Archive for August, 2008

Using Creative Thinking for Inventions & Problem Solving

August 26, 2008 by Scott P

I just finished the book “Da Vinci and the 40 Answers” by Mark Fox which is not about Leonardo Da Vinci but is about creative thinking in the process of invention and problem solving.  I found the book quite interesting and entertaining and would love to read a novel by Mark Fox.  I have also found that it changed the way I think about a lot of things.  Many times since reading this book I have caught myself referring to some principle that was explored in the text.  It seems that some of those ideas have already embedded themselves into my subconscious and rise to the surface as I approach a decision.

The “40 Answers” refers to the 40 principles of TRIZ which is a Russian acronym that translates to “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”.  Genrich Altshuller was a Russian engineer and creator of TRIZ.  One of his first jobs was working in a patent office inspecting invention proposals.  Here he became interested in the process of creativity.  He wanted to know how inventors came up with the ideas for their inventions.  In studying hundreds of thousands of patents, he discovered that there are only 1500 basic problems, or contradictions, that can be solved by applying one or more of 40 standard answers.

A simple way of looking at the TRIZ answers is to consider them as lenses.  To clarify this concept, suppose you have a problem; something is too small to see.  You have several lenses that you could choose from.  You could use your prescription bifocal lens, your magnifying glass lens, or if necessary, your microscope lens.  If you are trying to read the directions on a medicine bottle, your glasses may suffice, or maybe you need a magnifying glass.  A microscope would not be an appropriate lens.  However, if you were trying to see the tiny ear mites from your cats’ ear you would probably need the microscope lens.

My favorite example is from the swashbuckling days when bootleggers used to carry large blocks of salt onboard.  When they sighted the authorities they would tie these blocks of salt to the barrels of alcohol and throw them overboard.  The barrels would then sink due to the density of the salt.  When the ship was searched no contraband would be found, but as the salt dissolved the barrels would float back to the top for retrieval.  Adding the salt is using the “intermediary” lens or answer which is a temporary addition to the process whose sole purpose is to improve the final product but not necessarily become part of the final product.

A detailed explanation of each of the 40 answers can be found in the book or at http://www.triz40.com/aff_Principles.htm.

We also have a White Paper that talks more about Solving Problems through Creative Thinking.  It’s free so sign up & download it today!

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Status Quo or Innovative Technologies

August 13, 2008 by Kara

Following the status quo has never pushed people to greatness.  Imagine if things always stayed the same, there would be no iPhones or iPods, no cell phones or pda’s, no electric vehicles or vehicles period.  There is a quote by Marechal Ferdinand Foch a Professor of Strategy that embraces following the status quo and not integrating the innovative technologies in our lives.  He said “airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”  When I read this statement I think of how the world has changed because of the use of airplanes in the military.  World War I was where they were first used by the military and nations realized they could influence the outcome of a war by using them, World War II followed up using airplanes to drop the atomic bombs that devastated a nation.  Today we wouldn’t think about going to war without the air force and our airplanes.

If you look at the innovations made in the computer industry, I remember using the 3 1/2″ floppy disks that only held 1.2 MB; I thought they were so great because they had the hard case over them unlike the 5 1/4″ floppies.  Then came the Zip Drives followed by recordable CD’s.  Today we can store 32 GB of information on a flash drive that is as small as 2″. 

At Setpoint we focus on eliminating the TWIT mentality which means it “Takes What It Takes” because it takes the focus off of being innovative and lets you get away with just going with the flow and following the status quo.  Check out our video on YouTube where Clark talks about it.

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Keeping up with Technology

August 7, 2008 by Bob

Keeping up to date with new technology is the key to any company’s survival.  Even with a niche product or technology, eventually something is going to come along and take that niche away, leaving you behind.

A prime example of this is my former employer.  We had a patented technology we integrated into a product that was way ahead of our competition.  This niche technology took this company from a $300 million dollar company to a multi-billion dollar company in a very short time.

In the fury of trying to keep up with demand for this product, my former employer failed to see or ignored the signs the market was sending.  There was a new technology on the horizon that had the potential to make our product obsolete.  We did develop some new products to complement our new found cash cow, but they were based on the same technology, which was not in the same direction the market was going.

In about the same time it took for us to rise to the top, this new technology we ignored came from behind and took the market from us.  In hindsight everyone could see the writing on the wall, but nobody did anything until it was too late.  Consequently, my former employer is no longer in business.

At Setpoint we are constantly looking for better, faster, and cheaper ways to get things done.  This helps us keep ahead of our competition while improving quality and reliability for our customers.  Setpoint has gained expertise in many technologies that were necessary to complete projects that at first glance seemed impossible.  We are continually evolving, learning new things, and keeping one step ahead of the market – which allows us to find solutions for our customers’ unique requirements.

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Great Ideas Made Better

August 6, 2008 by Brad

At Setpoint, we see a lot of remarkable product ideas come across our table.  These products range anywhere from lip balm to aerial vehicle decoy flares, snowboards to bullet shell casings.  Developing, testing, and building a lean process to mass produce these products is our bread and butter here at Setpoint. During our years of working with brilliant and sophisticated customers we have found a common problem that undermines many of their great product ideas. Though these products have great potential and even in some cases, strong appeal to my personal wants (snowboards), they suffer from a common disease – NDFM.  They are Not Designed for Manufacturability.

Designing for manufacturability (DFM) is the process of proactively designing products for optimization during fabrication, assembly, purchasing and testing.  Other factors include making sure the product meets third party regulations and shipping constraints.  For my purposes here I want to focus on the levels of fabrication and assembly. 

The process of designing for manufacturability should happen before the product idea is used as a foundation for building a product empire.  If there’s a critical crack in the foundation, the whole structure will either eventually come down for repair or cost an exponential amount of money to keep stable.  If it doesn’t come down, it will be because there’s a staggering array of expensive bandages to hold it together.  The latter conclusion only works until the next competitor comes along and has figured out a less costly approach.

The “Rule of 10”

In general, the “Rule of 10” states that for every phase through which a design advances, the cost for resolving issues increases by a factor of 10.  Ideally, if the issue can be caught while the part is still going through initial design iterations the cost of resolution is minimized or eliminated. 

Level where issue is found:       The cost to resolve the issue:
If found during design phase             minimal to none
If found during Prototype                   $X (the cost of the part itself)
If found during initial assembly          $10X
If found during mass production        $100X
If found during distribution                 $1000X
If found by the End User                    $10000X

By the time our customers are ready to automate they have normally advanced through the stages of design, prototyping, and initial assembly.  They are now looking for solutions to automate the assembly of their products that often have inherent issues that may become visible only when scrutinized under the light of automated assembly.  

Does designing for manufacturability mean changing the entire product?

Not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean it will be inexpensive to resolve.  It might mean changing the thickness of the sheet metal to a common gage, or making two asymmetrical parts symmetrical, moving a hole away from an edge, or changing a soldered joint to a fastened joint, adding a series of tapers to a part so it can be injection molded instead of cut by an EDM machine, doing a basic tolerance study, or just changing a blind hole to a through hole. These changes may be minor at the part level, but when the change is propagated through adjoining components and the dominoes start to fall it may cost $100X the price of the part, or more. 

MUDA

Muda is a Japanese term popularized from the Toyota Production System that generally denotes a process that is required but is unproductive, wasteful and does not add value.  One example might be automating a drilling process where lubricant is required.  Not only is it extremely messy and requires constant maintenance, but it implies pumps, reservoirs, a filtering system, waste disposal plans – all of which add enormous cost just to drill a hole.  On the other hand if a different approach can be adopted and the hole is preformed or cut by a procedure that doesn’t require lubricant, this automation process just became much more cost effective and maintenance friendly – Lean, you might say.

Why does Setpoint care as long as we get the job?

Our bottom line depends on how satisfied our customers are with the end product we develop.  We want to help our customers ask the right questions during the early phases of design to help them develop a product that is automation friendly and designed for manufacturability. No muda. This allows us to deliver a solution that is robust, cost effective, and lean in every aspect. 

The days of “throwing a design over the manufacturing wall” and waiting to see how they build it have come to an end.  Lean automation may be expensive, but inefficient automation based on a half developed product is out of budget.  

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