Aspects of Life cycle thinking and its integration at 3M
Life cycle thinking and management can be used as a tool to manage all potential risk associated with a product while identifying opportunities at all stages of its life cycle from design, sourcing of materials, manufacturing, operations, use and ultimate disposal.
There are 4 basic areas that LCT deals with – potential risk of toxic materials in the products, environmental and safety risks in production stage, risk to consumers using the product and risks, both current and future in terms of legislations in product’s proper disposal. At 3M, in the last 8 years, environmental sustainability has become increasingly important. The life cycle management (LCM) approach has reduced costs, improved its savings through reducing material use in the life cycle of products.
An example at 3M was the innovative new product called Super Sticky notes as a direct application of life cycle thinking and management to Post It notes. It revealed that Post It notes used a solvent base adhesive. So 3M developed a water-based adhesive for Super Sticky notes with same functionality and performance as its previous version.
Another example of life cycle thinking at 3M has been with the development of 3M’s Novec, a hydroflouroether based product used for fire fighting. This product earlier used ozone depleting perflourocarbons that had significant global warming potential.
Application of life cycle thinking has required 3M personnel to train in the EHS and regulatory areas so that the approach can be consistently applied and also helped in optimizing manufacturing operations. The benefits became evident as 3M saw improved governance within the business leading to a greater transparency and forthcoming communication with all its stakeholders and customers. Since the risks are reduced, customers have increased faith in the company’s products without any bad effects. Life cycle thinking and management has also led to innovation and new market opportunities at 3M.
Life cycle thinking is still like an ivory tower and its integration into the organization’s complete operations will take some more time as businesses see the evidence of applying this intellectual yet practical and workable methodology in all its products. It is a kind of higher level thinking to be viewed as a strategic management tool that has the potential to create an entirely new industry of refurbished and radical new products.