Structured Innovation: TRIZ and Patterns of Evolution

Forecasting technological development with inventive principles.

Sean was excited to go to the next MEC meeting. While he had been pleased with the last meeting and the flowchart they had created, ed he could not keep his excitement to himself.

His mother had been suffering from problems of the digestive system and had needed an endoscopy that she dreaded.  He was worried that apart from initial investigation there might be a need for performing a biopsy or perhaps treatment such as clipping off a polyp.    As she was getting along in age, no rx he found it especially painful to watch her go through the procedure and wished there was a better, discount less intrusive way. With all of the new technology and miniaturization, “Couldn’t this new technology be applied to her condition?” he had asked the doctor.

He was thrilled because the doctor’s response mentioned the development of something along those lines – a ‘Robotic Pill’.  It was a sophisticated gadget that would be swallowed, then take images or deliver drugs for chronic conditions such as diabetes.  He was hoping that this might become available soon enough to be used by his mother.  At the same time he was disappointed the robotic pill was still in pre-clinical trials.

This, he said, got him thinking about whether TRIZ did or could have played a role in its development.  After all it did solve the problem of safe drug delivery at the right location in the right amount at the time required.  Not having an answer himself, he had contacted their consultant Henrietta.  This call prompted the discussion for the next MEC meeting: Technology Forecasting and a brief explanation of Patterns of Evolution.

And since Henrietta would be unable to come to their MEC meetings for at least a couple of months, he was only too happy to share this ‘Patterns of Evolution’ brief he got from her.

And so the session began . . . “Remember Altshuller?” she said, “Well, he also studied the way technical systems were developed and improved over time.  From this, he discovered several trends, called Laws of Technical Systems Evolution (or Patterns of Evolution).”  She then shared that there are eight patterns of evolution, however Henrietta had not elaborated on them as there was not enough time, but instead guided him in understanding the evolutionary patterns.

Henrietta had gone on to explain, “The first of the evolutionary patterns is evolution toward increased ideality, which states that every system generates both useful and harmful effects.  The goal for any system is to maximize the ratio of useful to harmful effects and approach ideality.”

“So”, she continued, “going back to the case of examining the internal parts of a body and then treating them.  There was a time before these advancements that doctors had to physically cut into a body to take a sample from inside an intestine to examine it.  This gave way to the use of needles by which a physician pierced the body to suck out a small piece which could then be sent to a lab for examination.  Smaller incision, reduced pain . . . reduced harm, thus increasing ideality.  Next came the rigid endoscope, which allowed physicians to look inside without making an incision of any kind.  It was still uncomfortable and needed anesthesia; however, it removed the need for an incision but was not very maneuverable by doctors.  This gave way to the flexible endoscope which allowed for an improved quality of viewing, and better maneuverability with lesser discomfort.  And now we have the new development where one essentially swallows the endoscope thereby eliminating the need to have the camera connect to a tube for insertion, this reduces the pain (harm) and possibly increases the benefit (quality of the image).

“What we are seeing here is a pattern of evolution,” she elaborated. “When we made incisions we looked at solid objects.  As we moved to using endoscopes we substituted the solid object with optical images.  We moved from solid endoscope to flexible endoscope.  Surely we are seeing Increased Benefits and Reduced Harm.  This Evolution Toward Increased Ideality can be seen through repeated use of the principles we have learned and used already.”  She then turned to the group and asked what they saw as the applicable principles.  Members provided the following answers respectively:

Inventive Principle #1: Segmentation, dividing an object into independent parts.  That is what we did as we moved from rigid endoscope to flexible endoscope; we made it into smaller rigid pieces joined together to give it flexibility.

Inventive Principle #15: Dynamics, increase the degree of free motion, essentially adding more flexibility. By developing a swallow-able camera we have increased the dynamisms, adding more flexibility and giving us the capability for better maneuverability.

Inventive Principle #26: Copying and replacing an object with optical copies.  Instead of making incisions and taking real samples to send to a lab, endoscopy allows us to examine images.

“Continuing with this thought process, “Sean said, “it would be terrific if this could evolve to something akin to MRI, where we do not have to even swallow a camera pill.”

To this Belinda added, “So that would be Inventive Principle #28: Mechanics Substitution, whereby we use electric, magnetic or electromagnetic fields to interact with the object.  This means moving from mechanical means to energy.”

This was all very interesting: improved quality, reduced harm, faster results, etc.  It was an insight that all in attendance recognized at the same time.  Isn’t it a benefit for an organization to use Patterns of Evolution for Technology Forecasting to get a leg up on competition, regarding new product design?

Wrapping up the session, Belinda said she remembered how her father had suffered when he needed an endoscopy many years ago.  She summed up the example of Evolving towards Increased Ideality by repeating the patterns of segmentation, increasing flexibility and then moving from mechanical to energy fields.  They had never thought about these developments in this way!  She adjourned the session by thanking Sean for sharing his personal story and learning a new tool from it.  She also challenged the group that they should observe other developments around them and see which TRIZ Inventive principles might apply.

Do you have any ideas/stories of evolutions of technology you’d lie to share?

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