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How TRIZ demonstrates again that research by trial and error can be very costly.

How TRIZ demonstrates again that research by trial and error can be very costly.

| On 19, Jun 2000

José M. Vicente-Gomila
Triz XXI, S.L.
P.O.Box 12122; E- 46080; Valencia Spain

Summary: two years ago, a European transnational research project, found that treating beechwood against funghi in an axial way could save lots of toxic wastes and also boost productivity. Should the researchers knew about Altshuller TRIZ methodology, perhaps they could save lots of efforts in arriving to the same conclusions.

Key relevant problems (i.e. inventive problems) solved by removing contradictions is one of the most surprising yet brightest discoveries of Altshuller. Further work of him and peers, yielded to an abstraction process, aimed at extrapolating the solution of many problems to every inventive problem.

By analyzing the patents that unveiled major technological advances, Altshuller noticed that each problem, at the end posed two mutually contradictory requirements.

When trying to solve problems, in contrast, many firms face different levels of difficulty. Normally a problem arises when with the either known or existing elements and resources it is not possible to satisfy a function. Depending on wether the former are known or unknown, we could present the following table:

For the problem solver Existing knowledge Not yet existing (1)
Known knowledge Designer’s problems
Unknown knowledge Information problems Research or Inventive problems

(1) Not yet existing knowledge could be either existing science or technology not yet applied to this sort of problems, or really new to unveil science or technology.

Altshuller identified those problems which do not pose any contradiction, and the necessary knowledge is known, as ‘designer’s problems’ When the existing knowledge of further elements or resources is not known for the solver, then we face an ‘information problem’. The late are common among small firms, specially operating in mature or not technological intensive sectors.

Note that Altshuller’s levels 3 and higher fall in the research or inventive problems. Many of the patents whose solutions could overcome contradictions by satisfying both contradictory requirements, were classified and grouped into these levels. It was a fundamental advance made by Altshuller, to concentrate in extracting the knowledge of the higher level patents and give hints for the solution of truly inventive difficult problems.

The result of such a huge work of classification, abstraction and inference, the contradictions matrix is really a wonderful example of knowledge management presented in a brilliant yet simple way for every TRIZ practitioner. However, many people has still to discover that simple do not means ineffective. As Einstein said, ”things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler”

Take for instance a research project, aimed at recovering the use of European beechwood and by more environmentally friendly methods, instead of using tropical hardwoods which now dominate the European market. Beechwood is a good hard wood, but unfortunately it is dimensionally unstable and it is also vulnerable to fungal attack. To make it useable for manufactures goods, beech-wood must be stabilised so that it does not crack or deform during the drying process. The wood must also be made resistant to fungal rot, which would otherwise destroy any wood that comes into contact with soil. This last property is increasingly demanded since many outdoor children parks are being constructed from wood.

Until now, the methods for treating beechwood have been using an autoclave where the logs are impregnated in the radial dimension. However, this methods has many drawbacks and do not solve the problems commented above. After a difficult and lasting treatment, the fungicide only penetrates a depth of one inch, making it vulnerable for using it outdoor. Attempts to increase the axial penetration, by a longer treatment caused problems in the wood itself.

Under a European transnational research project, a team of firms, and technical centers have been pursuing to overcome all these problems trying tacitly to achieve an ideal system: a method that treats the wood rapidly and with a very deep penetration, without using toxic agents. At this point any TRIZ practitioner could had help to point the best direction for finding a solution: ‘the ideal final result would be something like : the beechwood treats with fungicide by itself, with a very deep penetration, without using toxic agents.

After not few efforts and time of research and problem solving, the team of the project found the solution almost by luck, with the rediscovery of a patent registered in 1838 by a man named Boucherie. The patent told about a method for fast treatment of wood. He discovered that a freshly-felled tree could easily be impregnated with a fungicide or other treatment. The action of the tree’s circulatory system, which has up to 10 000 capillaries per square centimeter of wood, pushes the fungicide up the trunk at a rate of one meter per hour, regardless of the size of the tree. This axial impregnation process compares favorably with the one using radial impregnation. Citing the article published in Europe “the project was sparked off by the rediscovery of an ancient patent” (5)

At this point, let us use the work done by Altshuller and peers by applying a simple matrix of names and numbers to a seemingly complex problem like the treatment of wood, and see if applying TRIZ we can save the trial and error process and to give a straight direction for finding a solution.

If we take one of the problems faced: by increasing the time of treatment for increasing its depth of penetration, a harmful effects appear to the wood, we can use:

parameter to improve : duration of action on a stationary object
parameter that gets worst: object affected harmful factors
from the contradictions matrix an inventive principle suggests: dimensionality change .

further explanations to this principle given for instance by Invention Machine’s TechOptimizer say:

– move an object in two- or three-dimensional space,
– use a multi-story arrangement of objects instead of a single-story arrangement,
– tilt or re-orient the object, put it on its side,
– use a different side of the given area.

During TRIZ seminars, whenever I ask participants to suggest a solution for solving this ‘wood contradiction’, without knowing any existing solution, they always propose to treat the log by its axial side.
Although not solving a complex problem, TRIZ gives the right direction for solving it. Should the research team did not find that ancient patent, probably the number of trials and errors had increased. With the use of the contradiction matrix, the path to the solution can be shortened.
Of course, in the path to achieve the final result, more opportunities for applying TRIZ techniques would surely help a lot. Returning to the actual project, the research team developed a non toxic treatment by replacing the toxic chromium salts used before with a new treatment based on copper sulfate, which is environmentally relatively harmless and which produces glucose as a waste product.

Photo reprinted from the article (5) published by
European Commission D.G. XIII. Innovation & Tech Transfer

As conclusion we can see another time that TRIZ is an excellent structured method and way of thinking for increasing our technical creativity. ¡simple but not simpler! What took the European Commission several years of research can be done by TRIZ students in their first class.

(1) Altshuller, G. “ Innovación Sistemática TRIZ: De pronto apareció el inventor” (translated by J.M. Vicente Gomila from the Lev Shulyak’s translation.
(2) Altshuller, G. “Creativity as an exact science” translated by A.
(3) Altshuller, G. “The innovation algorithm” translated by Lev Shulyak.
(4) Souchkov, V. “Four views on TRIZ” Triz-Journal march 1999
(5) “Complexity and simplicity: axial impregnation of bechwood” article published in Innovation & Technology Transfer, July 1998 a publication of the European Commission D.G