Using TRIZ for Problem Solving – Introduction
A famous quote from Albert Einstein, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.“, applies to the discussion of problem solving and more so to the topic of TRIZ, The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, developed by Genrich S. Altshuller.
TRIZ – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
Genrich S. Altshuller developed TRIZ based on his search for a standard method to solve problems. At the very basic level, once a problem is identified the objective is to determine whether a similar problem has already existed elsewhere. If so, study the solution and determine whether it can be incorporated into the current solution being sought. Taken one step further, consider the possibility that a different perspective of the problem may also present a unique inventive solution.
It does not seem too far fetched that the problem to be solved has occurred elsewhere in a completely different context. The solution that is found may also be out of the context but the concept may lead to an innovative solution for the current problem at hand where one never before existed.
The application of TRIZ requires an open mind. We often bring our “tool box” of experience to the table and draw on those tools and our wealth of knowledge to create a solution. TRIZ is a tool that can be used to create completely new and unique solutions to a given problem. This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our current technology and know-how; it simply means that there may be other options where the current know-how and / or technology may not apply or it may be applied in a manner that is quite different than it is today.
Identify the Real Problem to be Solved
Any problem solving method can only be successful if the true root cause is identified. Once found, a clear and concise problem statement must be formulated to assure that the solution developed and implemented indeed addresses the true root cause.
Searching for Solutions:
Once a problem has been identified, the next question is, “How do we solve it?” There are a number of techniques that can be used such as brain storming and idea mapping, however, one seldomly used technique is TRIZ: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.
Every day we are challenged with a diverse range of problems from machine malfunctions to defective parts. The very nature of any company’s operations requires an immediate fix to restore operations to “normal”. Recognizing that a problem exists is not the same as understanding what the problem is and effectively solving the problem requires that we have identified the true root cause and not just the symptoms.
Many tools are readily available to even help us address these concerns or identify where opportunities exist to make improvements. Unfortunately, these tools seldom provide the solution to the problem. Too often we are trapped inside the box of current thinking, technologies, standards, methodologies, present knowledge, and even company policy. Our own levels of thinking and plausible solutions are influenced and limited by our current understanding and knowledge of the problem as well as our own experiences.
The Basis for Using TRIZ to Solve Problems:
In some cases, product or part designs themselves may be constrained as engineers and designers work to generate a design tailored to a specific, known, technology. Quality Function Deployment is one strategy that provides a platform to explore alternative design and process approaches before committing to a specific technology or process.
It is worth noting that, although product design is critical, processes and technologies used to manufacture the product itself are often overlooked and seldom are the process constraints and their affects ever considered. There are many examples where numerous hours are wasted attempting to develop tools using traditional technologies to produce parts that conform to the wishes of engineers and designers.
How do we actually go about solving problems where the technology or the design present constraints that prevent success? This is the basis for TRIZ: We have clearly identified the problem to be solved, now we need a solution to resolve it.
Although problems may have varying degrees of difficulty, the solutions for them can only fall into one of two overly simplified categories: Known or Unknown. While this classification may appear simple on the surface, consider the unknown solution. Is it truly unknown or is it only unknown to you.
- Known: Surrogate process already proven and only requires adaptation for the current situtation. The “problem solver” has an awareness or experience related to the solution.
- Unknown: Typically, solutions are often limited by the scope of experience of the person or person(s) attempting to solve the problem.
- The problem solver is not aware of the solution’s existence (Personal)
- The solution is outside the problem solver’s scope of experience, training, or field of expertise, but may exist within the company (Company)
- The solution is not known within the company but is known within the industry (Industry)
- A solution can be realized although it does not presently exist (Outside Industry).
- Requires an inventive solution that goes beyond improving the existing condition and is not known to exist anywhere.
- Although a solution may be found or developed internally, it may not necessarily be ideal. We recommend continual review of trade journals, going to trade shows, and networking not only with industry peers but outside your areas of expertise as well.
We will pursue the TRIZ methodology as both a learning and problem solving method. Often times the solution to a problem requires a different perspective to achieve an effective resolution.
Applying TRIZ in the real world:
TRIZ can be used to develop solutions in a wide range of applications. As Contingency Plans are developed, you may determine that a solution is required to address a problem or crisis that company has not yet experienced. As we have discussed, the information or solution to the pending “crisis” may already exist elsewhere. Similarly, improvements to Overall Equipment Efficiency may require solutions to be developed to address problems or opportunities that are inhibiting continued improvement.
We will continue to pursue the application of TRIZ in the real world and present a more detailed case study.
Note: We would also recommend and encourage you to visit http://www.mazur.net/triz/ for an indepth presentation and detailed discussion of TRIZ. This site provides greater detail and background that is presently beyond the application or scope of this series.
Until Next Time – STAY Lean!