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Lean Thinking and Methods - 3P


Lean experts typically view 3P as one of the most powerful and transformative advanced manufacturing tools, and it is typically only used by organizations that have experience implementing other lean methods. Whereas kaizen and other lean methods take a production process as a given and seek to make improvements, the Production Preparation Process (3P) focuses on eliminating waste through product and process design.

3P seeks to meet customer requirements by starting with a clean product development slate to rapidly create and test potential product and process designs that require the least time, material, and capital resources. This method typically involves a diverse group of individuals in a multi-day creative process to identify several alternative ways to meet the customer's needs using different product or process designs. 3P typically results in products that are less complex, easier to manufacture (often referred to as "design for manufacturability"), and easier to use and maintain. 3P can also design production processes that eliminate multiple process steps and that utilize homemade, right-sized equipment that better meet production needs.

Ultimately, 3P methods represent a dramatic shift from the continuous, incremental improvement of existing processes sought with kaizen events. Instead, 3P offers potential to make "quantum leap" design improvements that can improve performance and eliminate waste to a level beyond that which can be achieved through the continual improvement of existing processes.

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Method and Implementation Approach

With 3P, the teams spend several days (with singular focus on the 3P event) working to develop multiple alternatives for each process step and evaluating each alternative against manufacturing criteria (e.g., designated takt time) and a preferred cost. The goal is typically to develop a process or product design that meets customer requirements best in the "least waste way". The typical steps in a 3P event are described below.

  • Define Product or Process Design Objectives/Needs: The team seeks to understand the core customer needs that need to be met. If a product or product prototype is available, the project team breaks it down into component parts and raw materials to assess the function that each plays.
  • Diagraming: A fishbone diagram or other type of illustration is created to demonstrate the flow from raw material to finish product. The project team then analyzes each branch of the diagram (or each illustration) and brainstorms key words (e.g., roll, rotate, form, bend) to describe the change (or "transformation") made at each branch.
  • Find and Analyze Examples in Nature: The project team then tries to find examples of each process keyword in the natural world. For example, forming can be found in nature when a heavy animal such as an elephant walks on mud, or when water pressure shapes rocks in a river. Similar examples are grouped and examples that best exemplify the process key word researched to better understand how the examples occur in nature. Here, team members place heavy emphasis on how nature works in the example and why. Once the unique qualities of the natural process are dissected, team members then discuss how the natural process can be applied to the given manufacturing process step.
  • Sketch and Evaluate the Process: Sub-teams are formed and each sub-tea member is required to draw different ways to accomplish the process in question. Each of the sketches is evaluated and the best is chosen (along with any good features from the sketches that are not chosen) for a mock-up.
  • Build, Present, and Select Process Prototypes: The team prototypes and then evaluates the chosen process, spending several days (if necessary) working with different variations of the mock-up to ensure it will meet criteria.
  • Hold Design Review: Once a concept has been selected for additional refinement, it is presented to a larger group (including the original product designers) for feedback.
  • Develop Project Implementation plan: If the project is selected to proceed, the team selects a project implementation leader who helps determine the schedule, process, resource requirements, and distribution of responsibilities for completion.

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Implications for Environmental Performance

Potential Benefits:

  • 3P focuses on eliminating waste at the product and process design stage. This technique can have a profound impact on environmental quality by avoiding design approaches that produce detrimental environmental impacts. 3P looks to nature for design models, where processes are inherently waste free.
  • 3P often results in right-sized equipment that lowers the material and energy requirements for production. Right-sized equipment also takes up less space, reducing the environmental impacts associated with that space (e.g., heating, cooling, lighting, cleaning and maintenance materials, building materials, land use).
  • 3P's focus on reducing the complexity of the production process ("design for manufacturability") can eliminate process steps or substitute one process step or another that requires less time, materials, or capital. In many cases, environmentally sensitive processes are targeted for elimination, since they are often time consuming, resource intensive, and capital intensive. Examples include:
    1. elimination of painting steps by reducing product flaws or using alternative processes such as colored injection molding, and
    2. substituting hot melt, gun-applied adhesives or mechanical fasteners for spray adhesives that produce air emissions and hazardous waste.
  • 3P encourages product designs that are less complex. This often translates into using fewer parts and fewer types of materials. Such designs are typically improve the ease of disassembly and recycling for products, characteristics that are encouraged by public environmental agencies.

Potential Shortcoming:

  • Failure to consider risk and pollution associated with process or product design can result in options that have larger environmental impacts than could otherwise have been achieved.
  • Failure to incorporate environmental considerations and goals into a 3P process can potentially result in the disregard of valuable pollution prevention and sustainability options.

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Useful Resources

Vaughn, Amanda, Fernandes Pradeep and J. Tom Shields. An Introduction to the Manufacturing System Design Framework – Draft. (A product of the Manufacturing Systems Team of the Lean Aerospace Initiative).

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