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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

TRIZ in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Separating contradictory properties in time or space

Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 17:03

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.

Lessons about TRIZ learned at the monthly meetings of My Executive Council (MEC) had not only been eye-opening for most members, but also had piqued their curiosity to learn more. Because TRIZ is also about understanding how a problem has been solved in other areas, they were anxious to hear how TRIZ had been applied in other industries not represented by their group.

One of the suggestions from their consultant, Henrietta, had been to research uses of TRIZ. So she shared a couple of pharmaceutical case studies presented at the European TRIZ Association’s “TRIZ Futures Conference” in Florence, Italy.

Reviewing case studies demonstrates that the skills of beginner-level TRIZ practitioners, such as the MEC members, can make substantial contributions to the problem solving that is necessary to move a product from basic research to full commercialization. Looking at a totally different industry helps support the claim that TRIZ works in any environment.

Two case studies within the healthcare field were analyzed:
• Eye medication
• Shipping proteins

Eye medication is usually dispensed in liquid drops. This method is used because it is easy for nonmedical personnel (e.g., the patient or caregiver) to dispense the proper quantity by relying on the shape of the dispenser and the surface tension of the liquid. But, the time that the medication stays in the eye is unpredictable because liquids drain into the cul-de-sac of the eye.

Belinda jumped in. “From a TRIZ perspective, there would be a physical (or inherent) contradiction: You want liquid medication, but you don’t want liquid medication.”

“And, recalling from our earlier sessions,” Henrietta continued, “we can use one of the four principles to overcome this type of contradiction:
• Separation of contradictory properties in time
• Separation of contradictory properties in space
• Separation between the whole system and its parts (but letting the contradictions coexist)
• Separation based on different conditions; solve in subsystem or super-system

“We can use the first two principles, separate liquid and not-liquid in time and in space,” said Henrietta. “The solution is a formulation of the medication that is liquid in the bottle. However, when dispensed from the dropper, it is activated by body temperature and binds with the tears to form a gel. Therefore it is no longer a liquid and does not drain into the cul-de-sac of the eye. This could also be thought of as demonstration of TRIZ Principle 35, Change Parameters.”

Shipping proteins is another example of a physical contradiction. For ease of use, proteins should be in liquid form. However, they are often difficult to ship in liquid form because they are physically unstable, are affected by surface absorption, can be damaged by temperature changes, and have a short shelf life. There is also the possibility of container breakage. If the proteins were not liquid, many of these concerns would go away.

“We thus have a physical contradiction,” says Henrietta. “The protein should be liquid for ease of use, but it’s best if it’s not liquid for ease of shipping and handling. Again, applying the principal of separation in time and considering the change in medium, the protein should not be liquid at time of transportation, but should be at time of use. In this case, freeze-dry the protein material, ship it in dry powder form (not liquid), and reconstitute it at the point of use (liquid).

Again, Belinda piped in. “This solution could have also come from the application of the ‘itself’ form of the Ideal Final Result, which we have seen in the past sessions,” she said. “The protein should protect itself during shipment; dry powder would not be subject to the same harmful conditions, requiring special protection to prevent deterioration or damage to the container.”

The group was beginning to appreciate the wide-ranging applications of TRIZ, understanding that they had only touched the surface so far. They wanted to know more about the different organizations using this methodology and how it was being used for technology forecasting, but that had to be left to another session.


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.