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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

TRIZ and Patterns of Evolution

Forecasting technological development with inventive principles

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 16:45

Sean was looking forward to the MEC meeting. He'd seen a potential application for TRIZ in a medical setting and wanted to discuss this with the group.

His mother had been suffering from digestive problems and had needed an endoscopy that she dreaded. He was worried that, apart from the initial investigation, there might be a need for performing a biopsy or perhaps treatment such as clipping off a polyp. Because she was getting along in age, he found it especially painful to watch her go through the procedure and wished there was a better, less intrusive way, especially given all of the new technology and miniaturization. “Couldn’t this technology be applied for her condition?” he had asked the doctor.

He was thrilled because the doctor’s response mentioned the development of something along those lines: a “robotic” pill. It was a sophisticated gadget that could be swallowed and then take images or deliver drugs for chronic conditions such as diabetes. Although he was disappointed that the robotic pill was still in preclinical trials, he hoped it might be available in time to benefit his mother.

This, he told the MEC group, got him thinking about whether TRIZ might have played a role in the technology’s development. After all, it did solve the problem of safe drug delivery at the right location in the right amount at the time required. His curiosity prompted the discussion topic for the meeting: Technology forecasting along with a brief explanation of patterns of evolution.

And so the session began. “Remember Genrich Altshuller, the engineer who invented TRIZ?” Henrietta, the group’s facilitator, asked. “Well, he also studied the way technical systems were developed and improved over time. From this, he discovered several trends, which he called the Laws of Technical Systems Evolution—or patterns of evolution.”

She explained that there are eight patterns of evolution. “The first pattern is evolution toward increased ideality, which states that every system generates both useful and harmful effects,” she said. “The goal for any system is to maximize the ratio of useful to harmful effects and approach ideality.

“So going back to the case of examining internal body parts and then treating them,” she continued. “There was a time before these advancements when doctors had to physically cut into a body to take a sample from inside an intestine to examine it. This gave way to the use of needles, by which a physician pierced the body to extract a small sample that could be sent to a lab for examination. Smaller incision, reduced pain, reduced harm—thus, increased ideality.

“Next came the rigid endoscope, which allowed physicians to look inside a body without making an incision of any kind. It was still uncomfortable and required anesthesia; however, it removed the need for an incision but wasn’t very maneuverable by doctors. This gave way to the flexible endoscope which improved the quality of viewing, and allowed for better maneuverability with lesser discomfort.

“And now we have the new development where one essentially swallows the endoscope, thereby eliminating the need to connect a camera to a tube for insertion, which reduces the pain (harm) and possibly increases the benefit (quality of the image).”

“What we’re seeing here is a pattern of evolution,” she elaborated. “When we made incisions, we looked at solid objects. As we moved to using endoscopes, we substituted the solid object with optical images. We moved from solid endoscope to flexible endoscope. Surely we are seeing increased benefits and reduced harm? The evolution toward increased ideality can be seen through repeated use of the principles we’ve already learned and used.” She then turned to the group and asked what they saw as the applicable principles. Members provided the following answers respectively:

• Inventive principle No. 1: Segmentation, dividing an object into independent parts. That is what happened as we moved from rigid endoscope to flexible endoscope.
• Inventive principle No. 15: Dynamics, increase the degree of free motion, essentially adding more flexibility. By developing an ingestible camera, we’ve added more flexibility and better maneuverability.
• Inventive principle No. 26: Copying and replacing an object with optical copies. Instead of making incisions and taking real samples to send to a lab, endoscopy allows us to examine images.

“Continuing with this thought process,” Sean said, “it would be terrific if this could evolve to something akin to MRI, where we don’t have to even swallow a camera pill.”

“So that would be Inventive principle No. 28: Mechanics substitution, whereby we use electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic fields to interact with the object,” Belinda added. “This means moving from mechanical means to energy.”

This was all very interesting: improved quality, reduced harm, faster results. It was an insight that all in attendance recognized at the same time. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for an organization to use patterns of evolution for technology forecasting to get a jump on competition, especially in terms of new product design?


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.