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Innovative Problem Solving
Composite Flywheel Structural Improvement

By Scott Keeley, Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
and Dana W. Clarke, Sr., TRIZ Scientist

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Genrich Altshuller developed the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Although his work applies directly to engineering and patent information there is a great opportunity in the field of Industrial Design. The result is a systematic approach to research and innovative discoveries.


A recent project involving university researchers and industrial partners, has taken a fresh look at innovative problem solving. Mind mapping, morphological analysis, brain scrolling, and brain storming are creative thinking tools that have the potential to increase the likelihood of a successful design solution. Many creative people do these things intuitively, weather or not they write or draw while doing it. At worst, creative tools provide us with documentation of our thought process. At best they lead us to a breakthrough that we could never have come up with on our own.

Genrich Altshuller developed the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving between 1946 and 1985. His work was based on the research and abstraction of knowledge from the worldwide patent files and the history of technology.

Altshuller originally viewed inventive solutions and realized that the patents contained a well-documented history of how mankind solved tough inventive problems. His research resulted in the abstraction of knowledge such as the 40 Principles, 76 Standard Solutions, 4 Separation Principles and more. Today these are called Operators.

This research and today’s practical application of TRIZ (an acronym for the Russian term for Inventive Problem Solving) is resulting in a paradigm shift. Let’s look at an example of another significant paradigm shift to more fully understand the paradigm shift that is occurring in the field of creativity and innovation.

In early Rome, mathematical calculations were performed using Roman numerals. This system provided the Romans with the ability to add and subtract, but not to multiply and divide. Only a few people were able to mentally process multiplication and division. And in all likelihood, their peers regarded them as geniuses for their ability.

Later, the Arabic numbering system was created, and its "change agents," or "believers," caused a paradigm shift. As a result, nearly everyone soon had the ability to multiply and divide by using a systematic process consisting of new methods and tools. The paradigm shift was that "genius ability" was no longer required.

The same thing is happening today with the ability to be innovative. Historically, only truly unique, highly creative people could repeatedly come up with highly innovative concepts. But due to the pioneering efforts of Genrich Altshuller and his followers, we now have a set of methods and tools with which we can apply our creative abilities at new levels. Are we geniuses, or are we simply lucky enough to be at the forefront of a paradigm shift that can make it appear that we have a higher degree of creative ability?

The mind contains many of the pieces required to innovate; these pieces are collected over time as a result of education, experience, and observation. But because of this random-like accumulation, the mind requires training or some other form of guidance in order to exploit these pieces. Somehow, this is attained within the creative mind of a genius. For the rest of us, whether we admit it or not, a systematic approach is required, along with the appropriate knowledge that will allow us to take on and resolve the toughest of challenges. It is this systematic approach that has been missing – until now.

One point of difference with the Innovation WorkBenchTM is a reference abstracted from worldwide patents. It is entirely likely that the solution to a problem lies in a technology that we do not know about or do not understand.

Altshuller’s work

As Altshuller examined patents in the 1940s, he recognized that the same fundamental problem had been addressed by a number of inventions – regardless of the area of technology. He also observed that the same fundamental solutions were used over and over again to solve inventive problems even if the solutions were separated by many years. Altshuller reasoned that if the latter inventors had access to the knowledge of the earlier solutions, their task would have been much more straightforward.

As a result of Altshuller’s premise that the process of inventive solutions could/should be transferable, he sought to extract, compile, and organize such information.

Unrelated problems – common solutions

A solution to a problem often exists in an unrelated field. Seemingly unrelated problems have a basically common solution. The commonality is as follows . . .

Removing stems/core from bell peppers

  • Placing some quantity of the product being analyzed (peppers, filters, seeds, etc.) into a hermetic chamber
  • Slowly increasing the pressure inside the chamber until the pressure becomes uniform inside and outside the product
  • Then, abruptly dropping the pressure
  • The rapid pressure change destroys some part of the system, ideally this would occur at the parting line around the core

A drop in pressure inside the chamber creates a pressure differential inside and outside the product. This, in turn, results in an "explosion" which splits the product in some fashion depending on the amount of pressure and the porous conditions. As for the green pepper, as you can imagine it exploded in the wrong places due to irregularities in the pepper, but what is important is the principle that has been used over and over. Here is a sample of the 200 patents where this has been applied.

  • Removing shells form sunflower seeds
  • Cleaning filters
  • Unpacking parts wrapped in protective paper
  • Producing sugar powder from sugar crystals
  • Breaking natural diamonds along artificial fracture lines

This is a pattern of invention, the same problem being solved over and over. It basically states that if we have a porous material or the relationship between two or more materials is porous that you can use pressure change to destroy the system or some relationship within the system. The pattern of invention illustrated above applies in any situation where there is a porous material (note that porosity can be defined at many levels) in some configuration that you wish to destroy by using a change in pressure.

New Collaborations

Researchers Scott Keeley and Steve Beletire at Southern Illinois University are working on a new product concept, partnered with Chief Scientist Jack Bitterly of U.S Flywheels Inc.. The goal of the research is to bring a successful satellite technology down to earth. The problem solving process led to an additional partnership with Dr. Dan Dyer of Polymer Chemistry at SIU.

Product benefit

Flywheel energy storage is a more efficient, pollution-free solution to chemical batteries. Total recharge can be accomplished in about 15 minutes at any rate of energy draw or frequency yielding a cycle life of over 100,000 charges, or 30 years, with no deterioration in performance. The intent of the research is to facilitate the integration of flywheel technology in products related to personal mobility. Fork lifts, golf carts, lawn tractors or power wheelchairs will benefit from this technology.

Problem Solving and Technology

The point of departure was in making the technology consumer viable. It’s easy to suggest putting an expensive technology into a tightly cost controlled product like a power chair, the challenge is making it likely to happen. The cost will reduce if production volumes increase. Production is not likely to increase until consumer confidence in the safety of the product increases.

Benign failure

Pioneered by Jack Bitterly at U.S. Flywheels, benign failure has proven successful in laboratory testing, our goal is to increase the safety margin to assure feasibility.

Current flywheel rotors are composed of resin soaked fibers wound around an axle. Failure occurs as the rotational force pulls the material to the outside rim and causes a separation in the winding. A separation is visible to computer aided structural monitoring systems before any damage to the containment occurs allowing for safe shutdown of the system. It has been proven that continued failure or a second failure will not occur at 80% of the speed at which the first failure occurred. Although when the system fails it still operates at 80% of its optimum potential, an improvement in the rotor strength will increase the safety margin.

Normal flywheel

Catastrophic Failure

Benign Failure

In order to avoid catastrophic failure the method of filament winding is essential, however, the process does not allow for the most effective use of the fiber’s tensile strength. The forces on the rotor at are in a radial direction, while the wound fibers reside perpendicular to the radii. The point of failure occurs between the surface of the fiber and the resin. Any changes in the resin have yielded no improvement in overall rotor strength. The addition of reinforcement aggregate to the resin has proved to increase the distance between fibers such that the resin is reinforced but there is more of it. The strength of the rotor is optimized when the highest possible ratio of fiber to resin is achieved. TRIZ was employed to look at unresolved areas.

The Innovation WorkBench is software that references an extensive knowledge base and the tools of TRIZ. It is entirely possible to perform the process without the software in the same way that it is possible to calculate sine, cosine and tangent without a calculator.

An analytical tool of the Innovation WorkBenchis the Innovation Situation Questionnaire(ISQ). The user begins the questionnaire by describing the problem using free style wording. Following the questions prompted by the ISQ, a second analytical tool, the Problem Formulator, is used to develop a detailed diagram of the problem and the system where it resides. The Problem Formulator, which contains a patented algorithm, uses the diagram of the system functions to generate what are called "directions for innovation."

The following is the function graph for the flywheel rotor. It is usually in this stage that students find that the software does not do the thinking. If the graph is poorly constructed, obvious or useless directions will be generated.

Useful function Produces
Harmful function Counteracts

For the flywheel function graph, the software generated 31 Basic Directions for Innovation and three hundred ninety-three "Refined Directions for Innovation", which provide an abundance of opportunities. From this the following Basic Directions for Innovation were selected.

  • Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (cohesive bond), that provides or enhances [the] (rotational direction of fiber) and (rotor strength).
  • Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (radial direction of fiber), that is not in a conflict with [the] (adhesive bond), (fiber resin ratio), and (rotational direction of fiber).
  • Find a way to enhance [the] (radial direction of fiber).
  • Find a way to enhance [the] (rotational direction of fiber).
  • Find a way to protect [the] (rotational direction of fiber) from the harmful influence of [the] (radial direction of fiber).
  • Find a way to enhance [the] (cohesive bond).

These and other more refined directions guide the problem solver through a knowledge base that contains over 400 principles, methods and standard solutions. These are structured to model the thought process of great innovators. Among these 400 principles are Genrich Altshuller’s original 40 principles from which the following were considered.

#10 Prior Action

a. Carry out all or part of the required action in advance

b. Arrange objects so they can go into action in a timely matter and from a convenient position.

#25 Self Service

a. Make the object service itself and carry out supplementary and repair operations

b. Make use of wasted material and energy

#36 Phase transition

Implement an effect developed during the phase transition of a substance. For instance, during the change of volume, liberation or absorption of heat.

#40 Composite Materials

Replace a homogeneous material with a composite one.

The ideal solution would have microscopic radial fibers that would not be present during winding and would be present during and after the curing process.

      After Winding/Before Curing                  After Curing

Dr. Dan Dyer concluded that polymers can be composed to form modified glass fibers which will grow perpendicular to the cross section of the fiber. The modified fibers form during the resin curing process after filament winding is complete.

Excerpt from the first lab report by Dan Dyer and Research Assistant Rohit Ramkumar:

Experiments indicate that treatment of the fiberglass will result in covalent attachment. The linkage is achieved by attaching epoxy [1-monomer] or amine [2- initiator] or Phatlic anhydride [3-monomer] or hydroxyl [4- initiator] (Table 1) to the fiber.

Table 1. Monolayer terminal groups.

TRIZ is a method with the ability to place technology on the market sooner with greater potential for innovative products. The problem formulator generates an exhaustive list of directions, and can be used to model any type of complex problem. The method is most useful when new styling simply won’t do, when a contradiction exists between physical or technical systems.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank Ideation International Inc. for allowing the reproduction of portions of educational materials for Inventive Problem Solving using the Innovation WorkBench System Software.

About the Authors

Scott Keeley graduated from Syracuse University in 1989 with a bachelors of Industrial Design and began his career in product design in Barcelona with Bernal Isern Inc., a consultancy. The range of products that the design team were involved in varied from small electronics products to furniture, lighting and glassware. He was deeply immersed in an appreciation of the aesthetic in design and fine art. From 1989 to 1992 Scott exhibited furniture and sculpture in Barcelona, Berlin, and Moscow. After completing an MFA in sculpture at Texas Christian University in 1994 Scott began to look for a way to bring his interests in the creative and technical aspects of product design together. Two years teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute served as a constructive transition from artist to research designer. In 1997 Scott joined Southern Illinois University, a Carnegie II institution with abundant support for creative scholarly research. Scott’s current research involves a comprehensive plan to integrate alternative power systems into personal mobility devices while considering social and economic balances.                                                                            

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Dana W. Clarke, Sr. became the first American to be certified as a TRIZ Specialist in April of 1995 and is the author of the book TRIZ: Through the Eyes of an American TRIZ Specialist. His expertise encompasses the practical application, consulting, and training of such methodologies as: Taguchi Methods, Value Engineering/Analysis (VE/VA), Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA), Quality Function Deployment (QFD), Quick Setup Techniques (SMED), Work Simplification, and FAST Cycle Time. His seasoning and education span the areas of product development, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, computer science, and tool design.    

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