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The following is the first in a series of 32 TRIZ tutorials.

Other tutorials posted:
Tutorial #2 - Overcoming Contradictions (No More Trade-Offs!)
Tutorial #3 - The Elegant Invention -- Seeking Ideality
Tutorial #4 - Resources -- A Pathway to Ideality
Tutorial #5 -
Physical, Chemical and Other Effects that Help Inventors
Tutorial #6 - Smart Little Creatures
Tutorial #7 - Modeling Inventive Problems


TRIZ Tutorial #1

Alla Zusman and Boris Zlotin
Ideation International Inc.

Printable version


INNOVATION PRINCIPLES

Every engineer, in effect, solves technical problems: designing a pump, calculating a heat exchange process, etc. Solving technical problems is necessary to keep a company going. And to grow, a company must come up with something new, more effective, and exciting -- that is, it must innovate.

Several years ago we were introduced to a Japanese book about successful inventors. The authors, in an effort to help readers to succeed as inventors, had gathered helpful advice from past "winners." Some of this advice was pleasant enough: listen to the sounds of the sea, gaze at Mt. Fuji, ponder while taking a shower, and so on. We find, however, that in addition to these recommendations, it is very beneficial to have innovation tools -- tools readily available in the workplace to help engineers innovate.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, various sets of innovation "hints" have been offered. Each author has his own preferences and the resulting recommendations include a hodgepodge that could be applied to technological systems (i.e., segmentation) or by any individual attempting to solve a problem (such as the use of analogies). These attempts, however, have produced inconsistent results.

The first set of principles to prove extremely useful was developed by Genrich Altshuller in the 1950s and 60s. Altshuller analyzed thousands of inventions documented in patents throughout the world, and selected those that represented the repeated application of the same inventions. He recognized that the same fundamental problem had been addressed by an umber of inventions -- in different areas of technology. He also observed that the same fundamentals solutions were used over and over again, often separated by many years. In this issue, we will examine three of these principles – segmentation, inversion, and prior action.


SEGMENTATION

Invention 1. Measuring snow depth

Snow depth can be measured by fixing a pole vertically into the ground. The pole is susceptible to damage, however.

The pole can be "segmented" by incorporating a hinge into its design. Instead of resisting an avalanche, the hinged pole bends, then returns to its previous position.

 

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Invention 2. Easy-to-clean filter

To clean a hot gas flow of nonmagnetic dust, the flow was passed through a filter consisting of multiple layers of metallic cloth. This filter was difficult to clean, however.

A filter made of a porous structure of ferromagnetic granules held together by a magnetic field can be used instead. To clean this filter, the magnetic field is switched off -- the filter crumbles and can be easily cleaned, then re-constituted.

 

Invention 3. Gripping workpieces of complex shape

Images/E00000032.gifTo grip workpieces of complex shape, vice jaws must have a corresponding shape. It is expensive to produce a unique tool for every workpiece, however.

This problem can be solved by placing multiple hard bushings around the workpiece. The bushings can move horizontally to conform to the necessary shape. 

Invention 4. Antenna made of beads

Long antennas are necessary for radio transmission but can be broken when the car goes through a car wash or into a low-clearance garage.

This problem can be solved by constructing a long antenna from cylindrical metal beads strung on a wire. When the beads are loosened they can be compactly stored. When the wire is tightened, the beads form a long, flexible antenna.

Altshuller’s principle of segmentation has proven to be extremely beneficial for inventors, with hundreds of inventions based on it. The above inventions are from different fields, yet they have a similar solution that can be generalized as follows:

In situations where it is necessary to adjust to different requirements or conditions, the principle of segmentation is recommended, where the system is fragmented into two or more pieces to render it adjustable.


INVERSION

Another very effective principle is inversion. Applying this principle to solve a problem entails doing something opposite to what is currently being done.

Invention 5. Producing chocolate candies

Chocolate candies consisting of chocolate in the shape of a bottle filled with flavored syrup can be produced by first making the bottles from chocolate paste, then pouring the thick syrup into each one. Productivity would be increased by heating the syrup (to increase its fluidity) before it is poured, but the hot syrup would melt the chocolate bottles.

An alternative production method entails freezing the syrup in bottle-shaped molds, then dipping the frozen syrup into a melted chocolate paste.

Invention 6. Training a runner

A competitive runner must know how to pace himself during a race. This skill is perfected by working with a trainer, who must be able to communicate easily with the athlete.

The communication between the athlete and trainer can be improved if the athlete runs on a treadmill while the coach control's the pace by varying the speed of the treadmill.

Invention 7. Branding cattle

Cattle are usually branded using hot irons - - a painful procedure that causes wounds prone to infection.

To reduce pain and infection, irons cooled to liquid-nitrogen temperature can be used. These irons do not wound the animals, but instead permanently discolor the hair at the branding spot.


PRIOR ACTION

The principle of prior action recommends performing a required action (either partially or completely) beforehand. Another application of this principle is the prior placement of an object so that it can go into action from the most advantageous position without delay.

Invention 8. Disappearing alcohol

A supplier delivered alcohol using a 3000-liter tanker truck filled to capacity. But each time the alcohol was unloaded at the receiving warehouse, it was 15 to 20 liters short. To prevent these shortages, the tank was sealed immediately after being filled and the driver was observed during the entire trip. The shortages continued, however.

The driver's method was as follows: While preparing the tanker for loading, he suspended an empty bucket inside the tank. The tanker was then delivered to the loading dock where it was filled and  sealed. After the tanker arrived at the receiving warehouse and was unloaded, the driver waited . . . and when he was alone, opened the tank and removed the bucket (which was full of alcohol).

Invention 9. Applying fertilizer at optimum temperature

To be effective, fertilizer should be applied when the soil reaches an optimum temperature. This is difficult, since large quantities of fertilizer cannot be applied instantaneously and the soil temperature keeps changing.

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If the fertilizer is packaged in capsules containing a liquefied gas, the capsules can be applied to the soil ahead of time. When the soil reaches the optimum temperature, the gas expands and breaks the capsules, releasing the fertilizer.

Invention 10. Preparing grass mixtures

Cattle feed consists of various cut grasses which are mixed using special equipment. Producing the grass mixture by sowing the various grasses together yields a crop that is difficult to till, however.

If the grasses are sown in narrow parallel strips and harvested across the strips, they will be mixed in the receiving bin of the harvester.


ASSIGNMENTS

Now that you’ve seen how the principles of segmentation, inversion, and prior action can be applied, it’s time to put your new knowledge to use.

ASSIGNMENT 1. Try applying one or more of the three innovation principles to the following problems:

Problem 1. Removing layers of insulation

Certain metallic surfaces must be coated with a thick layer of insulating material. Removing this coating later is difficult, however. How might this be accomplished?

Problem 2. Unloading frozen material

Unloading loose, frozen material by first defrosting it can be an expensive procedure. What other method would you recommend?

Problem 3. Bullet-proof windows

Initially, bullet-proof glass windows used on fighter aircraft had a serious defect: When a bullet hit the window, a "network" of cracks would form in the glass and obstruct the pilot’s vision. How might this damage be reduced?

ASSIGNMENT 2. As we mentioned earlier, the 40 Innovative Principles were culled from among thousands of inventions. Some of the principles are universal -- that is, they can be applied toward problems of any type, technical or non-technical. Can you think of a situation where a non-technical problem was solved by applying one of the three principles described in this tutorial?


You can learn more about the Innovation Principles from the following sources:

  1. Eureka on Demand™ and Ideation Brainstorming software (e-book format).

  2. Genrich Altshuller, And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, trans. Lev Shulyak (Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical Innovation Center, 1996).

  3. Stan Kaplan, An Introduction to TRIZ, the Russian Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (Southfield, Michigan: Ideation International Inc., 1996).

  4. Genrich Altshuller, 40 Principles: TRIZ Keys to Technical Innovation, translated and edited by Lev Shulyak and Steven Rodman (Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical Innovation Center, 1997).

  5. John Terninko, Alla Zusman, and Boris Zlotin, Systematic Innovation: An Introduction to TRIZ (CRC Press LLC, 1998).

  6. Genrich Altshuller, The Innovation Algorithm, translated and edited by Lev Shulyak and Steven Rodman (Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical Innovation Center, 1999).


Next: Tutorial #2


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