of the manufacturing floor and performed 5s to clean and organize the area. McDonald has implemented a checklist process for employees to sustain the advances they’ve made.

Another plus about the program, said McDonald, was that "the MEP people come in ahead of time, on their own nickel, and figure out the needs for an event. When the time comes, they are ready to go. MEP has very good trainers. Our company is involved with another group that is not working out well. It is like comparing the Wright Brothers with NASA and I look forward to working more with MassMEP."

MassMEP brought in their associate, Jose Garcia, to work on a cell design for a bi lingual group which was a great help.  JEM is using visual signs and standardized work with lots of photos so everyone can understand. With cellular flow, the line works great and they can build one piece or 500 pieces without interruption. At a recent event, upper level JEM employees were able to discuss ideas and concerns directly with General Dynamics engineers. As a result, they cut production time from 22.5 hours to 11 hours on a particular part. JEM is currently planning events to work with their own suppliers and supply chain.

Results: CDP Fastener Group, Inc., Paul Wagner, Vice President and COO
CDP Fastener Group (CDP) is a small company of 15 employees, most of them tenured. They are grateful that GDC4S chose to involve them. Paul Wagner said, "One of the biggest lessons learned is that this kind of program really has effects on the culture of a small business. Our company has many large clients and we felt we were already efficient. There was also a concern with how we would bring Lean to a workforce who had never heard of it."

The fastener kits for hardware were an early success for CDP working with GDC4S. Now they are developing additional kits to assist with the assembly of other products. They utilize frequent "bread runs" to replenish stock at the OEM as needed.

Value Stream Mapping showed that CDP Fastener Group had 14 processing steps from RFQ (request for quote) to shipping. The lead time was 7 days and the process time was 34 minutes. They made improvements to their process to reduce non-value added activity and waste, and worked on flow in the warehouse during a second event. As a result, processing steps were reduced to 11 with 5 days lead time and 31 minutes of processing, a 21.5% improvement.

For Wagner, the fruit of the first event with MEP was to get his team on board and change their way of thinking, especially about value-added and non value-added tasks; now it is a matter of continuous improvement. He also realizes that this experience will help his company in many more areas than just their work for General Dynamics. With this in mind, they plan to invest between $35,000 and $70,000 in build-outs and other improvements to put materials closer to where they are needed and make other changes to their facility.

Direct Contact with Engineers
General Dynamics C4 Systems, JEM Electronics, NuVisions, and CDP Fastener Group, Inc. have seen the value of the General Dynamic C4 Systems Supply Chain Program and are continuing to improve upon the work they have done. They have new Lean tools and methods to utilize and are showing improvements, such as in the area of communication. Suppliers are eager to begin working directly with General Dynamics engineers and events are being scheduled based upon the success JEM Electronics experienced.

How to Succeed
Bill Sylvia said choosing suppliers with desire, commitment, and understanding is critical to the program’s success. Metrics must be gathered up-front and mutually agreed upon by the OEM and suppliers in order to quantify impacts and work toward sustainability. There must be honest disclosure of critical issues and people must be willing to listen and communicate. High-level decision makers and management participation and support are critical to drive and sustain the changes.  With these things in place, GDC4S has been successful in helping their suppliers get better at what they do which ultimately assists GDC4S in meeting their business goals.

The General Dynamics C4 Systems Supply Chain Capstone event was held on July 31st, 2007. In attendance were key participants and upper management from General Dynamics, JEM Electronics, CDP Fastener Group, Inc., NuVisons, and MassMEP. They were joined by Senator Mark Pacheco, State Representative James Fagan, Bob Collins, Deputy Director of Industrial Relations and Quality Management for the Workforce Training Fund Program, as well as the suppliers who will participate in the next phase of the GDC4S Supply Chain Program. Presentations were given, highlighting the work that was done and its satisfactory results. Attendees had an opportunity for questions and comments as the program moves forward to round two. 

About General Dynamics C4 Systems
General Dynamics C4 Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), is a leading integrator of secure communication and information systems and technology. General Dynamics, headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, employs approximately 82,900 people worldwide and anticipates 2007 revenues of more than $27 billion. The company is a market leader in business aviation; land and expeditionary combat systems, armaments and munitions; shipbuilding and marine systems; and information systems and technologies. More information about the company is available online at

MassMEP, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, can assist your organization in a transformation from traditional to world-class manufacturer. Our experienced project managers will work with your team to identify conditions that may be impeding your ability to become more competitive and prosperous. We can assist in providing the resources to help you maximize your profit. In working side by side with your leadership, the MEP becomes a partner for success. For information, call 508-831-7020.


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