Air is ubiquitous, available infinitely anywhere on the earth. Pneumatic devices harness the air, creating energy to drive mechanisms. Today, pneumatic devices are commonly used in manufacturing and logistics systems in many different industries. Tokyo-based Koganei Corporation is a pioneering company in the pneumatic industry. In the more than 70 years since its establishment in 1934, Koganei has developed a large variety of products for different applications and systems, based on its pneumatic and electronics technologies. Koganei’s products leverage the advantages of pneumatic devices - precise control enabling the reproduction of delicate, human-like movements - delivered at a low cost and driving productivity improvements and cost reductions for customers.
Like many companies in the matured market of pneumatic devices, one of Koganei’s long-standing challenges is how to continuously develop market-winning new products. With a strategic direction to “build a product development framework to sustainably deliver highly differentiated products which can generate customer benefits”, Tomohiko Katagiri, Chief Engineer at Koganei, sought an actionable approach to achieve this goal. Research led to IDEA Inc. Located in Nagoya, Japan, IDEA is a consulting firm specialized in helping manufacturing companies develop innovative products and technologies by leveraging systematic development methodologies.
IDEA proposed to Koganei streamlining the process from product planning to detailed product design by utilizing the systematic approach integrating three product development methods (QFD, TRIZ and Taguchi) and Invention Machine’s innovation software. The combination of this integrated development process and the use of innovation software was designed to help Koganei develop the products which are “highly attractive for customers, but technically advanced” in a repeatable way.
The aforementioned process utilizing the development methodologies and Invention Machine software was first introduced to Koganei by applying it to the new air valve product development. IDEA’s consultant participated in Koganei’s project team to deliver the methodology and software utilization training, and project consulting services to help Koganei’s development team expedite productivity.
Identify Customer Needs/Development Goals
Initially, Koganei had considered applying TRIZ to its development process. TRIZ is a methodology to efficiently generate technical problem-solving ideas to specific problems. However, TRIZ alone is not sufficient for identifying, understanding and solving the right problems.
Thus, Koganei started the project by applying QFD (Quality Function Deployment) to identify key technical properties to satisfy critical needs (required qualities) of target customers and applications. The members from the product development, quality assurance, production engineering and sales departments in Koganei worked together to categorize and analyze a large number of customer requests (Voice of Customer) which were collected directly from customers and through the sales team.
As a result of this QFD session, the following three concrete and challenging development (achievement) goals were prioritized:
- Industry leading high-speed response time: less than half of the existing products.
- Industry leading low power consumption: less than half of the existing products.
- Industry leading small scale but high flow rate: 3 times the existing products.
Koganei redefined its product planning and development process by leveraging the integrated QFD-TRIZ-Taguchi methodologies and Invention Machine innovation software.
Developing Unique Solutions
Technically superior functionality is only an advantage if you can maintain it over the competition. While “achieving the desired high flow rate and high response rate while operating with low power consumption and having long lifetime”, Koganei set out to achieve this challenging goal through a highly unique solution which would be difficult for competitors to replicate. Then Koganei applied the TRIZ methodology to generate such a solution. As a part of the TRIZ process, Invention Machine’s innovation software was fully utilized to help Koganei engineers apply the TRIZ methodology effectively.
First, ‘function modeling’ was utilized to analyze the functional relationship among various components in the existing small-size air solenoid valve. This helped the team better understand the behavior of the current system, and identify where the core issues existed. Figure 1 shows the captured screen of the function model in the software.
Next, ‘root cause analysis’ was performed to investigate the root causes of the above identified core technical issues. For each of the identified root causes, many solution ideas (several hundred ideas) were generated using TRIZ ideation approaches such as Inventive Principles and System Evolution Patterns. In addition, the ‘trimming (design simplification)’ technique was applied to the above function model.
Then, several hundred ideas were put together into a
concept for the new air solenoid valve, by distilling them through IDEA’s concept-selection method.
Minimizing Quality Risks
Applying TRIZ methodology and the software, the team generated a very unique solution to achieve the challenging “high flow rate and high response rate while operating with low power consumption and having long lifetime” goal. However, the generated solution suggested a totally new structure, and the engineers did not have past experience and know-how developing such a mechanism, so they had another high bar in putting the new concept to the detailed design.
In particular, the new solenoid structure was very novel, so building a prototype would be too costly and lengthy. The number of new design parameters was too high to validate in a traditional way.
To address this challenge, Koganei inevitably turned to computer simulations using electro-magnetic software, as well as the Taguchi Method to find optimal design parameters and achieve robust quality.
Koganei redefined its product planning and development process by leveraging the integrated QFD-TRIZ-Taguchi methodologies and Invention Machine innovation software. As a result of its first attempt, Koganei delivered a winning product, IMACT-V, a high speed 2-port valve to the market (Figure 3). The IMPACT-V reflected the achievement of all three development goals: more than doubling the high-speed response time and low-power consumption and tripling the high flow rate.
As a result of the significant performance improvements delivered by the IMPACT-V, Koganei customers could introduce pulsed or intermittent air blow to the air blow process. The ability to use pulsed air saves the consumption of compressed air by 50%, allowing a typical manufacturing plant to reduce 10% or more of its total electric power consumption.
Based on the success of the IMPACT-V, Koganei has been applying their new systematic approach to product planning and design to bring successive breakthrough products to market.