"… all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End."
Jonathan Swift. "Gulliver's Travels"
The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) developed by a talented engineer, inventor and contriver G.S.Altshuller is widely known and at present is undoubtedly one of the most efficient tools for solving engineering problems. There are a lot of publications in Russian and English that disclose the core of the theory and are full enough for initial acquaintance. The best Russian-language resource is the site of the Minsk OTSM-TRIZ Center (http://www.trizminsk.org), and the best English-language resource is the American TRIZ Journal (http://www.triz-journal.com). Having studied TRIZ through books and articles, one can easily teach it to other people, because the available material is so rich and absorbing, that it will always excite curiosity!
However for in-depth understanding of TRIZ, one should thoroughly conceptualize the proposed materials, and first of all it concerns the concepts and terms of TRIZ. Because many things in TRIZ are presented not as information to be memorized, but as material for thought.
During my work for SAMSUNG in the capacity of TRIZ-consultant I had to seriously revise all my knowledge of TRIZ. When solving technical problems, by-passing patents of competing companies or forecasting technical system evolution, it is very important to understand what really stands behind each TRIZ term so that all of the TRIZ tools can be used with maximum efficiency.
One of the key TRIZ concepts and one of the most important elements of absolutely all TRIZ tools is the concept “Technical System”. Classical TRIZ introduces this term without any special definition considering it as a derivative from the concept “System”. But on closer examination this concept proved to need further specification, and the semantic aspect confirms this statement. The name of the concept “Technical System” may be translated from Russian into English in two ways: “Technical System” and Engineering System". By using any search engine, you can see for yourself that TRIZ specialists consider these terms as practically equivalent. Or, for instance, Victor Fey's Glossary (http://www.triz-journal.com/archives/2001/03/a/index.htm), It does not offer any explanation to either of the concepts.
This article is my effort to describe how I understand the term “Technical System”. This understanding did not come to me overnight. It appeared after I had had to learn what a full minimally serviceable technical system consists of.
Trying to analyze the concept “Technical System”
To start with, let us see what a system is in general.
There exist many different definitions for a system. The most impressive, abstract and thereby the most exhaustive, but inapplicable to practical purposes was given by V.Geinz : “System is what we define as a system”. In practice, they often use the definition of a system given by A.Bogdanov : “System is a multitude of interconnected elements that possesses a common (systemic) property which is not reduced to the properties of these elements”.
And what is the “Technical System”?
Unfortunately, G.Altshuller does not give a definition of the “Technical System”. It becomes clear from the context that he means some system pertaining to technology and technical objects. The three laws formulated by G.Altshuller give an indirect definition of Technical System (TS), or it is better to say, by three conditions to be satisfied for a technical system to exist :
1. The law of completeness of system's parts.
2. The law of “energy conductance” of a system.
3. The law of coordination of system parts' rhythmic.
According to the law of completeness of system's parts every TS includes at least four parts: an engine, a transmission, a working component and a control system.
|The minimal structure of a serviceable Technical System according to G. Altshuller.|
It is important to understand that TS is designed to perform some function. Perhaps, this implies that minimally serviceable TS can perform this function at any moment without requiring any additional components.
Approaches to defining the Technical System are given in the book “Search for New Ideas”  which contains the definition of the “Evolving Technical System”. This problem is also dwelt on by V.Korolev in his interesting research [6,7]. N.Matvienko devotes some critical remarks to this topic in her materials, too . The definition of the concept “Technical System” as such in the context of TRIZ is given in the book by Yu.Salamatov :
“Technical System is a set of orderly interacting elements which possesses properties that are not reduced to the properties of the separate constituting elements and which is designed for performing certain useful functions”.
Suppose a man has a need of something. To satisfy this need, it is necessary to perform some function. This means that it is necessary to organize a system capable of performing this function – Technical System – and to satisfy the need.
But there is something that confounds us in this definition of the Technical System, isn't there? The confusing word “designed for”. Perhaps, what really counts in this situation is not somebody's desires, but an objective possibility to perform a needed function.
For instance, what is a metal cylinder with an axial hole of variable diameter and threading at one of its ends designed for?
It is practically impossible to answer this question. Discussion immediately switches off to solving the problem “where could this thing be used?”
With this definition, could we say: this is not a Technical System yet and starting from this moment this is a Technical System. It is written: "… TS appears as soon as a technical object acquires ability to perform the Main Useful Function without participation of man". Then it is written that one of the trends of TS evolution is the removal of a man from its composition. This means that at a certain stage of TS evolution a man is part of TS. Or no? A vague idea…
We will hardly make head or tail of this problem if we do no find an answer to the following question: is a man part of the Technical System or not?
I polled many of my acquaintances – TRIZ specialists – and got quite a wide spectrum of responses: from a definite “No” substantiated by references to heavyweights to a diffident “Yes, probably”. The most original answer was: when a car moves rectilinearly at a uniform speed, a man is not part of this technical system, but as soon as the car starts turning, the man immediately becomes its necessary and useful part.
What do our authors say? Salamatov [9, Chapter 4.3.] gives an example, which shows that a man with a hoe is not TS. The more so because the hoe is not TS. Whereas a bow is TS.
But what is the difference between a hoe and a bow? A bow has accumulators of energy – a bowstring and a flexible rod. In a good hoe, the handle bends slightly in a swing and increases the hit strength while moving down. The bend is very insignificant, but it is the principle that counts. The work with a bow involves two movements: first it is braced and then released. The same is with a hoe. Isn't it a gross injustice!
Let us consider this situation.
Is a pointed wooden stick TS? It does not look like. And what about a fountain pen? Perhaps, it is. Rather complex TS. Well, and what about a printer? Undoubtedly it is.
A pencil? Who knows … Betwixt and between. Could we call it a “Simple Technical System”? And what about a lead or silver stick for writing? It's a problem… It is not a wooden chip – it is made of precious metal! But it is too far from a pen.
Do a modern capillary pen, a pencil, a pointed stick and a writing unit of a printer have anything in common? The useful function they could perform in principle is “to leave a trace on a surface”. What a mixed company – a pencil, a stick, a leaden or silver style, a felt-tip pen, a printer, and a hard press for offset lithography! But the series is logical…
To tell the truth, a new problem arises here!
If all of these objects may perform one and the same function, then all of them are Technical Systems. And they should not be broken down into complex and primitive. If objects perform the same functions, not only their designation is equal but also the level of hierarchy should be equal.
Or suppose none of them is TS. Isn't it funny to consider a pointed stick as TS? But where is its engine or transmission? Then a printer is not TS either.
Let us approach this situation formally.
Any Technical System must perform some useful function. Can a pointed stick perform its function? No. And what about a printer?
Let us carry out an experiment and put a pen on a table. Or, to make it simpler, on a sheet of paper. Then let us wait until it starts performing its function. But it would not. And it will not do it until a man, an operator, takes it in his hand and applies it to the sheet of paper.
As to the printer, it will not start printing until a user gives a command to a computer and the computer in its turn re-addresses this command to the printer. So without pressing a button, giving a voice command or, in future, a mental command no action will take place.
Thus, a pen, a hoe, a printer and a bicycle are not TS. Or, to be more precise, they are incomplete TS. They are just “systems of technical objects” that are unable to operate, i.e. to perform their functions, without a man-operator. Of course, in principle they can, but in reality. Just like four wheels, a body and a hood cannot bring anything anywhere… Even a fully equipped new car, with a filled petrol tank and keys in the ignition lock is not a Technical System, but just a “system of technical objects”. But as soon as an operator, or, to speak plainly, a driver takes his seat in the car and touches the steering wheel, the car changes to a Technical System. Other technical objects and systems become complete TS and function only in conjunction with a man-operator.
The operator may be inside a “system of technical objects”. He may stand close to it or at a certain remove. It is even possible to program a Technical System, switch it on and go away. In any event, the operator must take part in TS control.
We should not oppose a spaceship with a hoe. Both the first one and the second one is a bigger or a smaller part of some TS, which requires one or more operators in order to perform its main useful function. Think about the law of completeness of system's parts, formulated by G.Altshuller. TS occurs when all of its four parts are available (Fig. 1), each of them being minimally serviceable. If at least one part is absent, the system is not TS. Just like in case when one of the four parts is not serviceable. It turns out that the Technical System is what must be absolutely ready to immediately perform its main useful function without requiring any additional components. As a ship ready for a cruise: everything is filled and charged, and the crewmembers are in position.
And without a man the control system is not serviceable in principle, because it lacks some of its components. The requirements of the law of completeness of system's parts are not fulfilled. Unfulfilled is also the law of through passing of energy. A signal is applied to the control system and – stop! No back flux of energy!
And how should we treat the “Technical Systems” that successfully perform their useful functions but have no technical objects at all? For instance, an electrician who replaces a light bulb.
It looks as though there is a special level of hierarchy at which a set of objects, elements turns to a Technical System itself. This is the level of a car with a driver, a video camera with an operator, a pen with a writer, an automated production complex with operators who start and maintain it, etc. This is the level, at which a system forms: a set of natural and technical objects, a man-operator and his actions that fulfils some function useful for a man.
It is interesting to see how the hierarchy of biological objects and systems is built. Molecules, cells, elements, and parts of organisms are the level of subsystems. The “Subsystem” is a separate part of an organism, for instance, an elephant's skeleton, a sting of a gnat, or a feather of a bird. The sum of such subsystems, even a full set of them or an organism assembled of them will not be able to perform a useful function. It is necessary to add something else to this “set”, to spark it in order to obtain a living, functioning organism.
Living organisms may be united into a supersystem. The “Supersystem” is a more or less organized set of animals or plants, for instance a bee family. But no abrupt qualitative jump is observed here.
By analogy with biological systems we can treat the concept “Technical System” as a special level of hierarchy at which a system gets a possibility to act independently, i.e. it reaches the level of a living organism.
In other words, the “Technical System” in technology is on the same level as a living organism in nature. In a patent application, this is referred to as “machine in operation”. That is, “a system of technical objects” plus a man-operator. For instance, a carburetor is not TS, but just a system, a set of technical objects. Whereas a man (operator) who is using a carburetor to crack nuts is TS, that performs a useful function of removing walnut-shell. The same with a man using a hoe – they are TS. But a tractor and a plough are not, which looks paradoxical.
What is “man” in the context of the Technical System? What is strong meat in this situation?
It is psychologically difficult to place a man and a shoe brake on the same level.
A man as an element of technosphere apparently has a lot to do with any TS and may play the following roles:
In a supersystem:
3. Manufacturer of technical objects of a system.
4. Person providing maintenance, repair and utilization of technical objects of a system.
In a system:
1. Operator, the main element of control system
2. Source of energy
5. Working component.
6. Object being treated
In the environment
1. Element of the environment
The user is apparently the central figure. He covers the expenses connected with the creation of TS encouraging developers and manufactures to attempt a task. He pays the work of an operator, as well as maintenance, repair and utilization of technical objects of a system.
The second group of people ensures functioning of TS, experiences its action on themselves.
The third group indirectly aids or hampers this process or just observes it and is exposed to the action of side effects that occur as a result of TS functioning.
A man can perform several roles at the same time. For instance, a driver of a personal car or a man using an inhalator. Or, for instance, a cyclist. He is an element of almost all systems of a bicycle, except the working component (seat) and transmission (wheels and frame).
Thus, a man turns out to be an indispensable part of the Technical System.
It may look as though it does not matter, because as soon as the solving of real engineering problems is concerned, a man is factored out and we have to work on the level of subsystems. Yes, that is true, but only in those places, where coordination and energy passing take place between subsystems which are in no way connected with an operator. But as soon as we approach the control system, the problem of interaction between a man and technical objects becomes evident.
Let us consider, for instance, a car. It acquired its current technical appearance by the end of the seventies, when safety bags and a reliable automatic gearbox were invented. Since that time, most improvements have been only aimed at perfecting control, safety, maintenance and repair convenience, that is at the interaction between a man as the main part of TS and the rest of the system's parts.
In the forties and fifties, the steering wheel of a truck had 80 cm in diameter. A driver had to be very strong to control such a vehicle. And in aviation… The giant airplane of the thirties "Maxim Gorky"… To execute a manoeuvre, the first and the second pilots had to pull the control wheel together. Sometimes they even asked the aeronavigator and other crewmembers for help. Nowadays an operator with the aid of a power-assisted steering gear can control mechanisms that are much more heavily loaded. It seems as if the problem is solved. No, it isn't! We again forget about a man. The thing is that actuators do not always allow the operator to feel the behavior of a controlled mechanism to the full extent. Sometimes this causes accidents.
Let us consider, for instance, the problem of the motion safety of a motor vehicle or a locomotive, which is more “monotonous” to handle. It is very important, that an operator always be active and healthy. The problem is also solved in a supersystem. For instance, the causes of dozing at the wheel are eliminated, medical examination of drivers is organized, and the responsibility of a driver-operator is increased. But more often this problem is solved directly in the Technical System, in a driver's cab. If an engine-driver does not switch off a signal light in time, the engine will shut down and the train will stop. Or in case with a motor vehicle: the engine will not start until a driver is strapped in. That is, there is a normal feedback, as between all other TS elements.
Probably, one of the reasons for which this trend of improvement of technical systems has started to develop only recently is misapprehension of the place a man occupies in their structure. Or not exactly misapprehension, but… Well, a developer occurs in a psychologically difficult situation. A man – a developer of everything new – considers himself by right to be a creator. He cannot feel that a like man may be also an operator, an engine or a working component – part of a mechanism, machine, Technical System. This is easier to understand in case of a widely used TS that closely interacts with a man, like a car. Here a man may be a developer, an operator and a user at the same time.
The same with a computer. It is not easy to use most of computer programs even now, after most developers have understood that a program is designed for a man-operator. What counts with him is the result, but not the program structure. Nowadays at least such a concept as “friendly interface” exists. And before… Examples are not far to seek. Do you remember “Lexicon”?
To say nothing about those TS that stand far from a man… Their name is legion. With such systems, the idea that a man is part of the Technical System never strikes you. But while developing any of them, it is necessary to analyze the interaction between its components taking into account the possibilities of a human body and mind. Sometimes this condition is not met.
Moreover, unaccounted often remain many of currently known natural factors that affect the health of a man, accuracy of his movements and reaction speed. Not to mention open psychological factors, such as “Cassandra effect” ! As a result we have Chernobyl, airplane crashes and collisions of ships.
И встает страшным грибом Чернобыль, падают авиалайнеры и сталкиваются корабли.
What else except an operator is necessary to obtain a ready-for-service Technical System?
You will find the answer in the following section
List of Reference
1. Gaines, B.R. “General System research: Quo vadis?” General System Yearboor, 24, 1979.
2. Bogdanov, A.A. Universal Organizational Science. Tectology. Book 1 – М., 1989. – P. 48.
3. Altshuller, G.S. Creation as Exact Science. http://www.trizminsk.org/r/4117.htm#05.
4. Kamenev, A.F. Technical Systems. Laws of Evolution. Leningrad, Mashinostroyenie, 1985.
5. Altshuller, G., B. Zlotin, A.Zusman, and V.Filatov. Search for New Ideas: from Insight to Technology. Kishenev, Kartia Moldavenayska, 1989. p. 365.
6. Korolev, V. About the Concept of “System”. TRIZ Encyclopedia. http://triz.port5.com/data/w24.html.
7. Korolev, V. About the Concept (2) of “System”. TRIZ Encyclopedia. http://triz.port5.com/data/w108.html.
8. Matvienko, N.N. TRIZ Terms (Book of Problems). Vladivostok, 1991.
9. Salamatov, Yu.P. System of Technology Evolution Laws (Foundations of the Theory of Technical Systems Evolution). INSTITUTE OF INNOVATIVE DESIGN. Krasnoyarsk, 1996г. http://www.trizminsk.org/e/21101000.htm.
10. Sviridov, V.A. Human Factor. http://www.rusavia.spb.ru/digest/sv/sv.html.
11. Ivanov, G.I. Creation Formula or How to Learn to Invent. Moscow, “Prosveschenie”, 1994.
12. Cooper, Fenimor. Prairie.