Using 3P for Product Development Results in PROFIT

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.17.02 AMSound business advice from WMEP and a commitment to Lean result in rapid growth for HMA Fire Apparatus

In 2006, Rory Groonwald, Chief Engineer & Manufacturing Operations Manager for HMA Fire (a division of Orbital Technologies) was charged with introducing the company’s proprietary ultra high-pressure (UHP) fire suppression technology to new markets.  The apparatus had been developed for use by the U.S. Air Force, but it was clear that the technology could be of great benefit to firefighters everywhere.

The technology effectively extinguishes fires using one-third to one-fifth less water than conventional fire suppression methods and is highly versatile, making it ideal for hard-to-reach locations and areas where water is scarce.

HMA Fire Apparatus Results:

With help from WMEP, Centerline achieved:

  • Triple-digit annual growth rate made possible by the increased capacity generated by Lean
  • A doubling of the number of employees, and plans to hire more after relocation to the new facility
  • Investment of $5 million in new machinery to support existing and new business

3P is Production, Preparation, and Process

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.17.26 AM“I worked in research and development of this apparatus for 14 years, so I understood the technology and how it was used,” said Groonwald, “but my experience did not include setting up a manufacturing facility.”  Groonwald had worked with Mark Hatzenbeller from WMEP in the past, so he decided to give him a call.

Hatzenbeller’s industry experience and background in 3P and manufacturing was a perfect fit, said Groonwald. “The 3P process brings manufacturing principles to the heart of product design.    With 3P, the product is designed to meet customer needs with efficient and cost-effective production built into the process.”  3P stands for Production, Preparation, and Process, and represents a comprehensive approach that results in exceptional product design, quality and manufacturing efficiency.

“The single most important aspect of good product design is making sure the product is market driven,” said Groonwald. “We placed a strong emphasis on the ‘voice of the customer’ and developed our design based on extensive end user research and market research.”

To gain insights into customers needs, the company chose a combination of focus groups, a gathering of potential customers that examine a new product prototype and provide feedback, and a form of indwelling.   The indwelling approach includes the hiring of industry experts to provide direct feedback through “hands-on” use of the product. Essentially, the product was used in the field by experienced firefighters in a range of situations, and their feedback was incorporated into product design.  “At the end of this phase, we knew we had a product that was highly differentiated – no one else in the market was currently offering this solution,” said Groonwald. “This gave us the opportunity to establish a strong competitive advantage in our marketplace.”

A Horizontal Supply Chain – a Network of Suppliers Help Cut Costs and Increase Innovation

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.17.36 AMOnce the product design was complete, the next step was to create a manufacturing plan. One of the features of the product is that it can be scaled up or down, with a range of capabilities depending on its intended use.  As a result, the manufacturing facility had to be designed to accommodate variable production. “WMEP helped us lay out the manufacturing facility in a series of flexible cells to expedite product flow,” Groonwald said.  In addition, Hatzenbeller helped the company identify machinery needs, and  introduced  the concept of the horizontal supply chain to the firm.

A horizontal supply chain is a network of suppliers that provide complete components that are then assembled in the Orbital/HMA Fire facility. This means that suppliers deliver more than a part that meets specification, they produce kits that include components that are tested and validated.

“Our suppliers actually help us develop the specifications that meet our needs and fit their processes so they can produce components efficiently, thereby reducing costs and improving quality,” Groonwald noted.  This system also encourages innovation throughout the supply chain. “One of our sheet metal suppliers has reduced the cost of their components by 40% by reviewing our process, making changes to their process, and incorporating new materials, design adjustments, and production methods,” he said.

From Prototype to Market Leader in Three Years

In addition to developing partnerships with suppliers, Orbital/HMA Fire works directly with OEMs.  The fire suppression system is generally mounted on fire trucks or other emergency response vehicles, and Orbital/HMA Fire works directly with these manufacturers so that its system fits into their production flow and works optimally on vehicle. This partnership has resulted in tremendous dividends for Orbital/HMA Fire – “KME, the third largest emergency response vehicle manufacturer in the world, is successfully marketing our UHP fire suppression system as a competitive advantage,” said Groonwald.

As part of the 3P process, Orbital/HMA Fire continuously improves its product offerings and has become the leading commercial research and developer of Ultra High Pressure technology for fire suppression.  Because of its extensive network of customer advisors, Orbital/HMA Fire has a constant flow of new product designs and product improvements in various stages of development and manufacture.

“In three years, we have taken the product from prototype to market leader,” said Groonwald. “This is even more impressive considering that we didn’t even have a manufacturing facility when we started.”

The 3P process of product development is a key factor in this success. “Any manufacturing company that is starting a product development process would benefit from the powerful 3P process that actually designs in innovation and designs out waste,” said Hatzenbeller.

Visit the HMA/Fire (a division of Orbital Technologies) web site at: