The TRIZ methodology has an arsenal of innovation and creativity tools you can use, and we recently used one with a client of mine that I wanted to share.
The F35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most advanced fighter aircraft that we have. The Air Force recently put out a proposal to replace some of the non-structural components, brackets, and ducting with a new technology called Selective Laser Centering.
Selective Laser Centering is a relatively new technology where you take a 3D CAD drawing and you build a part out of powdered plastic using a laser directly from the drawing without any tooling. The way it works is the software takes the CAD drawing and basically breaks that part into thousands of vertical cross-sections, and then the laser will sinter the powder one layer at a time, using about four thousandths of an inch. It builds the part up vertically one layer at a time until the part’s complete, again without using any tooling.
The end result is you end up with fully functional, three-dimensional parts, again without the cost of any tooling, which is ideal for low volume manufacturing.
For the F35 brackets and ducting assemblies we were talking about earlier, they have to withstand 270 degrees Fahrenheit based on Air Force requirements.
To test the capabilities of these sintered materials at the elevated temperatures, we need to build tensile specimens. These typical ASTM “dogbones” are what they’re called. We needed to test them and see how strong they were at 270 Fahrenheit.
The standard machine you use to pull these samples is called an Instron machine. We didn’t have one of these machines, nor did we have a way to actually test them at the elevated temperature.
So obviously we had a challenge on our hands. We didn’t have any of the equipment to do these tests. In TRIZ there is a tool called the Ideal Final Result, which is the sum of all the good divided by the sum of all the bad, with ideally, the goal being infinity.
To put that in simpler terms, one of the ways I do it in my workshops is we brainstorm around how would we accomplish this project or this task if we had zero budget?
So we brainstormed around all the things that need to happen assuming we had zero budget. We came up with a lot of different ideas, and one of them took us towards Brigham Young University.
We knew from one of the students that was working with us that they had an Instron testing machine there. So we simply asked if we could use the machine for free, and they said, “Sure, why not.”
Wow, there you have it. We found a way to test these things for free, but we still had the problem of how to do it at elevated temperature. Now, Instron actually sells a chamber environmental conditioning chamber, but they cost thousands of dollars, and we didn’t have the money for it, plus we were trying to figure out how we could do it at zero budget.
So then we brainstormed as many ways as we could think of around how can we do this elevated temperature testing at no cost.
Then I thought, I have this old oven at home, my wife wants me to replace it anyway, and I know the oven will go up to, like, 475 degrees, so what if I just took the oven out, cut it in half, and wrapped it around the machine.
The oven idea probably would’ve worked, but then we kept thinking about other options. I thought about my photography lights, the ones that I use to shoot pictures and videos.
I know they get hot, but I’ve never actually tested them. I don’t know how hot they actually get. So we had the idea of why don’t we set up a little quick test and see how hot we can get a sample of something with these stage lights, or these video lights.
This kind of got us on a roll. How could we actually measure the temperature of the sample? Well I happened to have this laser thermometer; it’s a little infrared gun that tells you the temperature of something by pointing the laser at it.
You’re probably thinking, why do I have one of those? We use it as a back-up in my hot air balloons to know the air temperature in the balloon. Also if you ever deep-fry a turkey, you don’t ever want to put a thermometer in there in that boiling grease because it’s so hot.
I also know that this thing will read up to two or three thousand degrees, because I checked it with my fireplace.
So, fortunately my wife was downstairs working and she couldn’t see what I was doing up in my office. I made this little set-up with an aluminum rod, a wooden block, and the photography lights. Then I moved the light closer and closer to the piece of wood and measured it with the laser thermometer to see how hot I could actually get it.
Most people would never guess you could get a piece of wood to 270 Fahrenheit by just using a light. I didn’t think it was possible either. But from three inches away, I actually got the block of wood to 650 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to pull the light away right before it caught on fire.
Wow, this set-up that we came up with; these stage lights to heat these samples, looked like it was actually going to work without any additional cost.
So off to BYU with my stage lights and laser thermometer. I met up with my friend and a student there at BYU, Mike Sherwood. We set it up on the Instron machine, moved the light back and forth, and used the laser thermometer to get it set to exactly 270 degrees. We were able to test these specimens again, without having to buy any additional equipment, and did it on zero budget.
This is a great innovation creativity tool to use in your business as well. Brainstorm around how you could accomplish a project at no cost. Now, in reality, you may come back and actually have to have some cost, but start with the Ideal Final Result; to do the entire project with no cost and see how many unique and creative solutions you can actually come up with.