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TRIZ And Taguchi Methods At A World-Class Winery & Vineyard

| On 05, Feb 1999

Timothy Quartly-Watson
Renaissance Vineyard and Winery (RVW) ~ (530) 692-2225
Virtual Winery Tour Web Page: www.renaissancewinery.com

IDEAL SYSTEMS AND OBJECTIVE FUNCTIONS. At RVW we strive to produce ideal products. In TRIZ, an ideal system is one that “performs its function but doesn’t exist.” Our wines are somewhat like that – they’re invisibly ethereal – yet they produce heavenly sensations in the bodies, minds and spirits of tasters. The wines are magic “in time”: they are there (in the glass), and they are not there (the glass becomes empty).

In Taguchi Methods, the objective function is defined in terms of a signal and a response. From the moment when a taster’s initial intention moves him to imbibe in one of our “nectars of the gods,” the first drops signal the body to produce a celestial response.

Those faithful among you, who regularly sample – and drink – our products, know that they are beyond the ordinary. Today I hope that each of you will have the opportunity to taste – and perhaps drink – our latest offerings. “In wine there is truth,” goes the saying. I’d like to relate to you some of the truths about our magnificent winery and vineyard, presenting this information in a Taguchi and TRIZ framework. These two approaches – Taguchi Methods and the Theory of the Solution of Inventive-type Problems – along with the guidance of unparalleled leadership, have forced the French to sit back and take notice of our moderately sized winery and vineyard, which is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

DESCRIPTION OF THE SYSTEM: THE WINERY AND VINEYARD. Our wine region is no Napa Valley, where quantity is king! Instead, our grapes grow, and manage to survive, in the harshest of conditions – much like the Bordeaux region of France. High productivity is just not the name of our game. Quality is! (but sometimes quality appears as magic). There’s something magical about vines and grapes that can survive the rugged, granite-based conditions of these foothills. Such grapes emerge with character. It’s a law of nature.

If you consider the fruit of the grapes as a “technical system,” when one removes and takes away all that is unnecessary, what’s left is pure essence. As they routinely review the great wines of the world, wine critics are referring to this pure essence when they use the term nectar of the gods. Fortunately for us, the pure essence that they refer to is the very fruit that grows in our vineyard.

Perhaps a few wine critics were too much in an enlightened state produced by our nectars, when they proclaimed that “Renaissance is the most beautiful winery in the world.” We certainly believe that statement to be true. But the proof of the pudding lies in the eyes and upon the tongue of the beholder. That’s also why we welcome visitors – at any time of the year.

MASTER WINE-MAKING. When our Winemaster wants to produce “wines of character,” often the solution is the merging principle: blend several individual products together to create something – a synergy – that is higher than any individual component. The product has a wonderful, multi-functional complexity. When a very, very, very special result appears from the vines, it’s stored in reserve for our special Wine Club Members. Even our employees are not privy to it – unless they too become Wine Club Members.

Because we have so many micro-climates, we’ve produced a number of reserves and special blends over the years. I must note in passing that our many gold medals include some from the Vin Expo in Paris and from the London Wine Competition. It’s a pity that French judges have to present the highest wine honors of France not to a French producer, but to a small estate-bottling winery from California’s Sierra Nevadas – but such is life. As the French themselves say, “C’est la vie.”

TAGUCHI AND WINE. In past years we talked about the value of Taguchi Methods in producing great wines. This brilliant philosophy continues to beknight our wines, which are robust in the classic sense of the word – the taste and experience are insensitive to causes that might “do in” lesser wines. We may, in fact, be going even a few steps further than the word “robust” implies: our wines actually take advantage of adversity to produce high quality results. In TRIZ this is called the “Blessing in Disguise” principle.

Several years ago we were deeply honored to have Dr. Genichi Taguchi and his family, along with Professor Yuin Wu, visit the winery for a few days. Dr. Taguchi walked through the winery and told us much about it – from a perspective that we had not thought of before. He introduced us to the robust design concept, which is now a principle in our winemaking. His visit was significant for us. In some ways we were reminded of the time that our first winemaster came to the vineyard site – which at that time was more like a briar patch and jungle. Carl Werner bent over, digging up some of the red clay-like soil with his index finger, and put it into his mouth. Expelling it, he remarked, “Yes, it can be done.” The rest is history.

In winemaking the generally uncontrollable noise factors are quite powerful. One of them is the weather. Another is location – the placement of vines in the vineyard. There are several ways that we use these noise factors to our advantage. One way is by creating a “robust” vineyard and winery process, so that the results of the process – our wines – meet two requirements:

They are global class products, appreciated by the tongues of the best wine connoisseurs in the world. Therefore we suspect that our wine club members will also appreciate them.
They are of consistently high quality, in spite of the effects that noise factors like those mentioned above ordinarily have on wines. This is really Dr. Taguchi’s definition of the term, “Robust,” already mentioned above.
Yet another way that we use noise factors is particularly powerful: we “give the noise factors their due.” For example, we know from experience that among the many microclimates that exist within our vineyard, some of them are precious. A microclimate is a unique combination of location, weather and other factors, that acts rather consistently from year to year. Consistently excellent microclimates produce consistently excellent wines. We refer to such wines as “Reserves,” because they are the “creme de la creme” – the very best. Because we know these microclimate “noise” conditions quite well, we have come to expect that the very best wines of any vintage will occur under these well-defined circumstances. And they do! Such wines are labeled “Reserve.”

I must point out, however, that even our regular, non-reserve products are produced at an unurpassed level of excellence. Nature and the gods have been good to us. In tasting these products, it is ultimately the taster who decides what is personally appealing. This is an aphorism that we keep posted on “the walls of our hearts.” Wine has a purpose, and it is to please the palates of our customers – who we really consider to be a part of our family.

The Taguchi philosophy is alive and well at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery. We used to say, “Napa, move over!” to indicate that a great winery was being born. Now both the Napa Valley region and the whole wine world have taken notice of what’s happening in our fortuitous Sierra Nevada experiment.

TRIZ AND WINE. This year I would like to relate to you just a few of our experiences with the TRIZ approach. We were first introduced to TRIZ at an in-house TRIZ problem-solving session given by Dr. Kowalick of RLI. Applying this problem-solving approach has been beneficial in solving problems of quite a diverse nature, both in the vineyard and in the winery. I’m going to present two of several problems that our quality team tackled.

CASE STUDY # 1: CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKES SHOULD LEAVE OUR BARRELS ALONE! I’ll begin with earthquake preparedness. Some of the important value that we add to the fruit of our grapes is added within beautifully crafted, oaken barrels, where the fermented product not only continues to ferment, but also receives subtle defining characteristics from the oak. We have many barrels of various sizes and shapes. How many larger and smaller barrels there are – I’ve lost count of! But we are all aware of a certain threat: if a major earthquake had ever struck us over the last twenty or so years, the floors of our barrel cellar area would be covered with wonderful nectars, all destined to go down the drain. Loose barrels during an earthquake become very short-range missiles that ultimately fracture and are relieved of their contents.

There are rows upon rows of barrels, with walking space for one person in between rows. The barrels in these rows are also used to support even more barrels on top. Barrels at the lowest level (nearest the floor) are elevated above the floor level of the barrel cellar. They rest on two short-height, concrete ridges that run along each side of a row. A brief study using conventional wisdom suggested the use of scaffolds to fill the space between the rows. This would prevent lateral motion of barrels in the event of earthquake vibrations – but scaffolding raises another problem: it’s inconvenient to walk along the rows – regular chores have to be accomplished several times daily. Also, the cost of scaffolds to protect all of the barrels in our barrel area is quite prohibitive.

The required action is to prevent barrels from moving off their current supports, as a result of a high Richter-Scale earthquake. The scaffolding solution – not entirely to our satisfaction – only makes the barrel system more complex, and prevents us from conducting normal operations. Applying the “Altshuller matrix of standard conflicts” to this problem, we arrived at some inventive principles, each of which assisted us in moving towards an ideal final result: # 1, Principle of Segmentation, suggested segmenting the scaffolds into separate sub-systems, one per barrel, operating to prevent barrel movement; # 31, Principle of the Use of Porous Materials, suggested using void spaces that were already built into the system to advantage; and #40, Principle of the Use of Composite Materials, suggested “stringing” another substance through the system that we already had in place (i.e., barrels and supports).

The Triad involved in this system includes – of course – three objects. The passive object is a barrel filled with wine. The suggested active object is the scaffolding system that “contacts” the barrels, preventing them from moving. The “enabling” object that makes this “contacting” interaction possible is the common floor surface shared by the barrel system and the scaffolding system:

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The ideal final result suggests that we have protection only when we need it – i.e., during an earthquake – and not in between earthquakes. The earthquake protection system must be there to prevent the barrel with its wine contents from moving during an earthquake, and not be there to obstruct daily operations when there is no earthquake! The ideal final result would also incorporate existing system resources as much as possible.

“Pruning” (removing) the scaffolding system removes the obstruction problem, but creates a new problem: there is now no system to prevent movement of the barrels during an earthquake. This was the main function of the scaffolding system, and that function is still required. Also, the barrels are a necessary part of this system, so they can’t be changed in any way. If we “prune” the scaffolding system, some other object or resource in the system must take over the function that the scaffolding system had. The only two objects left to do this (in the Triad) are the “Common Floor” and the “Barrels” themselves.

The following figure illustrates the existing system without scaffolding.
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The barrels are supported and elevated above the floor level by two concrete ridges that are in turn connected by steel rods. For purposes of clarity of illustration, only two barrels are shown in the figure above.

After conducting Pruning, it became obvious how each barrel itself, together with the “Common Floor,” could be used to support the barrels. The “Common Floor” really is a system that consists of several parts: Concrete Floor (not shown in the figure above); Concrete Ridges; and Steel Connecting Rods. The steel connecting rods could be joined to the barrels by some object – for example, common straps or tape! This in fact is what was done. The problem is solved! This solution was implemented over a period of just several months during 1998.

Reviewing the steps in this problem-solving process: There already was a system proposed to solve the problem (the scaffolding system), but the system had deficiencies (it was expensive, and it was an obstruction to carrying out daily operations). A Triad was formed of the “Earthquake Protection” function. One of the objects in this Triad (the scaffolding) was pruned (removed). This meant that the function of that object (the scaffolding) had to be addressed by one or more of the remaining objects in the system. The first “candidate” objects to be examined were the other objects in the Triad: the barrels themselves, and the Floor Support System. A close examination of the Floor Support System revealed that the connecting rods (existing system resources) could be put to good use. Easily removable straps or tape could be wrapped around the barrels (including barrels on top of other barrels) and secured to the connecting rods, to prevent barrel motion in the event of an earthquake. This solution is inexpensive. It does not obstruct daily operations. And except for the straps, which were already available in the winery, the solution used existing immediate resources (i.e., barrel and connecting rods). Problem solved thanks to Triads, TRIZ and Pruning!

It is to be noted that this problem could have been solved by a formal use of ARIZ and the Standard Solution approach. However the use of Triads together with Pruning (also called “Trimming”) solved it quite rapidly and adequately. This combination is a powerful cost-reduction approach!

CASE STUDY # 2: THE NEED TO REPLACE AN EXPENSIVE-TO-REPLACE TRELLISING SYSTEM. In the vineyard, trellising is used to hold and orient grape vines, so they receive balanced degrees of sun, so the grapes all grow and mature at the same rate, and to support the heavily laden vines (laden with the weight of grape clusters) prior to harvest. The vines are attached to multiple rows of wires that are stretched along the tops of the vines. These wires are supported by “T-Posts,” attached to the top of each “T.” The posts wear out, and need to be replaced after ten or more years. Digging post holes in granite soil, together with the cost of the posts themselves, and the subsequent operations required to attach all the wires, is prohibitively expensive. What to do?

The Triad for this “Support” function is shown below.
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This problem was also solved by Pruning. The “Posts with T-Bar” system was pruned. This forced the vineyard team to consider using existing system resources to support the significant weight of the ready-to-harvest grape clusters and vines – which had to be dispersed over a wide area above the trunk of each plant. This function was previously carried out by the Posts-T-Bar system, which is universal to all vines in a long row.

An obvious solution is to use the trunk of each vine as the supporting system. A simple device was considered. This device is somewhat like the framework of an umbrella. The pole of the umbrella is attached to the trunk of each vine, securely snapping around it. The snapping/unsnapping subsystem is flexible enough to be able to be employed on the majority of vines in the vineyard. Individual vines are attached to the “arms” at the top of this umbrella-like device by plastic snaps. This framework of “arms” supports the weight of grape clusters and vines growing out of the trunk. The universal string of wires is eliminated. The posts are eliminated. No holes have to be dug in the granite-like soil. Each grape trunk supports its own vines and grapes! For proprietary reasons, I am unable to show a sketch or photograph of this device.

Once again, the solution to this problem was simple. It involved deriving the Triad for the function under consideration, and using Pruning to approach an ideal (or near-ideal) solution.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE TRIADS APPROACH. We have come to appreciate the fact that “all functions are Triads,” and that no function of any system can exist without having three elements: an active object, a passive object, and an enabling object that is responsible for “allowing or creating an interaction between the active and passive objects.” In identifying the proper Triad, we create several interactions – not just the interaction of primary concern. Simply asking questions about the role of each object, and about each interaction, leads to high-level solutions. This “motion towards a higher-level solution” is really a move towards the ideal final result. In doing this we also apply the related (TRIZ) concepts of “using existing system resources” and “system simplification.”

Interactions in a Triad can be viewed and worked with as “S-Fields” – the same S-Fields we employ in the TRIZ approach. Additionally, all of the known solution tools and techniques (and tricks) of TRIZ apply! Furthermore, the problem definition and analysis stages of TRIZ are also be used.

The Triads approach is not a replacement for TRIZ and ARIZ. It is a powerful approach that is used in conjunction with TRIZ and ARIZ. It is very powerful when merged with Functional Analysis (which includes the ideas of Pruning/Trimming).

CREATIVITY AT THE WINERY AND VINEYARD. Higher level thinking and problem-solving tools and approaches are a way of life at RVW. We strive to be ever more creative, and not to become “stuck” by attempting to overly-standardize or organize our approaches. We realize that the quest for new and better “leading-edge tools” results in making each individual on our team more creative.

Raising our individual levels of creativity is not merely a matter of learning TRIZ or Triads. We are finding that true personal creativity comes from opening our minds and senses, and from raising our level of attention and observation to the world around us. I’ll close with a quotation whose source is unknown:

“Life is too short to drink bad wine.”

These words we and our wine club members have personally verified. Truly superb wine – besides having some reported health-supporting properties – has the magical power of raising a person’s state. I hope that you enjoy the wine tasting at this conference, and that after you sample our products, you consider joining the select group of club members all over the world who have one thing in common – they like to treat themselves and their friends to an exceptional experience.