DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. –
How do you modernize an industry? How do you take words on legislation and turn them into a lean and efficient supply chain that provides for the Army’s ever-present logistical needs? These are the questions that U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command’s leadership faces as modernization continues to top Army priorities. “Understanding how we get to where we want to be begins with experiences like this one,” said Dr. Valerie DeVries, TACOM’s deputy chief of staff for human capital. “It begins with fostering the right kind of ideas and conversations.”
“What I hope for today is that we think of this as a transformational experience,” said Maj. Gen. Darren Werner, TACOM’s commanding general, as he opened the June 29, day-long training seminar at LIFT Technology's Detroit headquarters. The seminar saw members throughout TACOM and its arsenals and depots participate as representatives of TACOM’s in-house, organic industrial base, which produces a range of essential equipment for the Army. The seminar focused on exposing participants to cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and planning processes. These processes, as presenter and LIFT Chief Development Officer Sean Conway explains, are often collectively referred to as “Industry 4.0/Smart Manufacturing.” The idea behind smart manufacturing is that advanced technologies could be used to optimize industrial manufacturing capabilities to a degree previously unattainable.
“The world around us is changing,” said Werner to the assembled crowd of TACOM employees. “We need new solutions, new thinking to overcome the problems each of you see every day. This is our opportunity to achieve the type of manufacturing efficiency and innovation that the Army is actively seeking as it continues its OIB modernization efforts.” Noting the promise of incorporating more digital assets into the manufacturing within TACOM’s arsenals and depots, Werner commented that the need for modernization in the Army’s industrial base was paramount. “We can’t rely on what we’ve always done. We have to foster new ideas and change the way we do business.”
As part of the seminar, TACOM employees were invited into LIFT’s Detroit headquarters facility, which functions as a showcase of modern industrial and data-analysis technologies. The day-long training comes as part of Werner’s push for greater investment in talent development, seeing that investing in TACOM’s workforce will provide benefits as the Army pushes for modernization across the force. The participants were taken on a tour of the factory floor, with several exhibitions demonstrating the potential of incorporating technologies like VR, integrated sensors and data analysis-based automated optimization. In addition to a tour of the facilities, attendees were invited to participate in a roundtable-style seminar led by Jim Wetzel and Mike Yost, LIFT subject matter experts on Industry 4.0 practices.
“What you’d see is that these processes and this level of adoption are already occurring across the private sector,” stated Wetzel. For the TACOM employees at the seminar however, many noted that these practices and technologies were more advanced than those used by their installations. Things like virtual reality training and real-time advanced data collection/analysis were demonstrated during the seminar and tour of LIFT’s facility. While some of TACOM’s attendees commented that they could see the benefit of incorporating more smart manufacturing practices at their arsenals and depots, the roundtable-style seminar saw some attendees note that the new technologies would have to work within the unique circumstances of a military institution.
“It’s mind-blowing to know that all of this is available,” commented one TACOM employee during the roundtable discussion. “We can see the benefit – the question is really ‘how do we get to where we want to be?’” That sentiment was also shared by DeVries, TACOM’s lead for the Industry 4.0 seminar.
“This is exactly the discussion we need to be having. As some of you have brought up, we have challenges that we have to consider, whether that’s regulation, labor or budget-based. Yet I think we’ve also highlighted how being here today can really support our manufacturing capabilities. And the question truly is ‘how do we get to where we want to be?’ If we know the obstacles, and what questions to ask, then we’re making the right kind of progress,” said DeVries. Her sentiment was echoed by Werner, who said that “if it’s a question of making the right changes, I want you to talk with us. What we’re focused on is making the changes that will win the future. Part of that means finding what needs to be discussed in order to get the solution the Army needs to maximize its industrial potential.”
The Industry 4.0 seminar is part of TACOM’s ongoing talent development program in its workforce, which is designed to pay dividends through increased workforce skills and innovation. As one of the Army’s primary logistics organizations, TACOM provides logistical and materiel support to America’s Soldiers and Families across the globe. At the heart of its operations lie the continued success of the factories and workshops across the arsenals and depots, and thus the people who staff them. As Werner states, fulfilling that mandate requires bringing people together across TACOM’s arsenals and depots to continually evolve in order to manufacture the Army of 2030 and beyond.