New tool vending room improves Navy's processes

Friday - 12/16/2011, 1:23pm EST

Cmdr. Dianne Wolfson, project superintendent, Norfolk Naval Shipyard

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By Michael O'Connell
@moconnellWFED
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

Doesn't it make more sense to keep the tools you need on site? Norfolk Naval Shipyard has opened its first tool vending room, which has given shipyard workers easy access to everything from pliers to measuring tape to highlighters and drill bits.

Before, workers had to leave the job site, wait in line, return to the job site and get back to work. Cmdr. Dianna Wolfson is the project superintendent at the Norfolk Naval Shipyward for the USS Newport News Engineered Overhaul. She spoke Friday morning to The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

Before the tool vending room was set up, mechanics were taking about 17 trips to the tool room and approximately 100 trips to the consumable trailers each day.

"It actually is about an $800,000 annual savings," she said of the program.

The tool vending room is operated like a large vending machine. Workers access it by scanning their badge. They then choose the project they are working on and the material that they require, scan a bar code and then a green light opens a drawer that contains the material they need.

Cmdr. Dianne Wolfson

"What's happening is the mechanic is no longer standing in line," Wolfson said. "Usually, these rooms are attended by an attendant. So it eliminates the need for that person. There are several of these machines in this room, so they're able to immediately go to anyone of these three machines and obtain tooling."

The workers don't have to travel far to obtain tools becauses the machines are located right next to the boat they're working on.

In addition, the worker who previously was acting as the tool room attendant is assigned to filling all of the vending machines, so his or her job has been re-purposed.

Wolfson explained that this initiative is something that she's had experience with before.

"I actually worked on this initiative at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine," she said. "Upon my arrival here at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, I wanted to introduce it."

The shipyards are part of Naval Sea Systems Command and, as sister shipyards, they are constantly sharing information and best practices. "The goal for us, corporately, is non-stop execution of work, and so we're always trying to look for ways to improve processes," she said.

Wolfson has received an overwhelming positive response to the initiative from the mechanics she works with.

"What this really does is that it shows we can bring process improvement, embrace change and show our faith in our mechanics as our number one priority," she said. "That's what we really do. We focus on the mechanic."