Case studies in TRIZ: Evolving paint
paint strip Triz
Darrell Mann

Written by Darrell Mann

A short while ago I was with a very skeptical group of engineers and scientists all seemingly sat arms-folded with a ‘come on then, impress me’ attitude and itching to catch me out. As still seems to be the case in most parts of the world, almost none had heard of TRIZ at the beginning of the hour-long presentation. Some of the people present were from the manufacturer of a certain well-known brand of paint. We reach the point when I put the Dynamization trend up on the screen after showing a few examples of patterns in technology evolution.

One of the paint crowd starts grinning. Not quite rubbing his hands with glee, but definitely giving the impression that he’s just discovered how he’s going to bring my presentation to a thudding halt. ‘Where’s paint on the trend?’ he asks, knowing full well what the picture on the screen was suggesting:

Figure 1: Where will paint evolve in the future?

What is ‘field’ paint?’ comes the next question. Now everyone else in the room is sensing the same ‘gotcha’ mood. What on earth is ‘field paint’? Surely this proves the trend is wrong so we can kick this charlatan out of here?

These are the critical moments in presentations where a presenter either sinks or swims.

Strategy 1: buy yourself some time; bounce the question back on the experts ‘what do you think a ‘field’ paint might be?’

No response.

Strategy 2: think of something quickly. What’s the closest thing you’ve seen to a field paint? Magnets? Magnetic paint – we know it exists from an earlier e-zine story – pretty niche product though. Self-cleaning paint and its mechanical field? Too abstract. (Beginning to think that it is definitely a good idea to keep a mental check-list of the different ‘field’ types in the memory.)

Cue ‘electrical’ fields and an immediate connection (all praise the mighty Google Images and a live search at this point) to:

Figure 2: LEDs and ‘field’ paint

‘Why’, I ask an already crest-fallen looking group of people, ‘why might LEDs be better than paint?’ Someone puts up their hand,

‘no need to clean brushes’.

‘Changing colours.’

‘No need to argue about paint charts.’

‘No need to paint.’

And then come the inevitable yes, buts… energy consumption, limited to homogenous colours, expensive, no commercial systems available, gimmicky…

At which point we draw a live Evolution Potential radar plot for today’s LED technology – 

Figure 3: LED technology – evolution potential

Next up, did we think that any of the jumps that LED technology hasn’t made yet might solve some of the ‘yes, buts’?

Five minutes later and, absolutely, yes we did. Already it is starting to feel like ‘the field always wins’ is happening again. The paint guys are beginning to look a little bit depressed. Seemingly they’re about to be put out of business by a technology from completely outside their industry. (Where have we heard that one before, I wonder?) Not wishing to depress people too much (they weren’t that skeptical), we then drew an equivalent radar plot for paint – Figure 4.

Figure 4: Paint – evolution potential

New question, once we’d drawn the plot together: do any of these untapped jumps allow us to stay in the paint business and create solutions that complement LEDs?

Another five minutes later and it feels like we have a dozen patentable ideas for evolving paint. And a few smiling faces in the room. This whole thing happened in the space of 45 minutes. After the session, thinking about what happened in a somewhat calmer environment, it began to feel like something important had happened here. Yes, the field will win – it simply has too many advantages over other solutions. Yes, too, there is an awful lot that paint can do to extend its life, to increase the competitiveness of one paint manufacturer over another, and (perhaps most important of all) help make a transition path for the paint manufacturer to allow them to control the deployment of LEDs under their terms – evolving paint allows a better LED solution and creates a market; create a market and increasing numbers of people will shift to LEDs.