Tech Innovations for Tough Times

Dear {subscriber_first_name}

I thought you might find this article from Business Week interesting as it talks about how GE and other companies are using alternative techniques such as TRIZ to make R&D more efficient (excerpt from Business Week, Dec 2008)

For General Electric, innovation isn’t just about developing better technologies; it’s also about not wasting cash on the wrong ones. That focus on saving money is even more important now that the economy has gone into a tailspin, dragging down GE’s earnings and share price. The company’s researchers have a surprising tool that could help: a method pioneered back in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

It’s called TRIZ, a Russian acronym for the phrase “the theory of solving inventor’s problems.” The core ideas were dreamed up by engineer and science fiction writer Genrich Altshuller, whose critique of the Soviet Union’s record on invention in the late 1940s landed him in the gulag. There, he learned from imprisoned scientists and, when he was released, put together a step-by-step innovation method for people who aren’t born with the gifts of Edison or Einstein. Since then, his theory has evolved into an elaborate system for analyzing problems and generating solutions. In contrast to brainstorming, TRIZ uses deep analysis of possibilities based on science and math algorithms.

These days, TRIZ is coming on strong at corporations hungry for new ways to improve innovation and productivity beyond what they’ve already achieved with the widely adopted Six Sigma and Lean techniques. In addition to GE, TRIZ fans include Intel, Samsung, and Procter & Gamble, as well as smaller companies like FuelCell Energy, a Danbury (Conn.) leader in power-generation fuel cells. The company employed TRIZ to evaluate the expensive flanges it uses to join pipes in its generators. After weighing the component costs, effectiveness, and complexity of assembly, FuelCell switched to a new clamping technique that will slash costs by 50%.

GE similarly uses TRIZ at the front end of the innovation process. Small project teams bring problems with them to TRIZ training sessions and use the method to evaluate them, come up with potential solutions, do risk analysis of the alternatives, and then devise conceptual designs that can be tested. By subjecting their ideas to this kind of rigorous review up front, GE scientists hope to avoid costly mistakes down the line. “Conceptual design is a vital step,” says Michael Idelchik, vice-president for advanced technology at GE Global Research. “If you start with an elephant, no matter how you optimize it later, you’ll never have a giraffe.”

So far, 382 GE employees in 70 teams have completed the training. Supervisors have green-lighted 90% of their conceptual designs, and product development is now under way. Not bad for an obscure theory born in Stalinist times.

Want to find out more about what TRIZ could do for your organisation’s ability to innovate effectively? Come along to our one day Introduction to TRIZ training course, in Cambridge on the 30th September.

Book into this course to learn how you can radically boost your innovation capabilities. Click here for more details of the Introduction to TRIZ training course. Contact us to reserve your place.

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