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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
was full of alcohol).
Invention 9. Applying fertilizer at
|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
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
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.
1. Try applying one or more of the three
innovation principles to the following problems:
Problem 1. Removing layers of
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
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?
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:
Ideation Brainstorming software (e-book format).
Genrich Altshuller, And Suddenly the
Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,
trans. Lev Shulyak (Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical
Innovation Center, 1996).
An Introduction to TRIZ,
the Russian Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (Southfield,
International Inc., 1996).
Genrich Altshuller, 40 Principles:
TRIZ Keys to Technical Innovation, translated and edited by Lev
Shulyak and Steven Rodman (Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical
Innovation Center, 1997).
John Terninko, Alla Zusman, and Boris
Zlotin, Systematic Innovation: An Introduction to TRIZ (CRC Press LLC,
Genrich Altshuller, The Innovation
Algorithm, translated and edited by Lev Shulyak and Steven Rodman
(Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical Innovation Center, 1999).