A wide range of problems exists in the world, varying from technical to social. Each problem requires a unique methodology to produce the best possible solution. A problem solving methodology that is widely used for various systems is called the Theory Incentive Problem Solving (TRIZ). TRIZ has many different principles and guidelines to find a solution. This article will introduce the basic process of TRIZ and explain its concepts. Applications of TRIZ in businesses and Senior Project Design will also be given.
A problem is a factor that prevents the reach of a goal. A goal can vary from profit to functionality. For example, some would consider a profit as the main goal, while others would prioritize the quality of circuit design.
An efficient problem analysis is essential to develop the best solution, especially when a problem requires a solution is yet to be discovered. TRIZ is a successful problem solving method that is applied by many companies.
TRIZ is a Russian abbreviation that when translated means “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.” The primary purpose of TRIZ is to remove “contradictions” or the conflict in a system by using evolutionary trends in the field. The following is a list of characteristics that is unique to TRIZ and makes it efficient in solving non-routine problems (Domb & Rantanen, 2008):
- Uses natural and engineering science background that is relevant to the problem.
- Works better with human implementation, not machine.
- Uses systematic knowledge and structure of processes or procedures.
- Evaluates the ideal solution to prevent contradictory goals.
TRIZ is composed of many different principals and methods to analyze the problem. However, the following shows the general concepts.
The first step, as seen in Figure 1, is to identify the “objects” and “tools” of the system. Generally, a “tool” is what is taking action on the “object” (Domb & Rantanen, 2008). The purpose of this is to map out the entire system and link all the functionalities together.
Figure 1: Problem Solving Steps for TRIZ (Adapted from Domb & Rantanen (2008), and Zlotin & Zusman (2006)).
The second step is to identify the contradictions. These vary for every system. In some cases, these are systems that cannot possibly occur at the same time, or that cause a benefit and harm at the same time. For example, plastic water bottles are a great way to make water portable, however, they are not easily disposed and cause harm to the environment if they are not recycled.
The third step is resource analysis. This step is important because people often overlook some resources that can be used or modified to solve the problem. Define and map all resources that link or closely link to a problem. A resource in TRIZ can include:
- Micro level of system
- Macro level of system
- Skills of the person using the system
- Knowledge of competitor trends
The fourth step is to determine the ideal solution. This is important to help determine how successful a solution is by measuring by how close it is to the ideal solution. The best solution is one that either improves a situation, or reduces harm.
The fifth step is to create a solution based on the resources available. There are three fundamental TRIZ solutions (Zlotin & Zusman, 2006):
3. Prior Action
Segmentation involves adding a subsystem, or a “segment,” to the design. A system needs to be broken down to a smaller level in order to adjust to conditions, or to fulfill requirements. For example, gloves are meant to keep hands warm while allowing the use of the hand. However, when using a device that requires touch, the user has to take off the gloves. To resolve this contradiction, segmentation is used as a system was added to the glove. Conductive thread is used on the fingertips of gloves to make it usable on touch devices.
Inversion requires doing the opposite of what is being done. For example, detergent helped a customer clean their clothes, however, they are very harmful to the environment. In an environmentally cautious era, this becomes a contradiction that can hurt the detergent businesses. An environmental harm is the waste of energy, as detergent requires hot water for the clothes to be clean. Therefore, instead of having detergent depend on hot water, the formula should be changed such that cold water can be used.
Prior Action is a solution that requires the addition of a step or action before implementation of the function. For example, before a user turns on the coffee maker, the hot water and coffee beans need to be filled in the corresponding compartments of the device.
How to Choose the Best Solution
The TRIZ methods will produce multiple solutions. But how does one determine the best solution?
TRIZ has a set of criterion for good solutions. The general idea is to compare the benefits of the solution to the cost and harm. This concept developed the seven criteria (Domb & Rantanen, 2008):
- The primary harms of the problem are gone.
- The primary benefits remain, and new ones appear.
- No new harm features appear.
- The system is simple and easy to implement
- The primary contradictions are removed.
- New resources are available and easy to use.
- All requirements are fulfilled
When going through the criterion, one must compare it to an existing solution. Note that cost is not used in this criterion. The main purpose is to find the best solution. Another TRIZ cycle can be used to eliminate the cost. This is what makes TRIZ appealing to companies by helping design solutions
A solution passes the criterion when questions 3 and 4 are answered “NO,” and the rest is answered “YES.” If one does not get this result, then the solution with the closest result can be used, and even improved by going through the TRIZ cycle again.
Case Study: TRIZ Application to Product and Process Improvement
A small European food equipment company wanted to launch a newly patented food heating process. TRIZ was used to improve the design of the device.
The company made a hot air based machine for heating French fry that didn’t require fat or large amounts of oil. This item attracts consumers who care about the environment, as traditional fryers often have to change the oil, and those who prioritize health, as the product is fat-free.
The users made a functional map that connected all the tools and objects in every system of the design. A contradiction was that the oil used in the device would contaminate a vessel.
The company used a TRIZ tool called 40 Inventive Principals of TRIZ. This is seen as the business version of TRIZ to develop solutions for business contradictions. The company developed solutions using multiple principles. In the end, Principal 10 (Periodic Action) was used.
Principal 19 involved taking a periodic action or system, and changing it to pulses. For example, getting work done in between meetings (Mann & Domb, n.d.). In this case, the motion of hot air was pulsed (Winkless & Mann, n.d.). The details of the system were not given in this study case, therefore a thorough explanation of how this solved the contradiction was not provided.
Application to Senior Project
The Green Team is doing the Child Development Senior Project, which consists of developing toys that help pre-k to k students develop pre-sequential skills. These toys were going to be sent and observed to the Eliot Pearson Children’s School in Medford, MA. In the early phases of the project, we discussed the design of the toys. A lot of features were added to further challenge the child and expand the use of the toy.
For example, the Music Mat is a toy that allows the user to make a song by placing a note on a mat that contains a music sheet. This toy was going to have an extra challenge that played a note for the user to identify the pitch and scale that was played. The problem was the limited knowledge of the group of our customer. The toys were designed without considering the capabilities of a child in that age group.
The object here was the customer, and the tool was the toy. The contradiction was making a toy that should enhance learning abilities, but making the toy too complicated for the child to use. The resources available to enhance learning of the customer are:
- The Internet, which provides information on pre-k to k students.
- The Child Development Department Staff.
- The Child Development Department Students.
- Eliot Pearson Elementary School.
The ideal solution would be one that gave enough knowledge needed to develop the toys, but without spending a lot of time on research.
Possible solutions included researching the age groups on our own, setting up meetings with multiple Child Development staff and students, or visit the Eliot Pearson Elementary School to observe the customers directly.
The table below shows the criterion of the best solution, which was to observe a pre-k classroom at the Eliot Pearson School:
|Criteria||Comparison of Other Solutions|
|1.||Do the harmful features disappear?||Yes. We will gain some knowledge on the students.|
|2.||Are the useful features retained? Will new benefits appear?||Yes. Better knowledge on the customer will help the design on the toy.|
|3.||Will new harmful features appear?||No. The observation is only one two-hour visit.|
|4.||Does the system become more complex?||No, In fact, it would make the system simpler.|
|5.||Is the inherent primary contradiction resolved?||Yes. The design will become usable for the customer.|
|6.||Are idle, easily available, earlier ignored resources used?||Yes. Eliot Pearson School.|
|7.||Other criteria: easy implementation||Yes. Observations are easily scheduled.|
As Table 1 shows, this solution passes the criterion and another TRIZ cycle is not needed. The other solutions would not have passed the criteria as well as the final solution because the time taken to gather research or opinions would be considered a new harm.
The Green Team went to the Eliot Pearson School and observed a pre-kindergarten classroom. For these observations, participants are placed in a separate room with a window to view the classroom. The Green Team spent an hour watching the students during playtime. Each student can choose an activity, from playing with play dough to playing pretend. The observations reminded the team of the learning and creative capabilities of the students. This was then applied to the senior project design.
- Mann, D., & Domb, E. (n.d.). 40 Inventive Principals With Examples. Retrieved from http://www.triz-journal.com/archives/1997/07/b/
- Rantenen, K., & Domb, E. (2008). Simplified TRIZ: new problem solving applications for engineers and manufacturing professionals / Kalevi Rantanen and Ellen Domb. Location: Boca Rotan: Auerbach Publications. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/237918621
- Winkless, B., & Mann, D. (2002). Product and Process Improvement using TRIZ: A Case Study in Increasing Innovative Options. Retrieved from System Innovation
- Zusman, A., & Zlotin, B. (2008). Triz Tutorials. Ideation International Inc. Retrieved from Ideation International
- Eliot-Pearson Children’s School (EPCS) website.
- sites.tufts.edu > Electrical and Computer Engineering Design Handbook > Articles > 4. Communications And Life Skills > Problem Definition and Solution
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