For Life Science Companies

Better Innovation for Product Development and Process Improvement
by Ellen Domb, Founding Editor of The TRIZ Journal and principal TRIZ consultant for the PQR Group, and Joe A. Miller, Biomedical Engineer and TRIZ consultant

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TRIZ is a problem-solving method based on logic and data, not intuition, which accelerates, broadens, and deepens a project team's ability to creatively solve difficult, pertinent problems. TRIZ provides repeatability, predictability, and reliability due to its structure and algorithmic approach. "TRIZ" is the (Russian) acronym for the "Theory of Inventive Problem Solving." G.S. Altshuller and his colleagues in the former U.S.S.R. developed the basic method between 1946 and 1985, and it has been greatly enhanced by international researchers from 1985 to now. TRIZ is a system of creativity methods that relies on the study of the patterns of problems and solutions—if your end user customer has the problem, we call the solution process "new product/service development" and if you the solution provider have the problem, we call it "process improvement." The same TRIZ process works in both domains. More than three million patents and publications have been analyzed to discover the patterns that predict breakthrough solutions to problems.

TRIZ provides repeatability, predictability, and reliability due to its structure and algorithmic approach.

TRIZ is spreading into corporate use across several parallel paths — it is increasingly common as a key tool set in Six Sigma processes, in project management and risk management systems, and in organizational innovation initiatives.

Three major concepts have emerged from the research and practice of TRIZ:

  1. Problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences. The classification of the contradictions in each problem predicts the creative solutions to that problem. Contradictions such as "I need to increase the time between maintenance events but I can't increase the complexity of the system" occur in medical products, automation systems, and in nature—and all the solutions in all areas can be re-used in other areas.

  2. Technical systems evolve much the way natural systems do: the innovations that solve significant problems become the new standard systems. These patterns of technical evolution are well-defined and are repeated across industries and sciences. For example, rigid systems become flexible, large systems become networks of smaller systems; single point solutions develop options and control systems to regulate the options, etc. TRIZ helps you use your knowledge of the current state of your industry and the patterns to decide what technologies to develop next.

  3. Creative innovations in every field use scientific/technical concepts originally developed outside the subject field where they are successfully utilized. Apply biological solutions to chemistry or computational problems, banking industry solutions to healthcare data security problems, optical solutions to electrical problems or mechanical engineering problems, etc.

Much of the practice of TRIZ consists of learning these repeating patterns of problems-solutions, patterns of technical evolution and methods of using scientific effects and then applying the general TRIZ patterns to the specific situation that confronts the developer. Exhibit 1 describes this process graphically.

TRIZ, Trade-Offs and Contradictions

Traditional product engineering was viewed as a process of compromise, such as finding "trade-offs" for the values of technical parameters and even finding supposed breakeven points for Cost vs. Quality. Today's product environment and the rigorous management control mandated by the various regulatory processes leave little room for this approach to product, process design and development. TRIZ offers structured methods to expose the contradictory situations which led to those compromises in the past. Further, once those contradictions have been identified, the general solution patterns already researched and documented with extensive examples are readily available to the developer. Innovation is then the effective application of existing solutions to the new requirements.

Contradictory situations abound in the development and provision of medical devices and the processes that support them:

Patients awaiting heart transplants could not be made truly ambulatory because the products providing their required support were too large, too heavy, consumed too much power, were too unreliable or demanded frequent adjustment or manipulation by skilled personnel. The challenge and the contradiction: make the support system small, light and portable without sacrificing reliability, durability or ease of operation.

Historically, dialysis patients could not be made ambulatory because of the volume of extracorporeal blood cleansing fluids required to achieve effective hemodialysis.

Continuous low volume delivery of many medications could not be achieved without invasive techniques that might affect the well being of the patient.

For diabetics, systems to improve the patient's stability by dynamically delivering insulin as it is required cannot be automated because of a lack of the ability to assess the effectiveness of the treatment fast enough. This might appear to be a contradiction but is a different class of TRIZ problem, the "how to" problem, which challenges us to find solutions already developed in other fields of science and technology.

Both medical devices and the infrastructures that produce, provide and support them are increasingly based on computerized systems. Medical device production processes have their own contradictions; desired levels of assurance and control of variation may be difficult to improve or even maintain when

  • Efforts to increase production quantities are stalled because expensive process equipment is rate limited, sometimes by a particular technology or material. The traditional response was to simply duplicate process equipment, rather than overcoming the reasons for the rate limitation.

  • The need for improved verification and validation methods when implementing new methods, materials and procedures may cause device and process complexity to increase.

  • There is constant environmental and ecological pressure on existing inconsistent, inefficient or unnecessary process elements. Improving energy and material consumption without reducing process yields may be difficult.

These are all examples of contradictions, sometimes nested several layers deep, that can be addressed with the tools and techniques of TRIZ. The general solution principles which have been derived from the world patent databases are readily available. These principles and the example databases that expand them provide powerful starting points for the conceptualization and development of specific solutions for all of these examples and the many more problems in contemporary medical product and system design.

Ellen Domb Ph.D., is the founding editor of The TRIZ Journal and the principal TRIZ consultant for the PQR Group in Upland CA USA. TRIZ is Dr. Domb's 6th career: she has been a physics professor, an aerospace engineer, an engineering manager, a product line general manager, and a strategic planning/quality improvement consultant, with many clients in the medical device, medical/consumer products, and pharmaceutical industries. Contact:

Joe A. Miller M.S., is a biomedical engineer and a TRIZ consultant and practitioner with the PQR Group. He has a diverse background in the design, development, production and management of medical devices and drug products. His career has included major responsibilities in managing large scale projects, implementing company-wide quality improvement systems, and the introduction and implementation of QFD and TRIZ. He is retired from Baxter International. Contact:

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