By Prashant Y. Joglekar
Let's talk about that early morning activity we all do, brushing our teeth. First, we wet the toothbrush, then we put our preferred toothpaste on it, then we look into the mirror and brush our teeth for at least three minutes (sometimes less, if we're distracted or in a hurry). For most of us, this is no great challenge, particularly if the toothpaste is new from the tube. Just apply a bit of pressure to the tube and paste is on its way to the brush. No problem.
But what happens when the tube is almost – but not quite – empty? Do you feel like getting out a new tube and leaving the remainder for somebody else in your family to squeeze out? After all, you think, they're less busy or they're stronger or more determined. So maybe you grab that new package out of the cupboard, just as your spouse appears – and suddenly you're receiving a morning discourse on Lean principles (no waste, do more with less, etc.). You only escape after promising you'll make sure to get every last drop of toothpaste out of the tube the next time.
Now, you may be thinking, "Hey, what's the big deal?" Let's examine the impact of small things. Let's assume that between the United States and India there are 500 million people using toothpaste. (Perhaps this number is a bit conservative, but work with me here.) On average a person in the United States might go through half a tube each month; in India that person might use a tube and a half each month. (The product packaging varies from one country to the other.) If you tally up the waste that takes place with every single one of those tubes, on an overall basis, we're talking about a huge loss of rich minerals (which are used in the creation of that toothpaste, at least according to Discovery Channel's "How do they do it? Top to Toe").
You may wonder what this has to do with TRIZ. Yes, there is a connection. In the grand scheme of things, you don't want to waste toothpaste; you want to consume it to its last drop. But you want to do that effortlessly, effectively and efficiently.
|Table 1: Contradiction Matrix for Getting the Last Gram of Toothpaste Out of a Tube|
|Parameter to Improve||Parameter that Worsens||Inventive Principles|
|Waste of substance||Force||Curvature (14)|
Preliminary anti-action (9)
Mechanical vibration (18)
Composite material (40)
Parameter changes (35)
Another dimension (17)
At this point we're sure we want a device – a method – that can solve this problem. Let's go through some of the suggested principles and see what solutions we can generate.
The toothpaste squeezer shown in Figure 1 seems to incorporate all these ideas.
(Cost Rs 5, USD 0.12 cents)
(Cost Rs 50, USD $1.22)
There's even a field-based solution in which a weak electric field is generated to put the same charge on the plaque and the teeth, thereby forcing the teeth to repel the plaque. Ideas from other fields led to the development of the ion toothbrush. The stick of the toothbrush is made of titanium dioxide (use of material resource). When exposed to light (again, use of material resource) this stick releases electrons, which, due to conducting saliva (use of a material resource) while contacting acid contained in the dental plaque, generate positive ions of hydrogen, destroying dental plaque and bacteria. Teeth get cleaned due to photo catalytic features of the titanium stick. The need for both toothpaste and water disappears.3
Many contradictions are still to be resolved, including the issue of storage. Why couldn't the toothpaste cap act as a base on which to stand the tube? Now we have two parameters to ponder: squeezing and storage. It clearly points us to principles 5 and 6, merging and universality, which are used in combination with principle 15, dynamism. Figure 4 shows a device in which this is applied. If you are ready to spend Rs 500 (USD$12.23), then this device can be yours.
The objective of this discussion was to demonstrate how part of the systematic innovation method works. It can surely be applied to your problems as well. Another objective is to show that if you define the problem correctly, getting a solution – or a direction to a solution – becomes easier. Systematically working through the process sets you on the right track while mining a rich knowledge repository (the patent database). Innovation is all about getting from an idea to implementation. If you work on the right ideas, implementation is also easier. The application of TRIZ is an excellent way to get to the right ideas. Along the way, you may have noticed, solving present problems opens up lot of new business opportunities for an innovative company.
Prashant Y. Joglekar is a TRIZ enthusiast. He has studied and applied this innovation science for the past five years. He holds a masters degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. He has completed several practical applications of TRIZ. He believes that more people will be interested in using TRIZ, if they are educated with simple day-to-day examples. Joglekar can be found on Twitter @ideabound. Contact Prashant Y. Joglekar at joglekarprashant (at) gmail.com or visit http://innovationnukkad.blogspot.com.