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A Publication of WTVP

By adapting the waste-slashing philosophy of lean manufacturing to the front-end process of product design—using an integrated toolbox of methods commonly referred to as “lean design”—manufacturing cost reduction can become a foundational part of product development, not just for individual products, but for the entire product system of the enterprise.

The “lean design” toolbox must be integrated with an effective development process in such a way that the right tools are applied at the right times, beginning with the first glimmer of a new product concept and continuing through to successful production launch and commercialization.

Here’s how lean design works:

1. A company determines that there is a sufficient customer base to justify development of a new product. Using tools such as Voice-of-the-Customer and “lean” quality function deployment, the company defines as clearly as possible what the market desires, without overshooting or undershooting on performance, features and quality.

2. With a reasonably clear product definition in hand, the company forms a product-line optimization team to consider how the new product will fit within existing material inventory, processes, factory layout and core competencies.

3. Once the project is underway, design requirements are prioritized based on customer benefit and need, and a target cost is established. A preliminary cost model is also configured that designers can use early in conceptual design. This model will evolve over time to become an accurate representation of the actual cost-at-volume for the new product.

4. Now comes the fun part. Rather than jumping at the first decent idea that is proposed for the new product, the design team will consider multiple design alternatives. This set-based design approach has been used successfully by Toyota and others to generate a broad spectrum of initial possibilities which can be traded off before a final concept is selected. A simple cost/performance tradeoff tool allows the design team to qualitatively determine which concept has the best combination of manufacturing cost and customer value.

5. Upon arriving at an optimal concept, the design team consults the product-line roadmap that has been created. From this forward-looking document, opportunities to extend and customize the product are identified, and platform design considerations are incorporated. Scalability, modularity and mass customization strategies are also considered as ways to capture economies of scale during future product-line expansion. As detailed design begins, the compatibility of the design to existing and planned manufacturing processes is determined using six-sigma methods.

6. Finally, the manufacturability of the product from the standpoint of touch labor, standard materials, cell-layout, takt time and capacity is considered. This so-called production and preparation process (3P) has recently emerged from studies of the “Toyota Way.” An adaptation of this comprehensive process is used by the team to ensure smooth and rapid transition of the new design to the factory.

That’s the concept in a (somewhat simplified) nutshell. Whether you are designing a jet fighter or a hose fitting, this integrated approach to manufacturing cost reduction can generate a poweful, sustainable competitive edge for your organization. IBI

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