TRIZ – Flexible Shells and Thin Films

“How about Blow up Dolls?”

After I throw that idea out there, I simply allow the visual to sink in and wait for the expression of disgust, especially from the females in the room.

I throw this example out when we get to lens this lens; Flexible Shells and Thin Films. Of course, the audience immediately assumes I am talking about products for romantically-challenged males, but I am not. The example I am talking about is using an inflatable doll, dressed in a cop uniform, as a dummy police officer sitting in a parked squad car on the side of the road.

I guarantee you’ll hit the brakes as soon as you see this inanimate police man. You can’t tell that the doll is not the real thing, until you have already passed by. This sort of illusion is popping up everywhere as a means to get commuters to slow down, without having to pay someone $25 an hour to just sit on their butt holding a radar gun.

Where else would this kind of application work?

The Flexible Shells and Thin Films lens is technically defined as:

1. The use of flexible shells and thin films instead of three-dimensional structures.

a. i.e. Use inflatable, thin film structures as winter covers on a tennis court or pool

2. Isolating the object from the external environment using flexible shells and thin films.

a. i.e. Float a film of bipolar material (one end of hydrophilic, one end hydrophobic) on a reservoir to limit evaporation.

Consider Tylenol gel capsules. Gel caps get into the consumer’s blood stream more quickly than traditional, powder-based tablets, providing faster relief from aches and pains. The thin shell serves to encapsulate the gel in the bottle. The shell dissolves in the digestive tract and the pain reliever is absorbed into the blood stream.

Have you ever noticed that a Coors Light can is a lot thinner than a Budweiser can? The Coors can is made from a very thin piece of aluminum. This thin shell that encases the “Silver Bullet” beer is lightweight and inexpensive to produce. In fact, the aluminum is so thin that the can would not be able to withstand the weight of the cases stacked on top of each other if the can wasn’t supported by the pressure of the carbonation in the beer.

Hand warmers and baby bottle warmers are another application of flexible shells and thin films. If you ever examine a hand warmer, you’ll see that the warmer is actually encased by a flexible shell. You actually have to remove the packaging and shake or break the contents of the warmer to activate the heating element.

Baby bottle warmers work in much the same way. You boil the warmer to set up a chemical structure inside the bag. Then, you wrap the warmer around the baby bottle. Once you squeeze it, the flexible film inside breaks and allows the warmer to create an exothermic reaction and heat up the bottle.

Protection and Prevention

Two examples that stand out in my mind are surgical gloves and condoms. Surgical gloves have to be strong enough to ensure sanitary conditions for both the patient and the physician. These gloves protect patients from exposure to potentially infectious matter, and guard health professionals from exposure to diseases and viral infections living in bodily fluids.

The condom is designed in a similar fashion. Condoms must be waterproof, elastic, and durable to protect people from sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent unwanted pregnancies. At the same time, this protective layer has to be thin enough so as not to hinder the sensations of sexual intercourse.

A flexible shell or thin film does not have to be a physical object. Many corporations utilize “open door policies” that encourage employees to address their grievances with the company’s executives or CEO when the employee believes middle management will be either unable to resolve the conflict or will retaliate against the employee for making the complaint. The open door policy is symbolic of a thin shell because employees can break through the company hierarchy to access upper-level management without hindrance.

How could the application of a Flexible Shell or Thin Film improve your product or service?