Later this month, manufacturers of furnaces and heat-treating related equipment, supplies and services will display their wares at the Heat Treat Show in Pittsburgh, Pa., putting in front of potential buyers the things that suppliers claim will help them improve their final product quality, increase production rates, save manufacturing and energy costs, make testing parts easier and a whole host of other benefits.

To remain competitive, manufacturers continually are tweaking existing products or pushing the technology envelope by developing and introducing innovative products and processes. Always a consideration with new products is how they will perform in the field. How can a manufacturer be sure that all the development time and money spent will pay off? There are no guarantees, but there is a new unique methodology called "Systematic Inventive Thinking," or SIT, which is claimed to promote creativity to develop new products.

SIT is the name of both the company and the method it developed to enhance a company's innovation and creativity using templates, or patterns of thinking. The methodology is based on pioneering work of a Russian engineer, Genrich Altschuler, created while he was a political prisoner in Stalin's Russia, and was refined by two Israeli researchers, who took the original idea, which was used for solving problems in which issues were simply defined in terms of cost and product reliability, and adapted it for use in designing new products.

SIT is applied in four main fields: Enhancing Organizational Creativity, Problem Solving, New Product Development and Advertising. The process is not meant to replace a company's product development program entirely, but is designed to enable companies to reexamine their products and hit the hot spot in their marketing by imposing a discipline on their thinking. For example, two of the five patterns of thinking used in SIT methodology are "subtraction," where, rather than adding on features, the opposite approach is adopted; and "division," where components of a system are divided and rearranged. Dividing an existing product into its component parts provides a different perspective, which could lead to a reconfiguration of the product in a different form.

How does the methodology differ from traditional methods of thinking? One of the most traditional methods of coming up with new ideas is brainstorming, where as many ideas as possible are introduced, and no judgment is allowed, which often results in a large number of ideas that have not gone through any filtering process. The main problem in dealing with large lists is the lack of time to later review and judge ideas to see which are relevant.

By comparison, the SIT method has filters built into the process. When an idea is raised, it has to be judged according to its market potential and feasibility, and only makes the "closer review" list if it passes the various filters. It sounds too simple to be true.

Nobody wants to wind up with an Edsel (Ford's 1960s-vintage auto that is on a list of major product flops), so if you are getting bogged down on coming up with new, fresh ideas for your next product release, you may want to "SIT" on it.