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Integrating TRIZ-Based Methods into the Engineering Curriculum

Integrating TRIZ-Based Methods into the Engineering Curriculum

| On 17, Oct 1998

“This paper was first presented at the Invention Machine Company Users Group Meeting, June, 1998. The software is being used in the class to give the students experience with a variety of approaches to TRIZ.”

Timothy G. Clapp, PhD, PE
Professor, Textile Engineering
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695
(919) 515-6566

Today, manufacturing companies operate in an ever-changing global marketplace. The rate of change is increasing also. Two vital resources needed to compete and be successful are time and information. The time to create, design, manufacture, and sell is decreasing every day. The information via the world wide web and other electronic media is expanding exponentially each day. The challenge before us today is to maximize the use of information available while minimizing the time to create a product.

This challenge has been addressed in several areas of the product life cycle. Concurrent engineering strategies have been employed in the design and process development phases. Multifunctional teams work together to share information using Computer-Aided-Design software systems, greatly reducing the time for product development. Just-In-Time and work cell manufacturing strategies have been employed to reduce the work-in-process manufacturing time. Manufacturing information systems optimize the tracking and scheduling of raw materials and assembly operations. There are many other examples of how companies have implemented dramatic changes to shorten their product design-to-market cycle. Almost every strategy has employed the use of software systems to increase the availability, sharing, and use of information.

Unfortunately, there have been only evolutionary changes in the beginning stage of product design: the stage of creating or innovation. Techniques such as brainstorming and morphological analysis have been employed to enhance creativity through combining expertise from teams of people to collectively generate new, innovative solutions to problems. These strategies rely heavily on one’s personal experiential and academic knowledge, thus severely limiting the use of universal knowledge available, thereby slowing the solution time.

Dr. Altshuller’s Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) provides a systematic methodology for creating innovative solutions to problems. Software packages, such as TechOptimizerTM and Phenomenon,TM greatly increase one’s efficiency for creating innovative solutions through the application of Altshuller’s methods and rapid access of available information. The problem facing companies today is the availability of engineers with this knowledge and training. Most engineering students in the U.S. have no exposure to TRIZ-based methods.

Most engineering curriculums are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET requires at least 1.5 years of engineering sciences and engineering design. ABET recognizes that engineers must be prepared for engineering practice through the curriculum culminating in a major design experience. This major design experience is often received in a senior-level capstone engineering design course.

Today’s engineering graduates are expected to contribute faster through the application of an expanded knowledge base and informational tools beyond the traditional engineering sciences. The College of Textiles at NC State University recently conducted a review of the attributes every student should have to effectively contribute in the industry today. These attributes are presented in Table 1. The Textile Engineering program is engaged in an extensive review of its engineering curriculum. TRIZ-based methods are viewed as an integral component of the curriculum. These methods impact the attributes of engineering design, problem solving, entrepreneurial competency, physics, engineering sciences, and information management. This paper presents a strategy for integrating TRIZ-based methods into an engineering curriculum.

Table 1. Attributes of College of Textiles Graduates with Highlighted Attributes Impacted by TRIZ.

I. Academic Knowledge II. Professional Knowledge III. Personal Skills
Math, Statistics Fiscal Awareness Leadership Skills
Chemistry Global Awareness Communications Skills
Physics, Engineering Science Quality Awareness Teamwork Skills
Textile Materials Systems/Enterprise Understanding Problem Solving Skills
Textile Chemistry Environmental Awareness Willingness to Learn
Textile Technology Entrepreneurial Competency Strive for Excellence
Humanities and Social Sciences Business Ethics Ability to Cope with Change
Foreign Language Information & Knowledge Management
Management Science
Design (engineering)
Computer Language

The Textile Engineering (TE) curriculum is a four-year (eight semesters), 124 credit hours, ABET accredited program. Like most programs, the TE curriculum is under pressure to do more with fewer credit hours. Therefore, TRIZ-based methods will be integrated directly into the senior-level capstone engineering design experience.

The TE capstone engineering design experience spans two semesters (8 credit hours). Prior to the fall semester, a real industrial machine (or process) design problem is identified. If the problem is deemed by industry to be impossible or “never been solved before,” then it is an excellent candidate for the students. Students are combined into teams of five or six students. A typical problem is presented in very general terms with typical design constraints listed in Table 2.

The students are provided a general plan of work to follow, shown in Table 3. The plan of work is divided into four major phases: preparing a design proposal, conducting a detail design plan, constructing a proof-of-concept prototype, and conducting a design improvement evaluation. Each phase consists of a series of tasks that expose students to the major phases of the design process. It is within these tasks that TRIZ-based methodologies and Invention Machine software will be integrated. This plan is shown in Table 3.

In the proposal design phase, students must understand the industrial problem and redefine the problem in engineering terms. This involves breaking the psychological inertia in the industrial definition and identifying the root-cause engineering problem to solve. TRIZ-based methods will be employed to teach students how to identify conflicts or contradictions and properly define engineering problems to minimize psychological inertia to define problems that can effectively searched in generic databases. Students will use TechOptimizerTM in this project-definition process.

Once the problem(s) have been defined, students will be challenged to generate the “Ideal Solution” based in “Ideality” methodology. Students will be introduced to the “40 Principles.” Each student will be asked to identify possible solutions systematically using each of these principles. These exercises are designed to expand each student’s creative thought process and prepare them for more efficiently using TechOptimizerTM and PhenomenonTM to identify possible solutions.

Once a large number of possible solutions are identified, students will conduct a feasibility study to determine the solution(s) that meets the industrial customer requirements. A formal proposal is written and presented to the industrial sponsor describing the conceptual design.

The second phase addresses the detailed solution design. The concepts must be transformed into detailed plans and equipment specifications. New, smaller problems are encountered. Students will continue to apply TRIZ-based methods to these smaller problems. The “Effects” identified will direct the students to classical engineering equations and references that will be used for parametric analysis and detail calculations. At the end of the detailed design phase, students will have identified major systems components including machine drawings, control algorithms, power transmission systems, and a list of components to be purchased.

The third phase involves primarily construction of the proof-of-concept prototype. Now, even more detailed design problems are encountered. Often times, economic and spatial constraints require alternative solutions to an otherwise eloquent design. Students will be directed back to their “Ideal Solution” and apply the same problem solving methods taught in the first phase. The concept of invention evolution will be presented. Students will be asked to begin thinking about where their design falls on the evolution curve. At the end of the third phase, students are required to have a working prototype of their solution.

The fourth and final phase is focused on engineering analysis. Students will critically evaluate their solution to see if it meets the customer requirements. Emphasis is placed on enhancing, modifying, and improving their prototype. Students will conduct an Su- field analysis. They will conduct functional analysis using TechOptimizerTM. New problems resulting from the functional analysis will be solved using the TRIZ-based methods and the Invention Machine software. A final report of recommended design improvements will be written and an oral presentation will be made to the industrial sponsor.

Beginning the Fall Semester 1998, the senior textile engineering students will be taught basic TRIZ-based problem solving methodologies and given multiple opportunities to apply the methods to a variety of self-generated problems. The problems start out as large and vague. At each phase the problems become more defined and specialized. Over the course of the two-semester, nine-month period, students are challenged to practice the inventive problem solving methods at many levels in many different situations. The software will aid the students in all areas of the design process, including writing their reports.

In summary, it is the goal of the capstone engineering design experience to prepare engineering students to contribute immediately to any company to enhance the competitiveness through the efficient use of time and knowledge to create innovative processes and products. Integrating TRIZ-based methods will accelerate the creative thought process. Using TRIZ-based software will also greatly increase the access to knowledge and the application of the methodologies.

Table 2. Typical Engineering Design Problem with Industrial Specifications

Textile Engineering Senior Design Project 1996-1997

Project Definition

Design, fabricate, and evaluate a conceptual prototype system to automate the boarding operation in hosiery manufacturing.

Project Specifications

The final system must:

  • be economically justifiable,
  • meet all government regulations that pertain to the construction and operation of the system,
  • meet or exceed all safety requirements,
  • be ergonomically designed,
  • have a user-friendly computer interface, and
  • meet production requirements.

Description of Problem

This project is a response to the overall needs of the hosiery industry as stated by the industry as follows: “The hosiery industry in North Carolina is being severely challenged by the emergence of a global economy. The industry today is characterized by being labor intensive, under-utilizing technology, struggling with low margins, and facing increased foreign competition, particularly from Mexico. The industry sees technology as a way to:

  • Increase output
  • Reduce labor costs as a component of manufacturing, and
  • Improve efficiency.” (Preserving Hosiery Manufacturing in North Carolina: Strategies for Modernization Through Technologies)

In the hosiery production process, there are several labor-intensive operations that are common to most all hosiery manufacturers. The boarding operation has been identified by the industry as the most critical process for automation. This operation requires that a hosiery item (socks) be manually placed and aligned on a moving metal form every three seconds. The metal form temperature is maintained at 180 oF. This operation is an excellent candidate for automation due to the repetitive nature of the loading function and the less than desirable environmental conditions.

Currently, 85% of the socks boarded using the INTECH boarding machine. Typical speeds are 20-25 forms per minute. Each type of sock may require different forms depending in the knit style and geometrical size of the sock. In today’s market, rapid changes and many styles are common in the course of a day’s production. There is one operator per machine, and the average production is 300 dozen/day (8 hours).

Table 3. Capstone Design Project Plan of Work with TRIZ-Based Methods and IM Software Integrated into the Experience.
Phase I: Design Proposal (8/17 – 10/15) TRIZ-Based Methods Software Usage
Assign problem TRIZ Overview
Understand the Problem Su-Field Language, Contradictions
Write Engineering Design Specifications TechOptimizer (Problem Situation)
Identify Possible Design Solutions ARIZ, Ideality, Effects Contradiction Table, Separation Principles, Inventive Principles Phenomenon (Effects, Internet Assistant)

TechOptimizer (Effects, Principles, Prediction)

Conduct Feasibility Studies
Propose Design Solutions
Write Formal Engineering Proposal

Phase II: Detailed Design (10/16 – 12/20)

Conduct engineering analysis Ideality, Effects, Contradiction Table, Separation Principles, Inventive Principles Phenomenon (Effects, Internet Assistant)

TechOptimizer (Effects, Principles, Prediction)

Conduct detailed engineering design
Begin machine drawings and component specification
Write formal report
Present detailed design

Phase III: Prototype Construction (1/8 – 3/10)

Detailed Design Trend Analysis Forecasting TechOptimizer (Prediction)
Fabricate Prototype
Integrate Control System
Demonstrate Prototype

Phase IV: Prototype Analysis & Improvement (3/15 – 5/8)

Analyze Performance Su-Field Analysis
Recommend Design Improvements Ideality, Contradiction Table, Effects, Separation Principles Phenomenon (Effects, Internet Assistant)

TechOptimizer (Effects, Principles, Prediction)

Write Formal Final Report
Present Final Oral Presentation