Book Review: TechOptimizer™ Fundamentals

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Book Review: TechOptimizer™ Fundamentals

By
Tom Kling, tjkling@dow.com TRIZ Advocate, Corporate R&D, The Dow Chemical Company
Kiho Sohn, Kiho.d.Sohn@Boeing.com
Richard Platt, richard.platt@cox.net,Corporate Instructor of TRIZ using TechOptimizer and other IMC tools. Innovation Master - IMC certification for a “super user” of their software.
Dr. Michael S. Slocum, mslocum@ontro.com <mailto:mslocum@ontro.com>, V.P. of Science and Engineering, Ontro, Inc.

Title: TechOptimizer™ Fundamentals
Authors: Ena T. Arel, Mikhail Verbitsky, Igor Devoino, and Sergei Ikovenko
Publisher: Invention Machine Educational Services
©2002 Invention Machine Corporation, 133 Portland Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02114, USA
Paperback, 8˝ X 11 inches, 7 chapters & 2 appendices, 133 pages, List price $100. Introductory price for TRIZ Journal readers: $50.
To order the book call: 1-800-595-5500 (US and Canada only)
or 1-617-305-9250 for the rest of the world. Also, you may visit www.invention-machine.com/tforder/tforder.cfm where you can request a sales rep to call you so that you may order the book.

The editors asked three corporate users of TechOptimizer, two of whom also are their companies’ internal TRIZ and TechOptimizer trainers, to review this book.

TechOptimizer Fundamentals fills what has been a persistent gap in the documentation for this popular application supportive of TRIZ. While the TechOptimizer User Guide that comes with the program details every menu option and action, it shows them from the program's point of view (the "what" and the "how-to", by menu). TechOptimizer Fundamentals illustrates them from the point of view of a user (who needs as much the "why" and the "when"). It will be a useful addition to the bookshelves of all but the most expert TechOptimizer users-a worthwhile purchase, despite a few shortcomings.

I had fun reading this book. Probably because I am already familiar with TechOptimizer, reading this book wasn’t like reading any other technical manual. It felt more like reading a storybook. I liked the way that each section was dedicated to different solution modules, modeling technical systems, modeling technical processes. The section on the feature transfer application was a pleasant bonus.

My first reaction was “Great Book!” I think it is exactly what people need who learned TechOptimizer a few years ago, or IMLab, and haven’t used it much recently. It will get them back to appreciating all the ways this program can help them. People who practice TRIZ without software can also get some benefit, especially from the function analysis section.

TechOptimizer Fundamentals has chapters devoted to each of the major problem solving and problem analysis modules (not the Internet Assistant). They are sequenced more by frequency of use than by order of use. The first half of the book takes you through the solution generating modules; the latter half, the problem analysis modules:

Chapter 1 outlines a stereotypical, multiphase methodology for design, and why one is needed. It introduces the “Innovation Roadmap”-a useful flowchart that describes sequencing of TechOptimizer modules in-use. It includes the gathering of background data, the sequencing of use of problem statement tools (function analysis and trimming, feature transfer), the use of problem solving tools (effects, prediction, principles), and validation & reporting. Connection between the design methodology and Roadmap are implied; few details are given here (or elsewhere) explicitly defining how the steps in the Innovation Roadmap feed into particular design phases. And don’t be thrown off by the juxtaposition of “Path 2” and “Path 3” in the text versus the flowchart-just pencil the correction onto your copy.

Chapter 2 describes the Effects Knowledge Base. It includes an explanation of how the input, output and control parameters can be used to relate several effects using the Connect feature. This is helpful if you add your own effects to the library.

Chapter 3 describes how the Prediction module contributes to helping set R&D directions, predicting the evolution of technological systems, and improving interactions between parts of your system.

Chapter 4 on Principles gives the origins & background on technical contradictions and coaches you upon how to set up technical contradictions using the three-line template TechOptimizer uses. (Appendix B contains a listing of the 40 principles; about a quarter of them use wording that has been upgraded in the current TechOptimizer). Although mentioned, treatment of physical contradictions is too light (as it is in the software) for the tastes of most TRIZ users; the opportunity is missed to point out TechOptimizer’s single window on Physical Contradiction and Separation Principles, which has the corresponding 40 principles aligned to the separation principles.

Chapter 5 on Product & Technical System Modeling has a brief but excellent primer on how to set up good function analysis statements, and avoid the most common pitfalls that would interfere with function analysis and trimming. It describes quite well the method TechOptimizer uses to rank order components to consider for trimming. In the section on function analysis, beware that terminology used is inconsistent with current version of TechOptimizer: what the program calls a "product" this book calls a "target".

First lesson: I had to admit that I have been loosely defining subjects, objects and actions in between. Typically I have been defining a subject and an object based on the order the components were defined. I like the way this book defines, “action has to change object”.

Chapter 6 describes the corresponding type of modeling for processes. It coaches you on selection of process types (productive, providing, corrective) and outlines when the same function, in different circumstances, may be of a different type. The symbols used in the book for process modeling differ from those used in current software as well, using a set more like those for product modeling.

Chapter 7 describes how to use the feature transfer application. Feature transfer works on the same principles as the concept selection matrix advocated by Stuart Pugh. A very basic analysis of the functions & characteristics of your current system identifies shortcomings. TechOptimizer helps you to find alternative ways of fulfilling those functions better, by importing the corresponding superior features of other systems.

Up to now, I was focusing using the Pugh matrix technique for down selecting concepts only. I was quite pleased to learn that this technique can also be used to solve problems.

Don’t miss reading the definitions of terms in Appendix A. Re-read the ones that strike you as out-of-the-ordinary. Twice!! Some will have unique, specific meanings (e.g. feature, property, product, parameter, target) that must be kept in mind to become facile using TechOptimizer. Some may cause trouble if used by their common, everyday, less-specific definitions.

Weaknesses: Lack of an index is drawback. Often, examples would benefit by detailing just one more next step (and having its rationale noted). TechOptimizer Fundamentals gives short shrift to the “problem manager” and bare mention of the "concept manager", missing a chance to point out how these shortcuts to the outlining function which lists problems and solutions can automate report writing (which they do mention). A few extra lines explaining how these interfaces with the user work, and differences depending upon what module you’re in, would be great additions. A "book answer" key to practice problems would be nice, making TechOptimizer Fundamentals a useful adjunct for a short course.

The lack of a more in-depth way of stepping people through a verification of a functional model was the biggest gap that I saw in the book

In consideration for new users of the tool, however, the following are strongly recommended:

Strengths: All-in-all, the strong points of TechOptimizer Fundamentals outweigh the weaknesses. Most chapters have a set of practice problems. Screen shots show what to expect without dominating the text. TechOptimizer Fundamentals has many short examples: TRIZ readers will recognize a few of the classic ones (e.g. the Luna 16 floodlight bulb, exploding piles and corrosion-testing acid containers) but a number of different examples and mini-case study exercises are included.

I would definitely recommend this book for the beginning user of IMC tools as well as for the advanced user; there is something in here for everyone. I also most heartily recommend it for consultants and corporate trainers of TechOptimizer since this is an excellent tool to build or augment a training presentation.

Overall, TechOptimizer Fundamentals gives a very good, brief grounding in the concepts and principles that underlie the foundation of each module. Even with a few minor inconsistencies (which this review should get you past) it will help users, especially the novices amongst us, to come up to speed more effectively.

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