INVENTING BY ANALOGY
By Larry Kilham
I can make the invention process less abstract by telling about my own
invention experience for what eventually became a multimillion dollar
was more or less happily plodding along as the partial owner and
general manager of a plastics machinery company in New Jersey. I
felt that I should develop a new product for quality control during
plastics production. It was a gnawing feeling. I believed that there had
to be a way to see the impurities in plastics, called gels. They are in
all plastic products, and they can cause a great deal of frustration by
the damage they can cause, ranging from pinhole leaks in milk jugs to
runs in stockings. I knew that the market for such an invention was
knew that most plastics processing is done by machinery as part of the
extruding or molding process. The logical place in the process to detect
plastic gels would therefore be within this machinery. But knowing that
I still didn’t know how you would you see the gels, even in fairly
clear molten plastic, because of their small size and transparency. A
gel is usually smaller than a pinhead and is floating around in a very
hostile environment of high pressures and temperatures, strong chemicals
and fumes, and other obstacles. It needed more thought on my part.
I had only a vague idea about how to “see” the gels in molten plastic. An
optical approach seemed most promising. What I needed was some sort of
very robust probe that would allow for a remote vision on a micro scale
into molten plastic. What I was considering was like finding a way to
use field glasses to look into a live volcano. It was a challenge, and I
set out to solve it.
one of those little miracles of inspiration happened. While walking at
dawn in the mountainous countryside in upstate New York, I chanced to
see dew drops glittering on a spider’s web. That’s when it hit me. The
light was sparkling from the dew drops like the sparkles of light from a
chandelier. Sunlight shining from the other side of the tiny dew drops
in them to shine brilliantly as points of light even in the considerable
early morning mist. Furthermore, the vibration of the dew drops in the
gentle morning breezes, made them shimmer and glitter, so that they
stood out even more from their background. This “shimmering” insight
would be the key to succeeding in the product development. As an
engineer I saw that an electro-optical concept had presented itself. I
could now develop an instrument that would allow tiny impurities to be
seen in murky molten plastic. It could not only detect gels but probably
count them as well. I was elated by my discovery and
anxious to get to work on it. I along with co-workers eventually
received three patents on this and related process monitoring
Based on my experience, my list of things to do when you invent are:
- Put your mind in invention space (I will focus on this in the next chapter).
- Look at all system variables whether understood or not.
- Be on constant alert for the unexpected insight or analogy.
- Look for the connectedness of everything
- Look for a simple interrelated design solution.
- Do more experiments to improve your insights and understanding.
- Don’t worry about what others think. Pursue the vision.
(c) 2009 Lawrence B. Kilham