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Int. J. Business Innovation and Research, Vol. 11, No.

3, 2016

431

Technology selection based on main parameters


of value and fuzzy logic
Len Malinin
Gen3 Partners,
20 Winthrop Square, Boston, MA 02110, USA
Email: leonid.malinin@gen3partners.com
Abstract: Corporations often need to select a prospective technology from
several available alternatives and make a business decision, investing in the
prospective candidate and continuing monitoring others. The consequences of a
wrong choice can be disastrous, as the recent selection by Navistar of a wrong
technology for reduction of the amount of nitrogen oxides and soot from diesel
engines has shown (Muller, 2012). One of the instruments in the technology
forecasting area is the technical evolutionary theory, based on the trends of
engineering systems evolution, introduced in TRIZ (Ladewig, 2007). One trend
is often presented graphically as an S-curve, or growth curve, showing how the
main characteristic(s) of the system (main parameters of value, MPV) change
over time. The approach discussed in this paper is based on positioning a given
system on its S-curve, using one of the MPVs as its axis. The positioning in
most cases requires operating with fuzzy categories. However, this aspect is
often overlooked, which can lead to non-optimal investment decisions. The
application of fuzzy logic (FL) to positioning a technology on the S-curve is
illustrated in the following case study, where the technologies for making small
diameter holes in superalloy components were analysed.
Keywords: investment decision; main parameters of value; MPV; fuzzy logic;
decision rules.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Malinin, L. (2016)
Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic,
Int. J. Business Innovation and Research, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.431443.
Biographical notes: Len Malinin has been at the forefront of innovation,
leading professional teams of innovators in technology development,
technology transfer and innovation consulting. His work has led to funded
products and newly formed companies. Prior to GEN3, he developed advanced
data processing algorithms, worked for an MIT spin-off, and published a
monograph on rotor vibration control. He holds several patents and has
presented at international conferences.

Introduction

Statistical observations show that technological systems tend to evolve following certain
evolutionary trends (Ladewig, 2007; Sawaguchi, 2011). Over the course of their
development, engineering systems evolve in such a way that their main parameters of
value (MPV)1 follow S-shaped curves, with the rate of change of MPV changing from
Copyright 2016 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.

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L. Malinin

slow growth to rapid growth to maturity to saturation. While several stages can be
distinguished on the S-curves (Sawaguchi, 2011), different MPVs of the same system can
be at different stages of evolution. Positioning a technology at a certain stage of evolution
can determine its future potential and help make an investment decision. In particular, a
system at the 3rd stage is statistically likely to have a limited potential for further
development, restraining potential return on investment (ROI) in that technology.
When positioning a technology on the S-curve, it is often necessary to manipulate
with linguistic (subjective) categories, which not always can be expressed in quantitative
terms (Ladewig, 2007; Sawaguchi, 2011). In case of positioning a system on the
3rd stage, a reliable indicator is the distance of its MPVs from their technological or
physical limits. Since a technical system usually has multiple MPVs, combining
conclusions related to each MPV into a single statement (whether the system is at the 3rd
stage or not) is not obvious. In this case, operating with fuzzy logic (FL) categories offers
a consistent approach which can be applied to technical systems of different nature.
While this method may require more effort, it makes the process reproducible and more
reliable.
The approach is illustrated below by a case study where one of several alternative
technologies needed to be selected for investment and further development. The
application in question required identification of available in the near future (two to three
years) technologies for making small diameter holes in the components made of
superalloys, which would exceed the current requirements in terms of the production rate,
minimum diameter and other parameters, such as the size of the heat affected zone,
tolerance, ability to drill through ceramics, etc.
Given the fact that multiple technologies have been reported in the literature and in
the patents, it was important to properly position the known technologies on their
respective S-curves. This would give an indication of how much more development
potential a given technology has. Another aspect of the project was identification of the
next generation (next S-curve) technologies.

Literature review

The need for a more reliable technology forecasting processes has been discussed in
several publications. During the past decades, despite multiple attempts to structure and
normalise the medium and long-term technology forecasting processes, most of the
authors agree that they still need to become much more formalised and reproducible
(Kucharavy and De Guio, 2008). Positioning of a technology on its S-curve remains one
of the major instruments in technology forecasting. However, the existing algorithms of
this positioning require operations with subjective categories and are not always
reproducible: different researchers starting from the same data can arrive to different
conclusions. Traditionally several auxiliary curves, such as number of inventions vs.
time, level of inventions vs. time, profitability of inventions vs. time (also known as
Altshuller metrics) have been used to define the position of the technology on its S-curve
(Fey and Rivin, 2005). It was postulated that the combination of these curves can serve as
a proxy for knowing the S-curve and the maturity stage of the technology under analysis.

Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic

433

More recently it was proposed to use instead as causal variables the focus of the
invention, complexity of the system, and number of competitors (Mann, 2004), as well as
the value of limiting resources, available to the system (Kucharavy and De Guio, 2008).
It should be noted that the validity of this approach has not been consistently
supported. Some of the arguments supporting its legitimacy are more philosophical by
nature: We believe that the forecasting power of the logistic S-shaped curve is due to the
underlying concept of limiting resources (Kucharavy and De Guio, 2008). Other
arguments refer to a big number of patents presumably analysed by G. Altshuller
[e.g., 200,000 patents (Labouriau and Naveiro, 2013), or over 2,000,000 patents (Mann,
2006)]. However, there are two problems with these references. First, the underlying
statistical data (the analysed technical systems and respective patent numbers) have never
been published. Therefore, accepting or rejecting this hypothesis becomes more a matter
of faith than reason. Second, the assumed familiar shape of the S-curves (Sawaguchi,
2011) has not been sufficiently supported by the statistical data. In fact, the known
studies where actual data have been presented show that the shape of the respective
curves can vary broadly. For instance, Sood and Tellis (2007), who have tested this
premise on 23 technologies across six markets, come to the conclusion that The results
strongly refute the existence of a single S-shaped curve of technological evolution. We
find that technologies evolve through a series of jumps, whose pattern and frequency is
intrinsic to a technology but increasing over time.
In contrast, the method presented in this paper does not make any assumptions about
the shape of the S-curve or the relationship between the shape of the S-curve and the
number or quality of the related patents. Instead, the only data on which the proposed
approach is based are the achieved levels of MPVs of the considered technologies and the
distance between these levels and their technological or physical limits.
Another aspect of the selection process discussed in this paper is the need to make an
investment decision for a set of technologies having multiple MPVs (as is always the case
in the majority of applications). Typically performance of each MPV over time can be
represented by a respective S-curve, and different MPVs can have different room for
improvement (different distances from their technological/physical limits). Usually the
selection process based on multiple criteria is reduced to some version of multi-criterion
optimisation which can be crisp (Triantaphyllou, 2000) or fuzzy (Kahraman, 2009). The
QFD matrix (Ficalora and Cohen, 2012) with its familiar graphical template is often used,
though the QFD method does not provide a quantitative analysis of how one decision
affects another, and a choice of one technology may significantly affect the subsequent
choices. Specifically for the technology selection problem, application of the analytic
hierarchy process (AHP) has been discussed (Assadi and Sowlati, 2009; Conka et al.,
2008; Hossain et al., 2012), based on crisp (Saaty, 1990) and fuzzy (Kwong and Bai,
2002) versions of the process.
Of course, from a practical standpoint, it is easier to operate with one or two MPVs.
The approach described in (Malinin, 2010) makes such a reduction possible for B2B
systems, where all MPVs can be ultimately deduced from the expense components of the
nearest stakeholder (the one who pays for the product under consideration) and
therefore can brought to the common denominator (can all be expressed in units of cost
or in %). In this case, comparison of one product with another requires analysis of the
P&L statement (a real or synthetic one, the latter in case of a prospective product) of the

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nearest stakeholder and a transition from the set of MPVs to the underlying physical or
technical parameters (Malinin, 2010).
Another option to reduce the number of MPVs, which is often available for the B2B
systems (and also illustrated in the case study in this paper), is the differentiation between
the MPVs and constraints. For instance, a safety-related MPV for many technical systems
is the concentration of certain volatile organic compounds (VOC), or exhaust
components. However, as long as the concentration of a given VOC is below a threshold,
the nearest stakeholder will not pay premium for further VOC reduction. Therefore, this
parameter is a constraint (not to exceed), rather than an MPV.
These considerations make it possible in many cases to limit the analysis of B2B
systems to a small number of MPVs. For B2C systems, when multiple MPVs need to be
analysed, it may still be advantageous to identify a leading MPV and then position a
given technology on the S-curve for a few combinations of the leading MPV and one of
the secondary MPVs, as described below. This selection should be robust with respect to
different combinations of the leading and secondary MPVs. In the context of technology
selection, making an investment decision implies that a single technology needs to be
selected.

Materials and methods. FL

A set of user-supplied human language rules, used in solving inventive problems, can be
better handled by FL, specifically, by a fuzzy inference system (FIS) (Mendel, 1995). A
FIS can consist of a number of conditional IF-THEN rules. The IF-THEN format of
the rules makes it easier for a problem solving expert to verbalise his insights, which can
be then coded in software. As many rules as needed can be supplied to describe the
decision making process adequately.
Suppose that statement A says a system is at the 3rd stage. In standard conditional
logic (CL), this statement is either true or false. In FL, the degree of truth is allowed to
vary between 0 and 1, so it can be said that the system is at the 3rd stage to the degree of
0.8. Further on, if in CL the inference rules take the form p > q, in FL it is possible to
say if p is half true, q is 60% true.
Expressed in the FL format, the language rules become more specific, and the fuzzy
sets allow greater flexibility in doing that. Suppose one of the rules states that if (main
parameter of value is close to its limit) then (the system is at the 3rd stage of evolution).
Both variables, MPV is close to its limit and the system is at the 3rd stage, have to be
mapped to their respective ranges of values (Figure 1). A FIS relies on membership
functions, which are curves that define the truth mapping for each fuzzy statement. The
degree to which any fuzzy statement is true is denoted by a value between 0 and 1. As
can be seen from the example in Figure 1, the variable x = the distance from MPV to its
limit, varying from 0% to 20%, can belong to three fuzzy sets, MPV is approaching the
limit, MPV is close to the limit, and MPV has reached the limit, but to different
degrees of membership. If x = 14%, as shown in Figure 1, a vertical line from the
measured value (14%) intersects two membership functions. One can see form the figure
that the membership functions for MPV is approaching the limit and MPV is close to
the limit are .75 and .42, respectively (the membership functions for MPV has reached
the limit is zero). In other words, the distance from MPV to the limit = 14% resides in
the fuzzy sets MPV is close to the limit and MPV is approaching the limit, to different

Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic

435

degrees of similarity. Combining the two rules shown in Figure 1 (more details below),
one can get a conclusion that the likelihood that the system is at the 3rd stage is = 0.42,
if the distance from MPV to the limit is 14%.
Figure 1

Membership functions for the variable MPV is close to its limit (see online version
for colours)

Figure 2

Configuration of a FL system

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L. Malinin

A typical configuration of a FIS is shown in Figure 2 (Mendel, 1995). The fuzzifier


converts crisp input values (like the distance of MPV from its limit = 14%) into fuzzy
sets. The rules, which are activated in the inference engine, map fuzzy sets into fuzzy
sets, and operate in terms of linguistic variables. The inference engine combines input
rules, using rule composition, implication and aggregation. The two basic type of
inference engine are composition-based (first aggregate, then inference) and
individual rule-based (first inference, then aggregate). The composition-based engine
aggregates all rules in one fuzzy relation, which is then combined with the fuzzified
inputs to obtain the fuzzy control output. The individual rule-based engine fires each rule
individually and then computes the control output, using the union or intersection
of the individual fuzzy sets. Different FL inferential procedures have been
developed. The defuzziifer maps output sets into crisp numbers, which can be interpreted
by a user.
Once the rules have been established, a FIS can be viewed as just a mapping from
inputs to outputs.

Results: positioning a system on the evolutionary s-curve

Considered here is an example of a decision making procedure, namely, a selection for


further development and investment one out of the three principal technologies for
drilling small holes in superalloy components. In mid to long term prospective, for a
technology at the 3rd stage the ROI is limited due to limited growth in its MPV, though
in a short term the technology can still be profitable. Therefore, in terms of positioning a
technology on the evolutionary S-curves, the decision making question can be restated as
follows: which of the three technologies has reached its 3rd stage of evolution. Once this
question is answered, the company should limit its investment in a technology at the
3rd stage and consider instead investing either in those technologies which have not yet
reached the 3rd stage, or in the technologies based on the alternative operation principles
(which may be at the beginning of their respective S-curves), if such technologies are
known.
The three major technologies for making small diameter holes in superalloys which
can meet most of the requirements in the considered application and are currently
commercially available are laser drilling (LD), abrasive water jet (AWJ) drilling and
electric discharge machining (EDM). The positioning on the S-curve needs to be done for
each technology. For these drilling technologies and for the application in question, the
two most important MPVs are the production rate and the minimum diameter. In our
analysis, the production rate was defined as the leading MPV (the development
potential of a technology is mostly determined by the production rate) and the minimum
diameter as a constraint MPV (the minimum diameter has to be at least at the target
value or less).
Of course, in reality the target technology needs to satisfy multiple other MPVs and
constraints. To name just a few, the hole making technologies should

Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic


a

not cause chipping or disturbing the interface between the coating and the
component

be able to make tilted holes (by up to 30 to the surface)

not change the alloy structure (properties) around the hole, etc.

437

Because the case study discussed in the paper is illustrative by nature, we focus in what
follows on the two selected major MPVs, the production rate and the hole diameter.
Besides the three currently available technologies for making holes (LD, AWJ,
EDM), next generation (NG) additive manufacturing technologies are also prospective
candidates for investment. The near term NG, represented by the next-1 S-curve, is
based on single-use ceramic casting moulds with further investment casting. It enables
almost automatic (unattended) manufacturing of superalloy components with holes of any
shape. The technology of the pattern printing + component casting can provide required
metallurgical structure of the product, particularly, single-crystal or direct solidification
(DS), that has been demonstrated already (Das et al., 2009).
The mid-term NG, represented by the next-2 S-curve, is direct metal laser
sintering (DMLS) (Manfredi et al., 2013), which has been lately intensely developed.
However, for certain components with enhanced characteristics, which are produced
presently by DS or as a single-crystal, achieving the required strength characteristics by
DMLS remains a challenge.
Once the required resolution and strength is achieved by the additive technologies,
the drilling operation will gradually become obsolete. Based on the current level of
development and published data (McCue, 2012), additive mould manufacturing and
DMLS for the components in question will appear in the industrial space within five to
ten years. More time will be required for technical and operational development, tests,
certifications and other procedures, setting up production facilities and so on. Because the
timeframe of the current project was limited to the next two to three years, the next
generation additive manufacturing technologies were not included in the scope.
The decision whether a technology is at the 3rd stage of evolution was made based on
two inputs: how close is each of the two identified MPVs to its limit. While the value of
the limit can be defined differently in different applications, in this case the limit was
taken to be equal the maximum (for the production rate) and minimum (for the diameter)
value reported in the literature for laboratory conditions. Following the logic depicted in
Figure 1, each of the two crisp inputs (the degree of proximity of each MPV to its limit)
was converted into one of the three fuzzy sets: MPV reached the limit, MPV is close to
the limit, MPV is approaching the limit. In the Inference block, the fuzzy inputs were
transformed into five fuzzy outputs, which correspond to the likelihood that the
technology is at the 3rd stage: low to neutral, neutral, strong, neutral to strong, very
strong. Finally these fuzzy sets were combined to produce a crisp output which indicates
the probability that the technology is at the 3rd stage of evolution.
The reference data for the production rate and minimum diameter are listed in
Table 1. These data depend on the material that was drilled, diameter of the hole, sample
thickness and other process parameters. For a fair comparison, efforts were taken to
select the data for comparable process parameters (superalloy samples, thickness
23 mm). While multiple references are available, those quoted in Table 1 represent the
best case scenario. Since these data serve as an input to the fuzzifier (Figure 1), the
spread of the data (within reasonable limits) does not affect the results. Mapping the

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inputs on the conclusions (the Inference block) results in the matrix, a fragment of which
is shown in Table 2. The table represents nine rules. The four rules that fire in the
example discussed below can be formulated as follows:
R22
R23

IF MPV1 is approaching the limit AND MPV2 is approaching the limit, THEN the
likelihood that the system is at the 3rd stage is neutral
IF MPV1 is close to the limit AND MPV2 is approaching the limit, THEN the
likelihood that the system is at the 3rd stage is strong

R32

IF MPV1 is approaching the limit AND MPV2 is close to the limit, THEN the
likelihood that the system is at the 3rd stage is neutral to strong

R33

IF MPV1 is close to the limit AND MPV2 is close to the limit, THEN the likelihood
that the system is at the 3rd stage is very strong

Table 1

References to the selected characteristics of drilling technologies


Abrasive water
jet drilling

Laser drilling
Production
rate

4 mm/sec

0.256.67 mm/sec

Holes produced at
90 degrees to surface for
2 mm thick material
were less than 0.5 second
for both laser systems.

15 mm/min
(Ti, t = 3 mm)

Holes are drilled with


various laser and
processing parameters on
a range of nickel based
superalloy
(Naeem, 2008)
Minimum
diameter

Table 2

0.41.2 mm
(Beck, 2011)

Small hole electric


discharge machining
~1 mm/sec
(small hole EDM
drilling)

400 mm/min
(Ti, t = 50 m)
the maximum cutting speed
for 50 m and 3.0 mm
titanium specimens is only
400 mm/min and
15 mm/min, respectively
(Shin et al, 2009)
~1 mm/sec (titanium)
(Yong and Kovacevic, 1997)
>0.2 mm

0.5 mm

The smallest features


machined with commercial
AWJs are generally
larger than 200 m
(Liu and Schubert, 2012)

with this machine


we were able to drill
0.020 (0.51 mm)
holes (small hole
EDM drilling)

The likelihood that the system reached 3rd stage

Second input: proximity


of the limiting MPV2
(minimum diameter)
to the limit
(physical/technological)

First input: proximity of the leading MPV1 (production rate)


to the limit (physical/technological)
Far

Far

Approaching

Close

Low

Low to neutral

Neutral

Approaching

Neutral

Neutral

Strong

Close

Neutral

Neutral to strong

Very strong

Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic

439

These rules then need to be combined to produce a crisp output in the defuzzifier
(Figure 1), since each cell in the table is an intersection of two fuzzy sets. The crisp
output would indicate the probability that the technology is at the 3rd stage. In this
example, Min was used for a fuzzy intersection (see below).
Most of the FL operations can be defined in several ways; there is no scientific base
for any of them. In engineering applications, most often the MIN or algebraic product is
used for fuzzy intersections (AND), and for fuzzy inferences. MIN was used in the
example that follows. Every time when a rule is fired, the value of the antecedent
(between 0 and 1) truncates or shapes the fuzzy set (the respective bell curve) by means
of the implication operator (min). The approach based on the AND rules is more general;
e.g., any OR rule can be reduced to a number of ANDs. While a specific form of the FL
rules was selected in Figure 3, it is not unique [see Mendel (1995) for the discussion of
alternative approaches].
The FL procedure is illustrated in Figure 3 for the four components of the matrix in
Table 1, R22, R23, R32, R33. For this example, we assume that for one of the considered
drilling technologies, the distance of MPV1 and MPV2 (actual values achieved by the
client company) from their limits (Table 1) is 10% (the real values were somewhat
different). The procedure works as follows.

The first step (Figure 3, 1st and 2nd columns), mapping the inputs into the fuzzy sets
(fuzzification), gives the values of the membership functions, indicated on the plots
by dashed lines.

The second step (3rd column) is to apply the fuzzy operation AND (each cell in the
table was an intersection of two fuzzy sets). In this example, Min was used for fuzzy
intersection. The position of the membership function curve (the bell curve) along
the horizontal axis (3rd column) indicates the likelihood that the system is on the 3rd
stage, for each of the considered rules.

On the third step (4th column), the consequent, or THEN part of the rule, is defined
as a shape of the area under the output variable membership function curve. Again,
the position of the output area on the horizontal axis indicates the likelihood that the
system is on the 3rd stage, for each of the considered rules. The results are shown in
the 4th column in Figure 3, where minimum is applied and a total of four curves are
activated by all four rules. It is important to note that at this step the entire fuzzy set
is assigned to the output variable.

On the fourth step, all output fuzzy sets from the four IF-THEN rules are joined into
a single output membership function by applying the aggregation operator
(maximum). As can be seen, each fired rule contributes to the overall output.

Finally, on the fifth step the aggregate membership function is reduced to a single
value. In the example, the position of the centre of gravity of the output fuzzy set
along the horizontal axis is returned (Figure 3). The output statement is that the
likelihood that the system is on the 3rd stage is 0.79 (on the 0 to 1 scale). This
likelihood was then compared with similar values for the two other technologies, and
the decision was made to invest in the technology with the lowest likelihood of
belonging to the 3rd stage (in the technology which still has a potential for further
development).

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Figure 3

L. Malinin
Decision making procedure: IF distance from MPV1 to the limit is 10%, AND distance
from MPV2 to the limit is 10%, THEN likelihood the system is at the 3rd stage is 0.79
(see online version for colours)

Technology selection based on main parameters of value and fuzzy logic

441

In this example, the shape of the curves that define the mapping for each fuzzy statement
was not unique. Conceivably, somewhat different curves could have been used, though
qualitatively they would look similar to the shown ones. With properly selected rules, the
selection should not very sensitive to the shape of the curves. It is worth checking this
sensitivity to make sure the selection results are robust with respect to minor variations in
the mapping rules.

Conclusions: application of FL to technology selection

The presented approach offers a more logical and consistent way to formalising
qualitative or subjective inputs and selecting one of several available technologies for
further development, following uniform rules. The approach also provides enough
flexibility for the decision maker, who can within reasonable limits modify the
membership functions. E.g., the position of the output area on the horizontal axis (step 3)
can be adjusted based on prior experience with other technologies, which have been fully
explored.
To be used by practitioners, the shape of the membership functions needs to be tuned
up (calibrated) based on the available case studies (for the considered application,
technology forecast, that would be case studies where statements like an MPV is close to
the limit can be verified independently, or the position of the technology on the S-curve
has been independently confirmed, etc.).
The approach can be easily incorporated in the decision making software. In this case,
the technique can be made transparent to a user at two levels. At the first level, upon
request of the user, a matrix with the IF-THEN rules can be shown, one plane (layer) at
a time. At the second level, the specific shape of the membership functions can be shown.
Applicability of the approach to making investment decisions is also supported by the
well established features of FL algorithms (consistency, reliability, performance,
transparency and flexibility), and by successful application of FL to diverse linguistically
formulated problems [see further references in Bro and Dostl (2013)].

Acknowledgments
The author would like to thank the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on an
earlier version of this paper.

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Notes
1

Main parameters of value (MPV) are the product attributes that reflect buyers attitudes
towards products and purchasing decisions of the buyers. MPVs can vary between different
stakeholders and market segments (Malinin, 2010).