Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TRIZ your problems !

The following is an account of my thoughts, reflections and understanding of the “creative problem solving” workshop conducted by Bala Ramadurai and Prakasan Kappoth as a part of our innovation & social entrepreneurship course. 

This workshop exhaustively dealt with creative problem solving techniques. Let me present you, in this article, a gist of what was discussed or rather practiced in the class.

The participants were given a TRIZ workbook and were asked to apply the TRIZ techniques to a pre-chosen problem statement (related to various sectors such as energy, health, water etc.) and see what can be achieved.

To start with, solving any problem needs “3D”s.
1. Discover
2. Design
3. Deliver

The first stage, Discover, marks the start of the project. This begins with an initial idea or inspiration, in which user needs are identified. These may include Market research, user research, Managing information etc.

The second stage represents the design stage, where firstly, interpretation and alignment of these needs to business objectives is achieved. Secondly, Design-led solutions are developed, iterated and tested.

The final stage represents the Delivery, where the resulting product or service is finalized and launched in the relevant market. The key elements during this stage are final testing, approval and launch, evaluation and feedback loops.

Having said that, let us look at what principles or methods can be applied to address the required needs.

A problem of any sector, any individual/community/organization, of any magnitude can be solved using a simple technique called “TRIZ”.  As Wikipedia puts it, TRIZ is a “problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature.” It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science fiction author Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in 1946. It is essentially a theory of inventive problem solving. 


There are three ways of approach to solve any problem as shown in the above figure.

The first way is random thinking of solutions, which in most of the cases will not give the desired solution; Worse – it leads to chaos.

The second approach leads us to an efficient solution but it’s a time consuming process and sometimes, you deviate way beyond your target.

The last and the best approach is to apply TRIZ techniques which directly leads you to the most appropriate solution quickly!

TRIZ, as of now consist of 40 principles that are very effective in solving any kind of problem.

The underlying principles of TRIZ are as follows –
  • Someone, somewhere, has already solved your problem or a very similar one. Your job is to find that solution and modify it to fit to your circumstances.
  • No compromise - Remove the source of the problem!
To know about all those principles, one can always google; but Let me discuss some very interesting examples that were mentioned to us in the workshop.

Nested Doll:
This is the telescopic approach of obtaining a solution. This is as simple as placing one object inside the other!
Some good examples that use nested dolls principle are the antenna of a radio, the cylindrical container used for carrying drawing sheets, Reliance`s shop within a shop etc.

Prior Action:
Let me explain this with an example - 
When an aeroplane lands on the runaway, a lot of heat is generated between the ground and its wheels, which eventually leads to the failure of the wheels. This is due to friction, especially when the stationary wheels touch the ground, the wheel speed increases from zero to a very large value in a fraction of second. This problem can be solved by applying prior action principle. If the wheels start rotating before the landing occurs, the amount of friction generated will be less and thus the damage can be avoided!

Smart materials:
Choosing appropriate materials is applicable to most of the engineering related problems. The properties like yield strength, thermal conductivity, density etc. are to be taken into consideration while deciding a material.

There are infinite examples of TRIZ techniques, accessible easily on the world wide web.

Besides the 40 principles, there are four very important concepts that one need to understand and practice while solving a problem.
  • Stories
  • 9-windows
  • IFR
  • FA

We have the standard “5W1H” approach of identifying and more importantly understanding a problem.

Who is affected?
What is the problem?
Where is the problem?
When is it a problem?
Why is it a problem?
How is it a problem?

A little enhancement to the above procedure is the “5W1H & not” approach which simply adds a set of 6 more questions by including “not” say for instance, Who is not affected? How is it not a problem? etc.

9 windows:

9 windows is a 3x3 matrix which essentially sorts out the important elements of your problem.
 The blue-colored windows represent the nine windows.



your system here


We first start by identifying the system in the present i.e. the center cell. Much to our surprise, this is probably the toughest part! Once it is identified, the sub-system is where the parts that make up the system enter; while super-system contains the environmental elements in which the system functions.

There are several ways to use the past, present and future columns. One simple method involves asking the following questions:
  • Past: How could I have solved the problem if I could travel back in time?
  • Present: If I could do something different right now so that this problem wouldn't be happening, what would it be?
  • Future: The problem still exists and I was not able to prevent it. How can I fix it?
For examples of 9 windows matrix, of course you can google.


IFR stands for “Ideal Final Result”.

Here, we assume that the problem is already solved and call that solution as the ideal result. We then start coming backwards and get to know what is stopping to achieve the ideal result and how best can we solve it.

The IFR encourages "out of the box thinking", by removing all barriers,offering alternate solution paths. The ideal product or system may not exist, or may not be possible to achieve, but the knowledge of the ideal system helps us to improve the present system. Once we find the features of the ideal product, we put those features as our target and try to improve the current product to achieve this target. Anything that is present between the current and the ideal stages of a product is obviously a future stage of the product.

So, IFR can be given by the following equation (yes, an equation!) –

IFR = sigma(benefits)/[sigma(costs)+sigma(harm)]
The IFR has four key features:
  • Eliminates the deficiencies of the original system
  • Preserves the advantages of the original system
  • Does not complicate the system (it may use free resources)
  • Does not introduce new disadvantages 

FA (Functional Analysis): 

This is a case of trimming the problem by cutting out the unnecessary elements. This is best done by visual representation of the problem. 
To understand it better, check out this example


For solving problems, I always practiced “let us try everything” approach, which as I said earlier, is laborious. I never really believed that there exists a systematic approach of obtaining solutions to a given problem until I attended this workshop. The results were astonishing given that we found 30 odd solutions for our problem statement - "energy savings in conventional systems"

There are a lot of examples on the net, showing the power of TRIZ in problem solving, especially in engineering, the field that most of us are concerned about. Car companies like Ford and Daimler-Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson, aeronautics companies Boeing, NASA, technology companies Hewlett Packard, Motorola, General Electric, Xerox, IBM, LG and Samsung, and Procter and Gamble and Kodak use TRIZ techniques to solve some of their problems!

For mechanical engineers, check this file just to get a feel of how powerful a tool TRIZ is, in engineering applications!

We would finally like to thank Bala & Prakhasan, the workshop instructors, for their valuable lessons and of course, for the Pizza treat as well!

So, with that, I conclude this lengthy article;

Go and TRIZ your problems now!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When your day is messed up...

Here goes another &*#! day of my life - 

After a 4 hour sleep, I attended the B slot quiz only to see that it’s a guinness book of world records contest and not a quiz meant for engineering students. Correctly answering one out of the four questions given will surely make you a topper!
Naturally frustrated by that question paper, I went to C slot and slept.

Since D slot was free, I went to academic section to check with the problem of registration with my minor course. 

“You have not registered for your minor course. Get a letter signed by the concerned faculty that you are a part of his course and that you have been attending classes from the beginning of this semester; I will take care of the rest” the fat lady at the Btech desk said with a pride. 
 I wondered what rest will she take care of. 
And I doubt if I my prof knew that I am a part of his course. She gave such a big procedure probably because she can atleast get job satisfaction by doing something. 
After all, she was in a position of screwing up students lives, equivalent to dean? May be.

Then came E slot – It is a Wyndor Glass problem, always.
Madam announced names of those teams that did mistakes in an assignment given long back, that was already conveniently forgotten. Yes, our team, The Nerdvana got placed in that list.

During lunch time, my cold got severe and nose blocked to such an extent that using mouth was my only option to take in oxygen. Cough, Headache, mild fever etc. followed, making me stick to my bed.

I slept from 12.30 to 7.30 pm and woke up to realize that I missed my minor class for which we were supposed to give presentations. Fuck!

Helpless, I opened my analytics account for and found that hits were miserably low compared to the previous day. I had to post something and didn’t put much fight for it. I posted a comic similar to one of my previous posts, just to keep it updated.
I was in a NKWTD syndrome. I remembered G slot project presentation that we were supposed to give and just modeled and rendered a product in half an hour, and I still wonder why I did that because the presentations were already finished.

I went online and my minor team mate, Abhinay Sali pinged and said “Our pulley pulled our legs” which meant our team screwed it up badly.

“Did we score the least in the class?” I asked sadly.

“indeed” he replied.

I was dumbstruck. I never scored least in any class. Yes, so there is a first for everything.

I checked time and it was almost 9 pm, which meant I cant go to mess. So, I had to spend money, though in financial crisis, on food, in Basera, with Pratheesh. 

Then an old friend of mine called. I didn’t remember his name; hell – he asked me to find out!

Last and the worst, Google adsense rejected my proposal for placing ads in my site saying that it is in beginning stages and ads can be placed only if the site is old enough to meet their requirements.

Phew, I am not able to sleep as well.

I put an unnecessary night out writing this. At 5 AM, I woke up Pratheesh to remind him of his promise of accompanying me to tea at tarams. He gave hand.

I badly needed tea to cure my headache physically and mentally. I went alone, for the first time!

NKWTD, I am posting this.
I am back to my American Psycho days!

I now remember RK Narayan`s words – “Life goes on, come what may”
Hmm, I feel better now.

My first product design

Problem statement: Design a product to carry heavy objects (especially water cans or gas cylinders) easily on stairs.

I used a tri-wheel mechanism and a frame that can support the required weights.
There is a cushion-material at the place where we pull with our hands. This is provided for comfort handling.

@prabhat - You can check it out here
Excuse me for poor quality - I have no time to make a better one