Frank C. Grace, Fbgrace@mediaone.net
Graduate Student at North Carolina State University
Frank Grace told us that he wanted to tell the story of introducing TRIZ to his company, but keep the company’s name private. We thought that the story was interesting for our readers, but we asked for some information, so that readers could compare their own companies to Frank’s. Here is the background: The company is a nonwoven/textile finisher, coater, and laminator providing specialized composite materials for a wide range of industries from automotive to apparel. There are approximately 80 employees in two locations in the United States, one in the South and the other on the East Coast. Many employees hold degrees ranging from textile chemistry to operations management. Over 70% of the company's employees have been with the company for more than 20 years. Our annual US sales are 95% and we sell about 5% export. We have been ISO 9001:94 registered since 1997 and are currently in the process of working towards the high automotive quality standard known as QS-9000.
In the Fall 2000 semester at North Carolina State University, I had the honor of taking a distance learning course entitled TE 589A - TRIZ (The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). Dr. Michael S. Slocum provided the televised lectures for the course and Dr. Timothy G. Clapp provided support during the semester via email.
For a more detailed study on what the class covered please see Drs. Slocum and Clapp’s articles published in the TRIZ Journal:
November 1998 - Theory of Inventive Problem Solving Pedagogy in Engineering Education, Part I
December 2000 - Theory of Inventive Problem Solving Pedagogy in Engineering Education, Part II
My First Impression of TRIZ:
When I first received the syllabus for the course it stated that “This class will change the way you solve problems”. To be honest my initial reaction was “Yeah, right!” Little did I know that I was demonstrating my own psychological inertia before the course even began. I had never heard of TRIZ before signing up for the class. If I had never heard of it, how could it be that good?
I work full time for a small company where we deal with plant problems on a daily basis. Sometimes there seems to be so many problems that occur so often that we are constantly “putting out fires”. It gets to the point that we now call solving a problem “fire fighting”. With this background, I decided to give the course a chance and see what it could teach me.
The outcome of the course culminated in a class project entitled “A New TRIZ Practitioner’s Experience for Solving an Industrial Problem using ARIZ 85C: Increasing a Textile Kiss-Coat Operation Speed” where using ARIZ I was able to solve a major problem our company had been facing for quite some time. The full paper can be found on the TRIZ Journal Archives in the January 2001 section. I also was able to solve other problems by using such TRIZ tools as the Contradiction Matrix and the Separation Principles. Needless to say that TRIZ has changed the way I look at problems and solve them. It has given me great confidence in tackling problems in the company that have been classified as “impossible to solve” because “we’ve tried everything”.
Introducing TRIZ to my company:
After the course was completed, I decided to spread the word throughout the company to see if there was interest in the company as a whole learning about TRIZ. There was and the company’s CEO asked that I teach an introductory class on some of the basic principles of TRIZ.
Although I am not a TRIZ master I was persuaded to put together a small seminar with upper and lower management and introduced them to TRIZ with the aid of the course notes that were provided by Dr. Clapp. I covered such topics as the Contradiction Matrix, Separation Principles, Inventive Levels of Solutions, and Psychological Inertia. I also included small exercises and broke the class up into groups. In one exercise I had them identify where the where the 40 principles are used in the company.
Using the Contradiction Matrix in the Seminar:
Another exercise I had the class do was to solve a company problem using the Contradiction Matrix. The class was broken into two groups and they separately came up with solutions to the problem that was posed. To my surprised (and to theirs) both groups came up with the same solution!
As a company, we have assembled a Problem Solving Team. This team includes the members of our ISO 9001/QS 9000 Correction Action team. We have tied in both teams and have started to use TRIZ tools to solve company problems. We are seeing problems being solved and the manner in which we solve problems is changing. We now discuss problems by identifying where the technical or physical contradictions are and I can actually see the level of inventiveness improving. People are starting to identify their own and other people’s psychological inertia. The “fire fighting” is being reduced. It’s an exciting time!
The Seminar’s Feedback:
After the seminar, I had the attendees fill out a questionnaire to get their feedback on their feelings of what the learned. You can find the results below:
TRIZ Feedback Questionnaire Results
I would like to thank Drs. Slocum and Clapp for teaching the course and introducing me to TRIZ. It has changed the way I solve problems!
Frank C. Grace