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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Structured Innovation: The Segmentation Principle

How divide and conquer applies to manufacturing

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 12:18

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series exploring the TRIZ methodolgy, a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting tool derived from studying patterns of invention found in global patent data. TRIZ identifies 40 principles, of which segmentation is one.

Faced with increasing competition in a market where reverse engineering is an everyday occurrence, Belinda realized her company would have to embrace innovation as a strategy, if it was to stay ahead of the competition. It was not enough to introduce new products every few years, where the cost of failure could be rather high. Rather, innovation had to become a way of life at her company. Easier said than done.

Belinda had heard about TRIZ—a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting tool derived from studying patterns of invention found in global patent data—at an American Society for Quality (ASQ) meeting and found the concept interesting. After learning more about the topic, she decided to try out one of the 40 principles: segmentation. It was the first principle and seemed doable.

During her research, Belinda learned that one basically starts with a problem statement, identifies the contradictions that prevent the problem from being solved, then looks through the available resources—both apparent and less obvious—to help reach the ideal final results. TRIZ identifies 40 principles that give one ways to resolve the contradictions and reach the ideal final result. She also learned that there are patterns of evolution and that segmenting the system into smaller parts was one of the most useful of those patterns. This reminded her of the age-old adage, “divide and conquer.” For example, the accounting firm Belinda used had recently segmented itself into four business units. This allowed the company to become smaller and more flexible while still remaining big. Now that she thought about it, teams had been one of those persistent themes in the workplace during the past decade, enabling flexibility and the ability to make decisions quickly. She, in fact, had just introduced product teams in her workplace and had already seen benefits.

This realization increased her comfort level, and Belinda started wondering how she could deliberately apply the segmentation principle in her organization. She wanted to proceed with TRIZ cautiously and avoid making it another passing fad.

One of the problems Belinda’s firm had been facing was a long lead-time in manufacturing and heat-treating castings; customers had been threatening to take their business elsewhere. Fortunately, her company operated one of the larger furnaces in the area and had the skilled workers required to anneal the larger castings. However, this advantage had also become a constraint. Running a large furnace is expensive, so the production folks usually waited for the furnace to be filled before firing it up. This, of course, created longer lead times, especially for the increasingly smaller pieces and associated lot sizes that her customers were designing. Although batching the many small castings for heat treatment reduced the cost because of better utilization of the furnace’s capacity, it also increased the lead times back to the customer.

Based on what little she knew about TRIZ, Belinda started seeing contradictions here: She could run many pieces quickly thus reducing the actual processing time, but in order to be able to bake many pieces in a short time, the castings had to wait a long time before they could be treated in the oven—thus increasing the cycle time. How could she use the segmentation principle?

Segmentation meant transitioning to micro-level, i.e., dividing an object or system into independent parts and thereby making it easy to move and or disassemble.

Applying this principle to her baking operation would mean replacing the large oven with smaller ones. That would be a substantial investment. Or would it? Belinda put together a team to study this and discovered that the newer smaller ovens were not only relatively inexpensive, but also much more efficient. She could purchase a couple of these smaller ovens and place them close to where the castings were being made before being sent to the oven for further heat treatment. It would certainly cut the wait time. However, it would also give her a lot more advantages:
• Local control
• Size of the ovens could vary depending on the parts it was to be used for
• If necessary, the small ovens could be moved to other areas based on demand for certain products
• The warm-up time for these smaller ovens was much shorter, thus cutting the cycle time even further
• Power consumption of these ovens was much lower than the older, larger, and inefficient oven
• Only the needed oven capacity would have to be preheated, thus lowering utility costs further.

 

Belinda did not need to think any further. While this might not have been a game changer in the industry, it was certainly a game changer for her business. Her customers commended her for listening to their concerns and became more involved earlier on during the design phase.

She had just begun to understand the TRIZ approach to “structured innovation,” and the first principle she’d implemented had led to much benefit. She wondered what the complete approach would do, especially if she could get the “structured innovation” psyche ingrained into her company’s culture. Belinda understood that culture change takes time and that, as another age-old adage reminds us, she would need to “lead by example.” Perhaps she would engage someone to train people within her organization. Perhaps she would research some more and try to use another principle.

She did not want to rush into it. She wanted it to succeed. She wanted to ponder whether to take a slow approach or to just commit and dive in.

Some of you might recognize this outcome as similar to the theory of constraints (TOC), and that all these concepts come together, depending on the situation. What would you suggest?

Read more in part two of this series.

Discuss

About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.

Comments

Divide et Impera

Thank you, Mr. Gulati: Divide & Conquer is a notorious saying since the ancient Romans, and most likely is even more ancient. What would I suggest as answer to your question? I would suggest that we go away from TRIZ, TOC, 6Sigma and the similar "castaway islands", and go back instead to our holistic home - or homelistic, if you like. It's true that Segmentation and Union are the same "apple" in the end, but we don't look at any "apple" as a System, anymore; we look at it as "parts". Maybe we should go back to Basics; to Unity.