Since its founding in 1989, Method Co has focused on the development of innovation software based on conceptual design methods of technical systems.
Conceptual design is a kind of design activity, which results in variants of concepts of a technical system (TS) to be designed, both as a whole, and in parts.
A concept of TS can be represented in different ways, depending on the development (concreteness) level, as follows:
Commonly, for short, the design scheme of TS is represented as a distinguishing formula. This formula contains only those design features that make the TS different from its prototype.
The most part of conceptual design problems has to be solved at the early development stages, such as analyzing a technical task, making a technical proposal, and designing a sketch. In other words, these problems ought to be solved at the stages when the appearance of a product under design is defined. However, at the stages of working design, tests, and setting into production the developers face complex technical problems too.
The draft below explains conceptual design as an individual search process as follows:
Conceptual design is the fundamental component of the creative process of a new product. It is the number of concepts (design variants) of a product that defines its novelty and quality and, therefore, its competitiveness and sales.
Practice-proven conceptual design methods are indispensable in
Innovation and conceptual design are close by their activity but different in their goals.
Innovation is an individual initiative. The inventor is aimed at making an invention, that is, a novel technical solution. Innovation is akin to art in being fortuitous. Many of outstanding inventions appeared untimely and in an improper place, which hampered their practical implementation.
The fortuitous character of the invention-making process can retard technological expansion not for years, but for millenniums! The ancient Greeks were familiar with the elementary technical devices Edison used in his phonograph for sound recording and reproduction. They knew about the phenomena of wind-induced string vibrations and drum membrane vibrations, applied a lever to increase the force and used wax-covered plates for writing words. They, however, failed to join the knowledge in a single whole. By the way, Edison invented his phonograph by a mere chance.
As distinct from innovation, conceptual design is a planned production activity. It is aimed at solving a technical problem in due time. The problem solving should not necessarily result in a novel technical solution, that is, an invention.
If a technical solution is found with a delay, then, as a rule, it never finds any practical application. Using this solution in a current project is impossible due to the lapse of time. A future project of an analogous product is unlikely to implement the solution due to new requirements that are surely to arise.
Conceptual design makes it possible to ensure planned development of a technical problem by applying modern information technologies. As distinct from innovation with its creative grounding, conceptual design is first and foremost a technology that guarantees required result in due time.
TRIZ (the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) was created by Genrich Altshuller and his disciples in the former Soviet Union in the period from 1950s to 1980s. The TRIZ methodology has been successively developing nowadays, being applied by both individual inventors and consulting companies all over the world.
TRIZ and conceptual design are cognate methodologies aimed at purposeful and planned solving of technical problems. They, however, use different methods to achieve wanted results.
TRIZ employs heuristic methods as special human-oriented algorithms, instructions, methodic recommendations, etc., to be used by a man. The TRIZ methodology helps an inventor analyze a technical problem, come up with a solution, and broaden the application area for this solution.
More extensive use of the TRIZ methodology in engineering practice is limited by the necessity of in-advance training. Mastering TRIZ at a proper level implies special long-term courses and highly skilled teachers.
A line of TRIZ-based software appeared as the reaction to the necessity of in-advance training. These innovation programs also require training, though to a lesser extent. The computer is used as an auxiliary means. With its help, the user just registers results of a technical problem solution and finds suitable heuristic methods and technical examples. Working with such software, the user has to execute all creative operations by him/herself.
For a technical problem to be solved, conceptual design applies formal methods and extensive knowledge bases, which are realizable only as computer programs. The user needn't be cognizant of the methods (algorithms) the programs use. The user just defines a technical problem, presses the "Solve" button and chooses the most appropriate of found solutions. Thus, conceptual design methods allow any engineer to purposefully solve technical problems without any in-advance training.
In spite of all the above differences, TRIZ and conceptual design supplement each other. TRIZ methods are indispensable in searching for directions technical problems can be solved in. They guide an engineer from a complex technical problem to standard inventive problems. Once the problems are formulated, conceptual design methods can be applied. State-of-the-art innovation programs make it possible to solve inventive problems of average complexity by employing extensive bases of specific engineering knowledge and complex formal algorithms.
Our experience shows that the most successful innovation software user is a TRIZ-skilled engineer.
In addition, no one will be able to formalize the technical problem solving process completely. The application field for innovation software is extending nowadays. However, these programs will hardly ever replace a human being. The reason for this lies not in the fact that some math problems still need to be solved, or state-of-the art computers are imperfect in having low speed of response and little memory. The computer makes no inventions because it doesn’t need it!