By Daniel Fitzgerald, Jeffrey W. Herrmann and Linda C. Schmidt
Product development organizations redesign their products to incorporate new technology, to adapt to changes in consumer preferences and to anticipate (or react to) the actions of competitors. During redesigns, organizations seek to increase the functionality of their products. Functionality includes all valuable results of a product's behavior in its use environment such as specific features, ergonomics and capacity.
During a redesign it is also desirable to reduce the product's environmental impact (among other harmful effects) to satisfy consumer demand, retailer requirements and environmental regulations. Unfortunately, product designers often face a contradiction or conflict between improving product functionality and reducing environmental impact.
Design solutions arising from typical design for environment practices may not increase the functionality of a product if environmental impact is the only consideration.7 For instance, environmentally friendly, biodegradable materials may be less durable than the synthetic materials needing to be replaced. As a result, companies have been reluctant to prioritize design for environment objectives as they do other key objectives like product functionality, unit cost and time to market.1
This article presents a collaborative TRIZ-based conceptual design tool. It is designed to help designers overcome the specific functionality / environmental contradictions that they face. The tool consists of two tables. They are similar to the contradiction matrix found within the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). The inventive principle contradiction table provides a designer with the TRIZ principles found to overcome particular functionality / environmental contradictions. The patent / product contradiction table is similar to the previous table except it provides a designer with a reference to the products and patents where the principles in the previous table were derived. This allows a designer to dig deeper into the details of a particular product or patent and could lead to additional creativity. The authors offer this tool to the community for use as is (however, they are also seeking to create a collaborative community to enhance the tool with examples from a variety of industries).
Using the developed algorithm by Genrich Altshuller (the founder of TRIZ) and his colleagues the authors developed this design tool by examining existing products and patents and identifying the general design principle(s) describing how the innovation was achieved.3 Instead of focusing on a wide variety of inventor certificates, as Altshuller did, the authors narrowed the product search to products that improve both functionality and environmental impact (when compared to the previous product generation).
An example product included in the tool is the eco-toaster.2 The eco-toaster uses 34 percent less energy than standard toasters thanks to its clever auto-close lid that keeps the heat around the toast and prevents it from escaping through the top. It also toasts the bread more quickly.2 The functionality improvement is loss of time. It is defined as a reduction in the amount of time taken to complete an activity.4 The environmental improvement is a reduction in energy intensity. The principle used to overcome the contradiction is principle #15 dynamicity (characteristics of an object or outside environment must be altered to provide optimal performance at each stage of an operation).3 A designer facing a similar contradiction could look to this principle and example for inspiration.
For each product and patent found, which overcame a functionality / environmental contradiction, the authors identified the functionality improvement, environmental improvement and the relevant TRIZ inventive principle(s) (to describe how the innovation was achieved). The goal is to create an easy to use knowledgebase, much like the contradiction table, which focuses on a specific need in industry: environmentally conscious design.
The design tool is posted on a wiki called the Environmental Design Tool. The design tool consists of 50 product examples and 80 patent examples and the authors invite interested readers to use and contribute to the tool. Note: The wiki requires users to sign up with a username, email and password before they can log on.
When you log on to the wiki, you will see an introduction page describing the contents of the wiki. To get to the contradiction table, which is providing the inventive principles found to resolve a specific functionality / environmental contradiction, click on the inventive principle contradiction table menu button shown in Figure 1.
As shown in Figures 2 and 3, the inventive principle contradiction table has functionality parameters along the left side and environmental parameters along the top. To determine the inventive principle(s), which can help resolve a particular contradiction, locate the specific column containing the environmental parameter(s) needing improvement. Also locate the row containing the functionality parameter(s) needing improvement. The box where the row and column intersect will list the numbers for the inventive principles found to overcome that particular contradiction. If the box is empty then no product or patent overcoming that specific contradiction has been found. Information on the inventive principle numbers and the definitions of the principles can be found on the inventive principles page. The definitions for the functionality and environmental parameters can be found on the parameter definition pages.
To understand the details of the products and patents leading to the principle recommendations, click on the "product / patent contradiction table" menu button as shown in Figure 4. The product / patent contradiction table also has functionality parameters along the left side and environmental parameters along the top. To find the products and patents relevant to a particular contradiction locate the specific column, which contains the environmental parameter(s) needing improvement, plus the row containing the functionality parameter(s) needing improvement. The box where the row and column intersect will list the numbers for products and patents found to overcome that particular contradiction. A number in parentheses for example, (1) or (41) refers to a patent and a number with a leading pound sign for example, #15 or #23 is a product found outside the patent database. Details about the patents and products can be found on the patent list and product list pages.
The authors implemented this tool as a wiki in order to facilitate input from other product designers and engineers. The authors welcome enhancements in all of the following areas:
Genrich Altshuller's life gave him a unique opportunity to devote a tremendous amount of time to a solitary effort to create a contradiction table. While individuals do not have the same amount of time, they do have the benefit of greater information accessibility, therefore, several can contribute a little to create something just as great. The tool becomes more useful as the number of contributors and products increases.
Based on their different experiences and perspectives, users may disagree with how a product or patent is categorized within the tool. If there is a disagreement with the functionality parameter(s), environmental parameter(s) or inventive principle(s) selected, the wiki page provides a forum for discussion and creates a consensus about a product's categorization.
The set of engineering parameters used in the TRIZ contradiction matrix was a natural starting point for selecting the functionality parameters for this tool. The authors relied on the founding editor of The TRIZ Journal, Ellen Domb's, helpful list of definitions for the TRIZ engineering parameters.4 The authors also selected several but not all of the 39 TRIZ engineering parameters. The authors excluded overlapping parameters or the ones directly related to environmental parameters. Additionally, when two parameters were used to cover both stationary and moving objects, the authors consolidated them into one parameter. Some of the parameters (such as productivity) are broad and could be decomposed into more specific parameters. There could also be new parameters that were not considered by Altshuller.
For the environmental parameters, the authors used six of the seven eco-efficiency dimensions developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.5 The eco-efficiency dimensions were used by mechanical engineers Hsiang-Tang Chang and Jahau Lewis Chen as a standardized set of critical objectives for improving products.6 The service intensity dimension was excluded because it depends on infrastructure decisions made prior to a designer working on a product. Once it is decided that a product is needed to provide a service to satisfy a customer need, the designer will need to focus on the other six dimensions to improve the environmental impact of the product. There are openings for new environmental parameters or decomposing existing parameters into more specific parameters.
The 40 inventive principles developed by Altshuller were used for describing the solution method used for the products. New inventive principles may remain undiscovered or some of the current broad principles (such as dynamicity) could be decomposed into more specific principles.6
Examples of new products or ideas inspired by the tools provide credibility to its usefulness and will attract more people to use and contribute to the tool.
The current online format of the tool was created using a simple and free wiki creator. Anyone wishing to volunteer to create a better wiki or online format should contact the authors.
Daniel Fitzgerald is a regulatory / environmental engineer at Black & Decker and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland College Park. Contact Daniel Fitzgerald at dfitzy (at) umd.edu.
Jeffrey W. Herrmann is an associate professor at the University of Maryland where he holds a joint appointment with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Systems Research. Contact Jeffrey W. Herrmann at jwh2 (at) umd.edu.
Linda C. Schmidt is an associate professor at the University of Maryland in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Contact Linda C. Schmidt at lschmidt (at) umd.edu.