WMU teams identify potential for seven-figure Detroit city savings

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Leo Bieniek, Hanna Downs and Eugene Curry.

Bieniek, Downs and Shoemaker Terminal Garage mechanic Eugene Curry.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Two teams from Western Michigan University's celebrated integrated supply management program filed reports July 16 on work they have done in Detroit that could lead to as much as $2 million in annual savings for the city.

Since early May, two volunteer teams of students, alumni and a faculty advisor have been working with city officials to identify operational efficiencies in two facilities—the Russell-Ferry Garage, a citywide vehicle maintenance and parts warehouse facility, and the Shoemaker Terminal Garage, a bus maintenance and parts warehouse facility for buses that are part of the Detroit Department Of Transportation. Charged with working with city personnel in each facility to identify and devise lean systems that can help improve the city's bottom line, the teams presented their findings this week to representatives from the Detroit mayor’s office, city council members and major city services department heads.

The teams' reports outlined work for the city that will result in:

  • Significant reduction of vehicle downtime.
  • Achievement of a 95 percent rate of parts on hand for repairs at one facility, based on a pilot project with Detroit’s parking operations vehicle fleet.
  • The potential for annual savings of $500,000 to $1 million in maintenance and repair costs at each facility, upon completion of recommended shorter-term actions.

According to Kenneth C. Jones, instructor of integrated supply management in WMU's Haworth College of business, the teams he advised were able to use external benchmarks to identify and evolve a best practices process that already existed in the city's structure. Using that as a base, the teams developed easy-to-use forms and checklists for both vehicle operators and mechanics to manage maintenance cycles; developed a better process to leverage an existing NAPA inventory-parts optimization system; and developed a citywide set of fleet rollout priorities and timing.

At the bus facility, they also developed an internal management system and communication plan to improve asset utilization, mechanic productivity and morale as well as strengthen relationships between DDOT leadership, mechanics, bus operators and their respective union leadership. The team's work with the city employees will create a dramatically  improved bus condition and turn-around time as well as better facility utilization.

"We've built some great working relationships, and we're not done making positive things happen in Detroit," Jones says. "Our teams learned a ton about municipal operations that we'll leverage to continue helping Detroit and other communities with a similar need."

Students, alumni and staff led the projects. They included recent graduates Hanna Downs of Novi and Tom Monette of Sterling Heights; current students Leo Bieniek of Warren and Jacob Williams of Traverse City; alumnus Joe Fleck of Oakland, a retired senior leader from General Motors; and Jones, who is director of executive education and instructor of integrated supply management at WMU. The teams applied best practices in lean systems to the projects, with the goals of eliminating waste, reducing expenditures, and providing the structure, scale and flexibility for maximum efficiency for the city storage facilities.

WMU's integrated supply management program, which is ranked 12th in the nation, became involved with the city's focus initiatives after several months of conversation about needs and goals. City officials expressed a general interest as well in the Bronco Force Solutions Team concept, which is designed to provide consulting assistance to entities with broad-based student-professional teams like the ones assembled for this effort.

"When the call for expertise in the area of lean consulting came from the city of Detroit, we knew that our students and alumni could provide the necessary talent and teamwork to help the city," says Jones. "The culture of our program and of Western Michigan University is to take on complex challenges for the right reasons and work hard to accomplish goals.