At VectorTech Engineering we are often approached by customers who require engineering challenges to be overcome and for innovative solutions to problems be found. Fortunately, we have a toolkit full of different methods and strategies to help us solve these challenges and one of these is TRIZ.
What exactly is TRIZ?
TRIZ or TIPS, as it is sometimes referred to, is a theory of inventive problem solving. It is essentially a systematic process of defining and understanding a problem and using an algorithmic approach to find innovative solutions.
The TRIZ methodology was first conceived in the 1940s by Genrich Altshuller. By the 1970s Altshuller had reviewed over 40,000 patent abstracts in order to find out how, in each case, innovation had taken place. From this, Altshuller theorised that in every problem lay physical contradictions that had to be solved and that inventive principles and trends could be applied in their simplest form to provide lines of inquiry to help generate solutions.
The research distilled forty inventive principles and eight trends of technical evolution running as an undercurrent throughout the patents, but also found that:
- Problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences
- Patterns of technical evolution are also repeated across industries and sciences
- Innovations used scientific effects outside of the field in which they were developed
What are contradictions?
A contradiction in the context of the problem solving methodology occurs when improving one parameter negatively impacts another parameter. These contradictions are encountered daily throughout engineering and design industries.
For example, a component has to be stronger, but without adding extra mass, or perhaps a safety system has to respond dynamically, but without increasing the overall system complexity. In some problems there may be just a single contradiction, whilst in others there may be multiple contradictions which are all interlinked.
Sounds like rocket science?
When time has been invested in becoming proficient at applying TRIZ it becomes a very straightforward and successful problem solving approach. Whilst it’s really not rocket science, the TRIZ approach can actually be applied to generate solutions to one of the biggest contradictions and trickiest problems in the world of rocket science.
That problem is known by engineers as the ‘tyranny of the rocket equation’. The core of the problem with space rockets is that for every kilogram of mass that needs to be launched, the amount of fuel required goes up exponentially. This is because not only does it require fuel to lift the mass of the payload, it also requires fuel to lift the fuel itself. But all of this extra fuel adds more mass for the rocket to lift, which in turn requires more fuel. See where this is going?
In TRIZ terms, there’s a very obvious contradiction occuring. For each kilogram of mass to be lifted by the rocket, the total quantity of fuel required increases. However, at the same time, the weight of the fuel and fuel tanks has to be minimized. By cross referencing these parameters on a TRIZ Contradiction Matrix, inventive principles are output to help solve the problem. It should be remembered at this point that these inventive principles are all principles that were identified in the thousands of patents reviewed by Altshuller as already having solved this general contradiction.
Interested in learning more?
Of course TRIZ is not the only approach we use to problem solving; we believe that the best problem solving involves using a wide array of tools. However, TRIZ does provide a methodical framework to start the ball rolling and from its multidisciplinary approach presents ideas that may not otherwise be considered.
If you’ve got any questions about TRIZ or how we use it in our engineering design processes, please contact us.