Creating Continuous Improvement in Vehicle Maintenance

In January, 12 Transit supervisors completed the Creating Continuous Improvement (CCI) course, coached by Susan Whitmore and Christine Anderson of Transit and Jeremy Valenta of the Continuous Improvement Team. Creating Continuous Improvement fosters continuous improvement throughout the county by training frontline supervisors in Lean principles and coaching them as they apply those principles to a real work process with the teams they supervise.

DPF toolThis small tool that King County mechanics made from a scrap metal is saving them hundreds of hours a year.

Transit participants tackled processes for this class that ranged from putting decals on the buses to standardizing bus battery rebuilds to improving capacity to fix buses that encounter problems while in service. And a whole host of others, listed below.

Simply developing standard work for some of these processes was a big help.

Peter Vrinceanu, the paint shop chief at the Transit Component Supply Center, said that “CCI saved our butts big time,” as the team’s new standard work and cross-training helped them fill in when one team member took unexpected leave for a family emergency.

Another team’s improvement project, a better process to change bus diesel particulate filters, displayed the sort of teamwork and frontline do-it-yourself ingenuity that Lean encourages and makes possible.

Changing these diesel filters isn’t much different than typical preventative maintenance—except these are as big as a barrel and weigh about 40 pounds, which made for a difficult and time-consuming job.

Prior to CCI, the team had no standard work and the time it would take to change the filter varied greatly, says Michael Marks, the team lead who participated in CCI. Workers each had their own approach to “wrestle it like a bear” out of the bus, Marks explains.

No matter how it was done, though, the job was supposed to take two-to-four hours. But the job actually averaged nearly six hours! And depending on the shift and staffing, it could take much longer.

DPF mechanic with filterMechanic Brian Cabrera maneuvers a filter with the new device.

CCI’s emphasis on team problem-solving and standard work pushed the crew to step back from “just getting the job done” and to think about better ways to accomplish it. What they came up with—a small connector tool that would attach to a cherry picker and let them hoist it out easily—was as ingenious as it was simple.

Since they’ve been using the tool—and they’ve already made improvements on the original model—the team has averaged just over three hours per filter change, well within their target time allocation. That’s big time savings: King County buses require more than 1,200 of these filter changes per year. Shaving two hours (or more) off each change, at approximately $50 per hour in labor costs, totals more than $100,000 annually.

Just as importantly, the team has eliminated a major source of frustration and safety risk. As Marks points, the old approach was rife with ways to pinch and cut the mechanics. Now one person can do the job without contortions, bruises, and bear wrestling.

The Creating Continuous Improvement course is an intensive Lean immersion in which King County employees learn and apply Lean principles and tools to their real work. More than 40 supervisors and their work teams have participated so far.

Marks says that what he learned in CCI could be “easily applied to any job on any shift any day of the week.”

This CCI cohort included these Transit supervisors and the processes their teams worked on during CCI:

Rocky Brannan, Chief, Materials Management, Component Supply Center – Invoice corrections

Vern Brendle, Chief, Day Shift, South Base – Energy Supply System (ESS) battery filter cleaning

Bonnie Davis-Losey, Chief, Swing and Graveyard shifts, Bellevue Base – 6,000 mile inspection

Don Goodwin, Chief, Rebuild/Electric Shop, Component Supply Center – ESS battery rebuild

Ian Hanson, Chief, Graveyard Shift, Atlantic Base – Daily coach fueling data processing

Tom Keelan, Chief, Swing Shift, Atlantic Base – Brake job prep

Brian Knesal, Chief, Inventory, Component Supply Center – Inter-base parts delivery

Joe Luxem, Chief, Swing Shift, Ryerson Base – Coach inside wash

Michael Marks, Chief, Graveyard Shift, East Base – Diesel particulate filter (DPF) change

Ed Mays, Chief, Swing Shift, East Base – Wrecker calls

Peter Vrinceanu, Chief, Paint Shop, Component Supply Center – Decaling new coaches

John Wishart, Chief, Day Shift, Ryerson Base – Assigning work

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