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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.

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3, 2016

431

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.

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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L. Malinin

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.

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

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

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.

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

a

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

component

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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L. Malinin

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

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)

various laser and

processing parameters on

a range of nickel based

superalloy

(Naeem, 2008)

Minimum

diameter

Table 2

0.41.2 mm

(Beck, 2011)

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

machined with commercial

AWJs are generally

larger than 200 m

(Liu and Schubert, 2012)

we were able to drill

0.020 (0.51 mm)

holes (small hole

EDM drilling)

of the limiting MPV2

(minimum diameter)

to the limit

(physical/technological)

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

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).

440

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)

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.

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).

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