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Ideality Drives Innovation for Kraft's Lunchables

By Michael S. Slocum

Ideality is a means of identifying the path to perfection while problem solving in a system. This occurs because as compromises in a system are resolved, the implemented solutions should eliminate the contradictions that have been targeted. Also, the solutions should evolve the system toward idealness. Ideality can also be used to identify opportunities for new products and services. As a system is analyzed, and the useful and harmful functions in a system, useful functions (or sets) for enhancement or harmful functions (or sets) can be targeted for elimination. Specifically, ideality targets the following objectives (in an existing system with a problem):

  1. Remove original disadvantage(s)
  2. Preserve original advantage(s)
  3. Does not introduce new disadvantage(s)
  4. Minimizes any increase in complexity

Developing Next Generation Products

Using ideality to create a need state for the next generation of a product works in basically the same manner. Objective 1 is targeted in order to reduce failure modes in the existing system, or objective 2 is targeted as an attempt to increase useful functionality (such as adding more features). This creates a need state – that when satisfied, can produce another product or service on the path to idealness. This stage also applies to the multi-generational product plan.

Case Study: Kraft’s Lunchables™

Consider Kraft’s Lunchable™ snack product. This product is a plastic tray holding a few components for a snack-type meal geared for children. It is covered by plastic to separate the food from the environment, but the product is stored in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Therefore, it is not shelf-stable – bacterial growth begins when the product’s temperature rises (like in a home pantry or in a child’s lunch box). The following are the primary useful and harmful functions in this system:

  • Useful functions (Fu)
    • A1: provides food
    • A2: portability
  • Harmful functions (Fh)
    • B1: not shelf-stable (bacterial growth)
    • B2: food is served room temperature (cold, if cold in the environment)

The next step is to design a concept to enhance the useful functions, A1 and A2, and remove the harmful functions, B1 and B2, in order to develop a new product with enhanced ideality.

Design Goals

Design goals (or customer requirements [CRs]):

  1. Provide a meal for a child where the typical means of provision are not possible (enhance or preserve A1)
  2. Maintain portability so it is easy to store, easy to carry and easy to dispose of (enhance or preserve A1)
  3. Provide a shelf-stable product for consumption (remove B1)
  4. Provide a warm meal (remove B2 and enhance A1)

These design goals provide an idea of the needed critical-to-customer requirements for a next generation product in order to evolve the system toward increased ideality (a trend of evolution). As concepts are developed, achieving the four design goals must be considered. By identifying a function (FR) for each CR and maintaining CR-FR independence, concept complexity (and the number of interactions on the system) can be minimized. This practice creates a new product concept with minimal complexity in the system (and satisfies the independence axiom from axiomatic design).

CR1: Provide a meal for a child were the typical means of provision are not possible (enhance or preserve A1)
The existing concept reasonably provides a portable meal option for situations where competing food sources could be limited. It is important, therefore, that an evolved system maintain this functionality. This function could be improved.

CR2: Maintain portability so it is easy to store, easy to carry and easy to dispose of (enhance or preserve A1)
As solutions are introduced to the system (in response to CRs 3 and 4), it is important that the products current portability be preserved. Portability may be noted as a consequential metric so that any proposed system evolutionary changes could be evaluated for possible negative impacts on portability.

CR3: Provide a shelf-stable product for consumption (remove B1)
The current system uses refrigeration in order to delay bacterial growth. An advancement could be based on modifications to the system that would allow post-filling (food-to-package) sterilization. One technique involves the retort process; retort is a sterilization technique that utilizes temperature and pressure in a vessel to kill bacteria. Once the bacteria are dead, a concurrent package redesign can insure that oxygen ingress is mitigated and this significantly delays the formation of new pathogens. The fundamental package design need not change dramatically. The introduction of an oxygen barrier layer in the thermoformed (or blow-molded) package will accomplish a reduction in oxygen ingress. The retort process will increase the foodstuff temperature and create internal pressure. The material used to seal the top of the package needs, therefore, to be retort safe and the sealing surface needs to be adequate to prevent retort failures. The foodstuff formulation may need to be modified in order to ensure there is no flavor damage from the retort process. These improvements will yield a shelf-stable product that does not expose the consumer to bacterial growth if refrigeration is not maintained.

CR4: Provide a warm meal (remove B2 and enhance A1)

The current design allows for room temperature consumption. This significantly hinders meal options as many foods are not tasty when served cold. Also, the food will not warm the consumer in situations where that effect would be welcome. To change this, an internal energy source could be integrated into the package design. The introduction of this feature must not negatively affect the portability of the design (the consequential metric). The energy source must also be able to be implemented in a retort system. Again, portability cannot be sacrificed.

Maximizing Customer Requirements

Each CR is mapped to one design parameter (DP), so that CR1 » DP1, CR2 » DP2, etc. The interactions within this system are shown in Table 1. Each X marks an interaction. Interactions are desirable on the diagonal only – others increase complexity and make product optimization more difficult.

Table 1: Maximizing Customer Requirements and Design Parameters

Design Parameter (DP)

Customer Requirement (CR)

1: Food 2: Small 3: Retort 4: Internal Energy Source

1: Meal

X

X

X

X

2: Portability

X

X

X

3: Shelf-stable

X

X

4: Warm Meal

X

Analysis of these interactions shows that the evolved system does have some non-diagonal coupling (also called decoupled design) and, therefore, could use some simplification prior to implementation. Ideality demands satisfactorily resolving the harmful functions while balancing only a minimal increase (if any) in a system’s complexity.

Conclusion

Ideality, in its simplest form, can be used as a driver for product evolution. The evolution of a system to include enhancements of useful functions, and elimination or reduction of harmful functions produces a system more ideal than the current. Whether introduced as a set or one function at a time, their strategic implications must be understood in order to determine implementation time lines. A business may also create significant independent and dependent claims in intellectual property filings in order to preclude fast following by competition. All of this work should be integrated into a multi-generational framework for product evolution; this framework’s tactical and strategic importance of such a process cannot be overestimated.

About the Author:

Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) inventioneeringco.com or visit http://www.inventioneeringco.com.