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Substantiation of Function-Oriented Search Derived Solutions

Simon S. Litvin

GEN3 Partners, USA


Function-Oriented Search (FOS) has become one of the most powerful TRIZ-based problem solving tools in the world today. The main idea of FOS is bringing an already existing technology from a very remote area of science and engineering as a solution to the problem in the initial area that needs an innovation. The specific tools of FOS are function generalization, function-leading area identification, and Global Knowledge Network [1, 2].

There are two major advantages of FOS when compared with traditional inventive problem solving, including contradiction resolution. First, the FOS derived solution is, by definition, an existing technology. You do not need to prove that a corresponding technology will work - it does work in a function-leading area. Second, FOS is bringing solutions from very remote areas of science and engineering to help solve problems for the entire world with the knowledge of the entire world, which facilitates the idea of practical open innovation.

However these two advantages slightly contradict each other - the more distant the FOS solution area is derived from the initial one, the more different the conditions that the generalized function performs in. It means that FOS Derived Solution (FDS) can not be easily applied to the initial area. To resolve this contradiction, specific substantiation tools for FDS are needed. Substantiation must give everybody practical and supported reasons to believe that FOS derived solutions could be successfully reduced to practice.

This should help to avoid low rates of TRIZ acceptance in the industrial world because of insufficient levels of "implementability" of the results [2]. G. Altshuller had warned about TRIZ not being ready for mass implementation [3]. The main goal of this paper is to introduce some new approaches that build the bridges between Function-Oriented Search derived ideas and their practical implementation.

Algorithm for Function-Oriented Search

In order to make bridges between FOS and FOS derived solutions, let's recall the algorithm for Function-Oriented Search.

  1. Identify the target Main Parameter of Value (MPV) to be improved [4].
  2. Identify the target Physical Parameter to be improved in order to address the MPV.
  3. Identify the Key Problem to be solved in order to improve MPV.
  4. Articulate the specific function to be performed in order to solve the Key Problem.
  5. Formulate the required parameters/conditions for performing the function.
  6. Generalize the function by an object and action of function.
  7. Identify the Function-Leading Areas (FLA).
  8. Identify most effective technologies within the FLA that perform the same or similar function.
  9. Select the technology that is most suitable to perform the desired function based on the requirements and constraints (primarily MPVs) of the initial innovation area.
  10. Identify the initial level of Similarity Factor (SF) between the conditions of performing the function in the selected technology and the initial innovation situation.
  11. Identify and solve the Adaptation Problems required to increase SF in order to ensure effective implementation of the selected technology.

This paper is dedicated to the specific mechanisms and recommendations on identifying the Similarity Factor and Adaptation Problems. That will serve as substantiation for FOS Derived Solutions.

FOS Derived Solutions Substantiation

A general idea of FDS Substantiation is to prove that the specific area where the suggested FDS was found has a high Similarity Factor with the initial area and/or increase the SF by solving Adaptation Problems. Here are recommended steps for this process:

  1. 1. Identify the initial level of Similarity Factor

The FOS Derived Solution, by definition, already addresses the target MPV (the ultimate objective of an innovation) of our initial engineering system. That is the main idea of FOS - to find a solution/technology with the same or similar function, but significantly better performance. If conditions that the FDS perform in are the same, similar, or even more severe it provides us with some practical and supported reasons to believe that FDS would work for the initial object/problem. Identifying these similar conditions is a first step of FDS substantiation.

  1. 2. Identify significantly different function performing conditions and corresponding Adaptation Problems

Each different condition that the function performs in represents a possible secondary Adaptation Problem that needs to be addressed. Identifying and preliminarily solving the secondary problems is a mandatory part of any substantiation. Solving the Adaptation Problems is the other practical and supported reason to believe that a FOS Derived Solution/technology is applicable to the initial object/problem.

  1. 3. Identify other MPVs to be addressed and corresponding Adaptation Problems

There may be also some other (non-target) MPVs of the initial object that could be affected by implementing the suggested FDS. One should be careful that these MPVs do not deteriorate while applying the FDS. This could allow the other set of possible secondary Adaptation Problems to come forth. Solving these problems is the other substantiation factor that can prove that a FOS Derived Solution/technology is applicable to the initial object/problem.

Practical Example

Let me illustrate the above described approach using the story of the development of a new product: an Anti-allergenic Nasal Filter (ANF).

Initial situation description

  • Goal - to prevent allergies caused by contact between small organic particles (5-20 microns) with the mucous membrane in the nostrils.
  • Target MPVs - Filtering Effectiveness (required particles threshold) that is necessary to prevent an allergic reaction on a majority of sufferers (not less than 95%), and Breathing Resistance (should be as low as possible).
  • Other identified MPVs - Inconspicuousness (ideally a filter should be placed inside the nostrils); Cost (should not be high), and Safety (filter material should be bio-compatible).
  • Best product on the market - nasal filter with filtering medium inside (Japan). It has 100% Filtering Effectiveness, but very high Breathing Resistance (a person wearing this device can't breathe through the nostrils at all).

Function-Oriented Search results

  • Specific Function - to trap pollens from inhaled air.
  • Initial engineering/scientific area - medical inhaling devices.
  • Generalized Function - to separate small particles from a gas flow.
  • Function-Leading Area of engineering (one of a kind) - industrial dust collectors, specifically in cement and chemical production. They have the same generalized function. Target MPVs that constitute the project goal and major constraint are also the same (separating effectiveness and aerodynamic resistance). Some of the conditions are much more severe than in an inhaling device - the amount and concentration of particles, productivity, particles collection capacity, etc.
  • Expertise from the Global Knowledge Network - Negev-Tornado company (Beer-Sheva, Israel).
  • Selected FOS Derived Solution/technology - Industrial Cyclones have a very high Filtering Effectiveness (99.9%) with a very low aerodynamic resistance (open inlet, no filtering medium).
  • FDS action principle - centrifugal separation. Centrifugal forces are caused by a vortex created by a spiral inlet.

FDS Substantiation

1. Identify the initial level of Similarity Factor.

  1. a) ANF target MPVs are already addressed by Industrial Cyclones (IC) because of their operation principle - high Filtering Effectiveness and low Aerodynamic Resistance. There is a lot of data proving this statement.
  2. b) Function Conditions of ANF that are the same, similar, or less severe than IC conditions:
    • Size of particles to be separated - similar.
    • Presence of air flow.
    • Vortex creation principle - spiral inlet.
    • Absence of filtering medium.
    • Particles concentration - less severe.
    • Necessary dust collection capacity - less severe.
  3. Preliminary conclusion - function conditions for IC and ANF have a pretty high Similarity Factor. Continued analysis to further increase the SF should occur.

2. Identify significantly different function performing conditions and corresponding Adaptation Problems.

To substantiate the applicability of FDS to the initial area, we should identify major differences in function performing conditions between the Function-Leading Area and initial area (in our example between the Industrial Cyclone and cyclones in the nostril). Each significant difference that is not already addressed by our solutions should be translated into an Adaptation Problem and then solved.

The major differences in function conditions, corresponding Adaptation Problems, and their solutions for Industrial Cyclones vs. Antiallergenic Nasal Filters are as following:

  • Filter size - Industrial Cyclones are large (meters in diameter) versus a Nasal Filter that has to be placed into the nostrils (millimeters in diameter).

  • Air flow - is much larger in the IC than in ANF.

    Adaptation Problem 1 (AP1): would the air flow be sufficient to create the necessary centrifugal forces if we place the cyclone inside the nostril? This problem was positively addressed using pure calculations.

  • Fans are a source of air flow in ICs, there is no space for any fans inside the nostrils.

    AP2: how to provide the necessary air flow within the cyclone without expensive fans? The solution is based on the resource approach -inhaling through the nostrils creates the necessary air flow (no need for fans at all).

  • There are dust collectors in ICs to keep the separated dust - there is a very limited space for this function in the nostrils.

    AP3: how to trap particles without an expensive and space consuming dust collector? The solution - place a sticky layer on the walls of the Nasal Filter; particles will adhere to the walls.

  • Timing of application - years for ICs vs. hours for ANF.

    AP4: does the sticky layer on the filter's walls have enough capacity for 6-8 hours of use? This problem was solved using calculations because the particles maximum concentration and the surface of the walls are known.

  • Two cyclones are needed for two nostrils - there is no problem.

  • Need to insert the filter into the nostrils and then take it out. There is no problem inserting the filter.

    AP5: how to take out the filter without conspicuous parts? Solution - a transparent connecting strip between the pair of filters.

  • Mass production of ANS vs. small scale production of ICs.

    AP6: how to efficiently produce a mini-cyclone with a complicated shape (spiral inlets, collar outlet, etc.) on a mass scale? The technological process applicable for mass production was developed later during the Technology Development/Validation stage.

3. Identify other MPVs to be addressed and corresponding Adaptation Problems

The other ANF MPVs that are not addressed by ICs:

  • Inconspicuousness - ICs are very large (meters in diameter). Solutions for AP1 (mini-cyclone that fits nostrils size) and AP5 (transparent connection strip) also address this MPV.

  • Cost - ICs are very expensive because of their large size and several complicated units, like fans and dust collectors. Solutions for AP1, AP2 (no fans), and AP3 (thin sticky layer as a simple and inexpensive dust collector) are addressing this MPV.

  • Safety - filter and sticky layer materials must be bio-compatible and non-irritants.

    AP7: what materials are both bio-compatible and fit the mass production manufacturing process? The effective material for both filter body and sticky layer were selected later during the Technology Development/Validation stage.

Substantiation: time vs. practicality

The above stated conclusions and suggestions are accurate for a full scale product innovation project. FDS substantiation is a time consuming process. For shorter projects with very limited time resources, there is not enough time to effectively substantiate ideas. FOS can help find promising technologies/solutions in a fairly short time period, but they are not practical yet. Their goal is just to illustrate that the suggested Innovation Portrait (a set of MPVs and Ideal Functional Portrait) is theoretically achievable because there are some enabling technologies in the world that actualize our desirable set of functions and MPVs. Of course, without understanding the Key Problems and the corresponding specific solutions, we cannot provide any practical substantiation. This is a part of the deliverables for the next project stages.

Sometimes the Adaptation Problem solution may create a new Adaptation Problem that has to be solved as well. In general, identifying and solving APs is a recurring process. The process can be considered completed when the rest of APs can be addressed only by physical prototyping and practical validation.

Of course, besides technical substantiation there are other aspects of idea substantiation and each also consumes time:

  • Business substantiation - business impact justification, preliminary business case, risk factors assessment, market acceptability evaluation, etc.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) substantiation - preliminary evaluation of technical novelty of the idea, recommended IP protection strategies, etc.
  • Design substantiation - preliminary design, industrial design, etc.
  • Safety substantiation - FDA, safety regulations, etc.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A combination of FOS technique, MPV approach, identifying positive and negative super-effects of the suggested FOS Derived Solution, and identifying and solving Adaptation Problems can give everybody practical and supported reasons to believe that the FDS could be successfully reduced to practice.

Function-Oriented Search with substantiated solutions can help TRIZ to avoid the old accusation of being too theoretical and too far from practical results, products, and technologies on the market. TRIZ has enough tools to build effective bridges between the idea and its practical implementation.

The author is grateful to his colleagues who participated in the fruitful discussions that helped bring about points in this paper - S.Ikovenko, S.Kogan, A.Lyubomirskiy, I.Petiy, and M.Verbitsky.


  1. S.Litvin. New TRIZ-Based Tool - Function-Oriented Search. ETRIA Conference TRIZ Future 2004. November 2-5, 2004, Florence, Italy. [back]
  2. S.Litvin. TRIZ Readings - Altshuller's Tradition Continues. ETRIA Conference TRIZ Future 2005. November 16-18, 2005, Graz, Austria. [back]
  3. G.Altshuller. Prospects for TRIZ Development. Journal of TRIZ, No 1.2, 1990. [back]
  4. J.Sims, S.Kogan. Bringing Innovation to the Innovation Process. Industry Week, USA, September 7, 2005. [back]

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