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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Structured Innovation: The Separation Principle

Separate an interfering part or property from an object or system

Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:58

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

In an earlier article from this series, we learned that Belinda had heard about TRIZ, a tool for structured innovation. 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. Now that Belinda had begun to understand the TRIZ approach to “structured innovation” and had her first validation, she wanted to start applying the methodology to other areas of her organization.

During the interim, however, she had an opportunity to share her success with members of her executive council. One of her colleagues, Josh, ran an electroplating business and was having quality-related difficulties with chromium plating. Typically, parts to be plated with chromium are placed in a bath of chromic acid formulation. The chromium bath is heated to increase the chemical activity of the liquid to produce a bright finish. However, the risk of this process is that heating reduces the stability of the bath solution, and if it’s not perfect, it starts to decompose. This results in a milky appearance of the coating.

There were many reasons for why this happened. Josh’s employees had already examined the chrome plating rejects and found some of the causes (e.g., plate error, electrical connections, plating solution, power source) and determined that their real issue was a balance between current density and bath temperature. They had to resolve this quality issue and determine a way to increase productivity and reduce waste.

Having just recently applied the segmentation principle of TRIZ in her organization, Belinda decided to use the executive council to help Josh with his program by leading them through a brainstorming session. They had come up with ideas ranging from how they could segment the parts or the solution, whether they could change the chemistry, and how they could segment the bath (two separate chambers), but then the decomposition would occur elsewhere.

However, the word “separate” struck a chord for Belinda as she recalled reading about TRIZ principle No. 2: separation (also known as “taking out”). This principle states, “Separate an interfering part or property from an object or system, or single out the only necessary part (or property) of an object or system.”

She recalled a simple application in the banking industry, where ATMs extract core services such as cash withdrawals, deposits, or funds transfers, and offer them to customers outside the bank. Could they somehow apply this principle in the plating operation? Because the bath temperature is usually held constant by a heating/cooling system connected to a controller that can be set at different temperatures, was there an opportunity to change the parameters somewhere in the heating system? Instead of continuing wildly in this manner, the brainstorming team decided to step back and restate the problem to identify the contradictions. This ensured they understood the cause-and-effect relationships. By doing so, they saw both technical and physical contradictions:
• Technical: Heating increased productivity but wasted material. The control parameter in this case was temperature.
• Physical: Temperature needed to be high to increase productivity, and temperature needed to be low for stability and to avoid waste.

As they examined this problem statement and thought about the criticality of temperature, they realized that increased temperature was necessary only in proximity to the parts. What if they could have selective heating of just the bath? How could they separate these opposite physical states? How could they allow these multiple physical states to coexist in the same system? These were conflicting requirements. How could they separate the heating of the bath in proximity to the parts and away from the parts?

Because heating was necessary only in proximity to the parts, they decided to heat the parts themselves, rather than heating the solution. This allowed multiple states to coexist, achieved the high temperature necessary to increase productivity, and maintained the optimal plating brightness—all without the waste associated with decomposition.

Josh was interested in learning what else they could accomplish through this new approach. Searching for other applications of principle No. 2, he came across another situation where principle No. 2 would benefit Josh and his customers. Both sometimes used abrasive sandblasting but were then stuck with the problem of sand accumulation. An effective solution was to use dry ice chips as the abrasive. After abrading, the chips simply disappeared by melting.

This was a clear use of another aspect of principle No. 2: separation in time. A characteristic was made larger at one time and smaller at another; it was present at one time and absent at another. Josh found this concept simply brilliant. He decided to explore it further in the days to come, and possibly share success stories with his executive council at future meetings.

The executive group found the structured problem-solving process exciting and wanted to learn more about TRIZ and its tools. They had barely scratched the surface with the first two principles, and there were 40 of them. They realized that this was not new knowledge, but instead a fresh approach.


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.