Port of Moblie | Mobile, Alabama

Alabama State Port Authority operates the State of Alabama’s deepwater port facilities in Mobile, Alabama.  The Authority directly employs 570 workers and its facilities handle more than 24 million tons of cargo each year.  Alabama’s full service seaport handles containers, breakbulk, bulk and oversized and heavy lift cargoes.

UAH lean specialists have been working at the Alabama State Docks since 2003.  During this time, they have helped with continuous improvement efforts at McDuffie Coal Terminal, which are expected to have millions of dollars of impacts for the State of Alabama.  After much success at McDuffie, the Alabama State Docks have asked UAH to begin implementing lean manufacturing principles at Terminal Railroad.

Older than the port itself, Terminal Railway has been in existence more than 70 years.  It operates on 75 miles of track using eight locomotives to transport cargo to and from piers, warehouses and terminals.  Terminal Railway also moves railcars to and from local industries outside of the main docks complex and has for lease more than 550 hydro-cushion boxcars for transport throughout the United States and Canada.  It connects to four mainline railroads: Burlington Northern/Santa Fe; CSX; Illinois Central, and Norfolk Southern.


To improve productivity at Terminal Railroad, the Alabama State Port Authority looked to UAH’s Alabama Technology Network (ATN) to teach and implement lean manufacturing practices.  The idea of lean operations is to eliminate wasteful, non-value-added activities in a process resulting in lower costs, improved quality, and shortened lead times. Training began at Terminal Railroad in January 2006.  To date, seven classes introducing the principles of lean manufacturing have been taught.  The first implementation event was held in March 2006, which was to apply 5 S in the Diesel Shop. A value stream mapping event is scheduled next to see where future efforts should be focused.

Results of 5 S Event:
The ATN-UAH facilitators conducted a focused, five-day kaizen event in unorganized areas.   The areas were initially audited at the first of the week using the ATN-UAH standardized 5 S audit procedure.  The team ranked a variety of items based on the number of problems they had, ranging from unneeded equipment present to the cleanliness of work surfaces.  An area with 5 or more problems would get a score of 0, and an area with no problems would get a score of 4.  The audit received an initial score of 8.

More space was created by removing unneeded items from the areas, and tools and materials were easily accessible after they were organized.  When the 5 S process was complete, the team again audited the areas.  The Diesel Shop received a score of 79, a 887% increase.  The team also developed daily 5 S checklists for each area.  The checklists were developed to help sustain the results from the week and also to develop a cleaning standard for each employee in the two areas to follow.

“The team achieved remarkable progress from the beginning of the week.  Through teamwork and long, hard days, the team members improved their work areas tremendously.”
– Jeff Siniard, ATN-UAH lean specialist

“Our Terminal Railway is the second division at the State Docks that we have implemented Lean training in and I continue to be amazed at what our employees can do working together as a team.  It’s the employees who make the program so successful and I know our railway employees will pull together to achieve the goals we’ve set for our Lean program there.” – Smitty Thorne, Vice President, Operations at the Alabama State Port Authority.