What’s the 3P Production Preparation Process?

The 3P production preparation process helps integrate the design, development, and transfer to manufacturing activities. It helps get new products into manufacturing faster and with much fewer difficulties than in the traditional “design it, then send it over the wall to production” approach.

There are different flavors of the 3P process in different industries – people will tend to call it NPI (incl. EVT, DVT, PVT) for electronics, APQP for automotive, process validation (incl. IQ, OQ, PQ) for medical devices, and so on.

In the lean manufacturing literature, the 3P process’ emphasis is on the design, improvement, and validation of the manufacturing & testing processes. By opposition to the “get production going however you can, and then work out the kinks as you go” mindset.


How does it work?

The aim is for the 3P process to give a short sharp shock to the development process by acting as a guide for a cross-functional team consisting of members with different roles such as product design, quality, reliability, sourcing, etc, to rapidly come up with a more or less complete product design or process faster than they would otherwise have done.

Instead of small teams of similar staff, let’s say product designers alone, making decisions in isolation and then sending files & information to another small group leading to quite a disjointed and inefficient way of developing new products and processes, we assemble a diverse team of qualified colleagues who may not always work together directly or focus on the same things at work. By doing so, we avoid making decisions in a vacuum and so small issues are less likely to be missed and the whole design or process can be examined holistically rather than with a focus on, say, quality or reliability alone which would surely be the case if it was only performed by engineers focused on those two disciplines.

The production preparation process is often a series of ‘sprint projects’ as it usually has a time limit of only around a week to be completed. The team uses this time to brainstorm ideas, build mockups (this could be an entire production line made from cardboard boxes and tubes, for example!) such as rapid prototypes, rapidly test and evaluate them, and trial the new product design or process.


Who invented the 3P Production Preparation Process approach?

Chihiro Nakao, a Japanese engineer who worked under Taiichi Ohno, who led key advances in the Toyota Production System (TPS), invented the 3P Production Preparation Process in the 1980s. Its goal was to eliminate waste through product and process design, hence the focus on moving away from fragmented decision-making by separate groups that can lead to errors that need to be fixed and wasted time.

Nakao had 16 catchphrases related to 3P drawing on his experience working with the Toyota Production System (source). As you can see, these are very production process-focused. Key topics of the TPS such as flow and flexibility come out clearly.

1. Production preparation should be quick.

2. Layout and build equipment to ensure smooth material flow.

3. Use additive equipment.

4. Make equipment that is simple to set up.

5. Equipment should be easy to set up.

6. Use versatile equipment.

7. Reduce the number of operator workstations.

8. Layout and equipment should be easy to use.

9. Reduce wasted machine cycle time

10. Equipment to support small flow lines.

11. Utilize short vertical flow lines.

12. Equipment for one-piece pulling

13. You can make a quick changeover

14. For smooth loading and unloading, link machines

15. Multiple lines can be used to rectify flows.

16. Continue spiraling upwards to Jidoka.


3P Steps

Here are the production preparation process steps you can follow to run your own 3P event:

  • Define the theme and scope of your project: Think about what you wish to accomplish, not what is currently being done.
  • Use keywords to define Functions: Roll, Lock, Drill, Swivel
  • Develop Sketch options: Sketch examples, examine, research and work as a group to look deeply into the functions required.
  • Evaluate the Process: Each of the sketches is evaluated to a set criteria.
  • Build: Build full-scale mock-ups of the top three sketches and evaluate them.
  • Conduct trials: Perform trials on mock-ups to collect real-time data, combine the best features and evaluate each proposal.
  • Proceed to Trial: Have the final design mock-up tested by more of the production team to review and improve on any missing ideas.
  • Proceed to implement new process: Develop the action plan for proceeding after the 3P team is finished. (source)
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