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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

TRIZ in Manufacturing

Improving productivity by applying the concepts of self-service and multidimensionality

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 11:07

Editor’s note: This article continues the series exploring structured innovation using the TRIZ methodology, a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting tool derived from studying patterns of invention found in global patent data.

After last month’s meeting, a few councilmembers stayed late to talk with Josh about other examples of applying the TRIZ methodology in the marine industry. This conversation reminded him of a problem one of his customers had mentioned a few times, so Josh decided to visit him and see if TRIZ could help provide a solution. Josh invited Scott, his customer and the owner of a capacitor manufacturing business, to share his findings at this month’s meeting.

Josh introduced his guest and said Scott had been complaining about productivity issues, especially with the capacitor-marking process. His company manufactured various-sized capacitors that needed specific markings. The capacitors came on carrier trays (see figure 1), which were placed on custom frames based on the size of the carrier tray (figure 2). The frames were then loaded onto the marking machine with clamps. The frames had to be aligned correctly beneath the printing heads before the marking operation could begin. Carrier trays came in different sizes for different capacitors, and the frames had corresponding different sizes. The whole process required multiple adjustments and, to an extent, depended on the skill of the operator. Using carrier trays and corresponding frames also meant that a fair amount of tray inventory and the associated frames had to be maintained.

Figure 1: Capacitor carrier tray with capacitors on it


Figure 2: Carrier tray in frame


One of the employees at Scott’s company had recently attended a workshop on single-minute exchange of dies (SMED), and improving productivity on the marking process seemed an ideal place to apply SMED. Upon going through the various steps of SMED, the team suggested that using standard-sized platens (figures 3 and 4) for holding the carrier trays could eliminate the need for alignment because all the platens could be dropped on positioning pins. This would help reduce the nonvalue-added alignment time.

Figure 3: Carrier tray on standard platen


Figure 4: Platen cross-section view with carrier tray and capacitors


However, the team realized that although replacing the frames with standard-sized platens allowed for easier alignment, it also called for increasing the amount of storage space needed because the platens were larger, and multiple platens were needed for each of the carrier-tray sizes. Using lessons learned from SMED had been good for reducing setup time and increasing productivity, but it had created another issue. This was where Scott had approached Josh to see if TRIZ could help.

Josh explained that Scott was already using TRIZ’s Principle No. 13, concerning self-service. The principle is about making an object or system serve itself by performing auxiliary helpful functions. It’s also about using resources such as energy and materials, especially those that were originally wasted, to enhance the system. Using self-aligning methods, the problem took care of itself; alignment was no longer an issue because the platens and the pin eliminated the need for alignment every time.

Another observation that Josh recalled from his TRIZ knowledge was that sometimes solutions cause new problems, and one needs to go back and start the cycle again.

Scott now needed to revisit the new problem. Josh restated what he heard from Scott: “You want fewer platens in order to reduce the inventory, and you want more platens to be able to process different size capacitor trays. Is that correct?”

That represents a physical contradiction:
• We want one platen
• We want many platens

Physical contradictions can be resolved in one of four ways:
• Separation of the requirements in time
• Separation of the requirements in space
• Coexistence of the contradictory properties in different regions of phase space
• Solving the problem in the super-system or the subsystem

Scott’s team discussed these separation principles and decided they could solve the problem in the subsystem of the platen by creating levels for positioning the different-sized carrier trays on the same platen (figure 5). Scott then proudly drew the conceptual design on the flipchart for the councilmembers to see and understand what he meant.

Figure 5: Multistory platen showing carrier trays


“That is also invoking the TRIZ principle of multidimensionality,” observed Belinda, the council’s facilitator. “Principle No. 17 says to move an object or system in two- or three-dimensional space. In other words, use a multistory arrangement of objects instead of a single-story arrangement. So instead of having only one capacitor tray per platen, you are able to use one platen for four trays of different sizes, reducing the number of trays required.”

Everyone was impressed, and Scott was especially pleased to see the result his team had achieved. He said that although some of the engineers thought this solution could have been developed without the use of TRIZ methodology, they did acknowledge that stating the problem this way and identifying contradictions had helped them with coming up with a solution.

Since it had only been a few days since Scott’s firm had agreed on this solution, Scott’s team was currently working on a prototype and expected to test it the following week. Members of the council congratulated both Scott and Josh on their successful application fo TRIZ, and they invited Scott to join the council, which he happily accepted.


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.