Are your reliability activities and tasks often met with resistance from other engineers and managers? As an RE or reliability specialist, do you often feel like a second class citizen on the engineering team? Do you sometimes feel like it would be better to just stay in your cubical and do the best you can without involving the product development or system support team? Do you feel “used” after spending months assessing the reliability of a system, just to be ignored by engineering or management who pronounce we have no time to change the system or design over a reliability issue? Or they dismiss your suggested changes as being, “way too expensive”; taking up too much space, or weight?
I know these frustrations well.
Right out of college I was hired by John Deere to improve the reliability of their factory automation, PLCs and CNC machines. So my new bride and I loaded up the car and made our way across the country for great adventure! But once hired, it seemed they didn’t want to hear about improvement. I heard repeatedly, “Just help the tech’s fix machines” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Over the next 20 years, working for G.E. Medical and General Dynamics, it was pretty much the same. “Just finish your FMEA and reliability assessment on time, because we need those as artifacts. They are ‘deliverables’ under the contract.”
But it seemed as if the company wasn’t really interested in actually improving reliability nor changing the design. I kept looking for a way to keep the machines running, so that I would have free weekends to spend with the family, go play on the boat, or go have paint-ball wars with the guys.
Then in 2008 I discovered a secret that changed all that!
My career kicked into high gear: higher pay, company recognition. Management began specifically requesting me to work on most new projects. I was rewarded with performance-based bonuses—and even given stock options which surrendered better than 187% in just a few years.
Want to know the secret? There are actually 3 secrets…
Secret #1 – The way to quickly solve any engineering problem is to apply the right engineering principle. Most engineers only know 4 or 5 principles. But at the ripe old age of 59, I discovered that there are actually 40 such principles for making all changes or improvements in designed systems. These principles have been validated and verified by European and US TRIZ Associations, who studied the principles used in over 3 million patents (as of 2010). “40 Principles,” I wondered? I only knew 4 or 5. How many more reliability problems could I solve if I knew all 40? Turns out an old dog CAN learn new tricks!
Then, in 2010 it dawned on me…
Secret #2 – There are ONLY 40 Principles! Total! That’s a small enough set that I could almost memorize them. How many principles can you recite, that you use regularly to solve problems? How many more “unsolvable” problems could you crack if you knew all 40 principles? I began using these principles, and the results were nearly immediate. But when it came to defining the problem to be solved, the engineers I worked with didn’t always agree.
Secret #3 – If I could describe the problem the right way, it greatly helped the engineers identify exactly which principle would best solve their problem. So, I started walking them through a simple 4-step process I call “The Innovation Game”. This short series of questions quickly guides engineers to properly describe “the problem” in a way that they can easily recognize which one or two of the 40 Principles would best solve their immediate problem. Using this process, we began solving problems that had haunted us for years—and we were doing it in short, one-hour sessions!
And that’s when everything shifted. Attitudes throughout the department and the company lifted as soon as they saw these short innovation sessions working. This was truly unlike everything they had seen before.
Commenting on one of these innovation sessions, Mark Petrotta, a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, wrote:
“Your coaching the engineers through an hour structured innovation session produced two optional solutions. Both passed all verification tests and the more elegant solution yielded an easier to manufacture, 4-to-1 part reduction, assembly labor savings and reliability savings of over $658,242.00.”
I have continued to develop training and tools that help engineers apply innovation methods that save time, cut costs and improve the value of a system. In the last 5 years I’ve worked with 22 different engineering teams with “unsolvable” problems. They solved all 22 problems and saved the US Army a total of $158 million in reliability and logistical support costs. I became recognized and was specifically requested to work on more and more problem/solution projects—even outside reliability. My salary increased, and then there were the stock options I mentioned earlier.
I retired early, in 2016, and my wife and I moved across the country to enjoy more of the grandkids. Enjoying so many historical sites along the way, I was reminded, again, what a great country this is! God bless America! I now enjoy sleeping in (usually till 7:30 rather than 6:30 AM). And I enjoy doing what I want to do. I like thinking and writing about innovation and making America great again!
Since I retired several friends have asked me to teach them the innovation game, or ask if they could get a copy of these 40 Principles. But my ‘innovative self’ was conflicted with my ‘retired self’. “How can I stay retired while still teaching and sharing the powerful techniques that graced the final years of my career?” I ultimately decided to sit down and write out my simple 4-step process and combine it with a copy of the TRIZ 40 Principles, into one tool. I call it the “Innovator’s Key”, because it applies to solving any technical problem, design constraint or conflict between subsystems.
How would the “Innovator’s Key” help you in your career? You could use this 4-step template to become a recognized and valued member of your engineering team. Or lead your engineers to solve problems in minutes that have been molding around in the system for years. Or you could solve reliability problems before your new system even makes it to production.
I want to share the “Innovator’s Key” with you.
Quantify the savings and you could even see a raise in pay or a promotion this year. Put the power of this Innovator’s Key to work for you, to save time in coming up with innovative ‘suggested actions’ and ‘corrective actions’ for your FMEA, FRACAS and other reliability challenges.
Get your FREE copy of the Innovator’s Key, the new 4 Step Template to help eliminate 97% of your reliability challenges in minutes rather than months or years!
Click the link, below: