An Overplayed Strength?

Dear {subscriber_first_name}

Have you ever heard the expression “an overplayed strength”? This term is often applied to someone who develops some aspect of their personality at the expense of another; for example, someone might be very creative but also incredibly disorganised. Well, surprisingly perhaps, the same thinking can be applied to technological systems as this story from the field of oil transportation illustrates:

At the time of the second world war, the largest oil tanker was around 150 metres (500 feet) long with a displacement of 6000 tonnes. After the war there was a clear economic reason to increase the capacity of the tanker – the larger the vessel, the less space, relatively, has to be dedicated to crew, engines and fuel. In other words the larger the vessel, the lower the cost to transport the cargo of crude oil. As you can imagine, there was a very strong motivation to increase the size of crude oil tankers and indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s oil tankers became progressively larger and larger. By the 1980s, a new class of tanker known as the U.L.C.C. (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) emerged which had an overall length of over 400 metres (1300 feet) and a capacity of over 500,000 tonnes.

An outstanding example of a U.L.C.C. was the KNOCK NEVIS which is still the largest ship ever built. She was 485 meters long (1503 feet). She has a cargo capacity of 564,763 tons, and she could carry about 650,000 m³ (4.1 million barrels) of crude oil in a single shipment. KNOCK NEVIS was so huge that when fully laden she could not pass through the Suez canal, the Panama canal or even the English channel! Fully laden, she sat 25 meters deep in the sea, a depth great enough to stop her from accessing most of the world’s major ports. The holds could swallow St Pauls Cathedral four times over. She took 5.5 miles to stop and she had a rather inconvenient turning circle of over 2 miles. Unsurprisingly, after a number of years of service she was finally converted into a permanently moored storage tanker. In 2009, she was sold to an Indian breaker company and was subsequently beached and scrapped.

A sad end to a giant vessel perhaps, but this story highlights something which can happen to any technological system as we seek to maximise an important parameter (in the case of KNOCK NEVIS, capacity). As the system develops to maximise one key parameter, other parts of the system functionality will inevitably lag behind. In TRIZ this type of mis-match is called a system conflict and TRIZ thinking enables us to identify and rapidly overcome system conflicts before they cause our products to join the KNOCK NEVIS on the scrap heap.

If you want to find out more about TRIZ, click on the following link

Introduction to TRIZ inventive problem solving

In fact, while I’m on the subject, we do happen to have a couple of places still available on our one day Introduction to TRIZ training course in Cambridge on 30th September. Why not come along and find out what TRIZ could do for your ability to solve difficult problems?

Drop me an e-mail if you’re interested