U.S. Navy Saves More Than $10 Million with Wireless Inventory Management System, PHIMS

Posted August 5, 2010

Navy improves Inventory ManagementAn aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean is surrounded by 28 million square miles of water. The African coastline lies far off to the west, to the east. The carrier’s deck absorbs the relentless rays of the afternoon sun, at times registering 115 degrees in the shade. Raymond L. Gaiser Jr. has stood on such a deck during his time as an Alterations Program Manager for the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia. “The heat at times goes right through your shoes,” he said. “It literally blisters you.”

Below deck is another story, thanks to air conditioning. Comfortably cool, the crew can go about its business with hardly a notion of the extreme temperatures above. Should the massive air-conditioning system falter, however, you’d never see a repair order go out so fast.

Gaiser, now a logistics operations manager with NSWC, likely would be the one in charge of filling that order. From his 264,000-square-foot staging facility at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Philadelphia, he helps to oversee two other staging facilities with a combined parts inventory worth more than $225 million. Parts are assembled into specialized kits that replace, repair or improve any of the systems on Navy ships.

Six years ago, at Gaiser’s suggestion, the NSWC and Anteon Corporation implemented the first phase of a tracking system using mobile computers and printers by Intermec Technologies Corp. known as the Philadelphia Inventory Management System (PHIMS). It is now in its fifth phase of ongoing upgrades and implementations to fine-tune efficiencies. The new system is a vast improvement over the old paper-based way of tracking parts and kits.

Ignorance, Enemy of Bliss
With the new system, inventory accuracy is about 98 percent, up from about 50 percent under the old tracking method. Human error has been virtually eliminated and productivity has increased by 50 percent in the first year. One application of the system, called the Excess Material Improvement Program (EMIP), has saved the Navy more than $5 million. PHIMS paid for itself within the first three years of operation.

Keeping accurate, up-to-date records on some 15,650 item-types means never having to say the three little words, “‘I don’t know’ is absolutely the wrong answer,” Gasier said. “Admirals and Generals want to know where their assets are, and they want to know now.” Tracking these assets conforms to Naval Sea Power 21 Proclamations.

This demand for global asset visibility has driven a plan to upgrade the system to an Oracle 9iWeb-based design. Begun in June 2004, the upgrade will allow anyone with proper clearance, a palm-type device and an Internet connection to track a kit order from anywhere in the world.

Today, when a repair or alteration request comes in, Gaiser and his crew set to work putting kits of relevant parts together for each order. Kit size ranges from a small box holding a circuit panel and a few bolts to 34 pallets of boxed parts, in the case of replacing a ship’s air-conditioning system.

Inventory management specialists at the Philadelphia Staging Facility get their tasks from the color screen of an Intermec® 2425 wireless mobile computer. Downloaded from the PHIMS program on the system database, the task detail shows the exact location of each kit item among the thousands of parts in the three-story building.

As the specialist picks a part, he scans its bar code with the integrated scanner on the mobile computer. The program immediately subtracts the item from its inventory count. When a kit is assembled and packed, the specialist sends a task update through the mobile computer to the project manager. Clicking the “task complete” button also prompts an Intermec® 3400A or 3400B printer to create the kit’s packing list.

Kits may land at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or Groton, Conn., among other bases. Ships returning from six-month tours will dock under what is called a “ship availability” designation. Any system modifications, workups or change-outs are done on available ships, so that they leave the base combat-ready. On the rare occasion, a ship needs a vital system component while at sea; a kit can be flown out to it.

Some kits first transfer from Philadelphia to one of the NSWC’S two secondary staging facilities in San Diego, Calif., or Virginia Beach, Va. These facilities receive the kits using Intermec 2020 mobile computers with data docking stations. Gaiser plans to outfit the two facilities with wireless Intermec equipment. “We thought this would be the best time to do it, when we change the program over to Oracle,” he said.

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess
PHIMS also services Army ships. Perhaps surprisingly, the United States Army has about 250 more ships than the Navy. Regardless of the branch of origin, all the ships need continual upkeep, repairs and system advancements.
“The program is so adaptable. We’ve been able to meet the Army’s needs and make PHIMS work for them. They love it because they get a kit with everything they need to do the installation. No surprises.” Gasier said.

It isn’t unusual, especially these days, for a specialist to find 40 or 50 kit orders on his task list. “We had been building an average of maybe 20 or 30 kits a week,” Gasier said. “We’re up to 150 a week sometimes.” PHIMS has handled the added workload with ease, and with the same size crew.

In the last three years, more than 17,000 kits have passed through the staging facilities. Some of the material in kit boxes ends up unused. Maybe it’s a leftover container of refrigerant or the remainder of a box of bolts. It adds up.

“When the ship alterations are completed, we pull all that excess material back here and let our in-house people see if they need any of this material so that they don’t have to go out and buy it,” Gasier said. Such transfers of material among the staging facilities have saved the Navy about $1.7 million.

More savings come from making excess material available to all project managers for one year. After that, it goes back into the regular supply system, which has yielded a savings of approx $5.3 million. The PHIMS cross-referencing capability makes it easy to locate items, a process that was cumbersome, if not impossible, with the old tracking system.

When military activity is at its peak, cutting costs become more important than ever. Wasteful processes can exact substantial losses through sheer volume. For all the good they do a ship, misplaced assets may as well be a coastline that lies far beyond the horizon of the open sea. With Intermec’s help, the Navy is navigating toward total asset visibility, trailing impressive savings in its wake.

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