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Journal of Applied Logic 24 (2017) 85–96

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Applied Logic

50 years of fuzzy set theory and models for supplier assessment

and selection: A literature review
Dragan Simić a,∗ , Ilija Kovačević a , Vasa Svirčević b , Svetlana Simić c
University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Technical Sciences, Trg Dositeja Obradovića 6, 21000 Novi Sad,
Lames Ltd., Jarački put bb., 22000 Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia
University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Medicine, Hajduk Veljkova 1–9, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Supplier assessment and selection mapping as an essential component of supply
Available online 11 November 2016 chain management are usually multi-criteria decision-making problems. Decision
making is the thought process of selecting a logical choice from the available options.
This is generally made under fuzzy environment. Fuzzy decision-making is a decision
Fuzzy set theory
Supplier assessment process using the sets whose boundaries are not sharply defined. The aim of this
Supplier selection paper is to show how fuzzy set theory, fuzzy decision-making and hybrid solutions
Fuzzy logic based on fuzzy can be used in the various models for supplier assessment and
Uncertainty selection in a 50 year period.
Logistics © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article
Supply chain under the CC BY-NC-ND license

1. Introduction

Supply chain management and strategic sourcing are among the fastest growing areas of management.
Most companies in production and manufacturing industries are seeking the most appropriate supplier
to improve economic efficiency. Phenomenon of globalization and rapid development of logistics, at the
same time, is in details presented in [67]. Enterprises have recently become more dependent on suppliers,
and direct and indirect consequences of poor decision-making become more severe. Supplier selection is an
important aspect of competition and it determines the fate of an enterprise.
Fifty years ago, in 1965, Zadeh introduced fuzzy set theory to cope with the imprecision and uncertainty
which is inherent to human judgment in decision making processes through the use of linguistic terms and
degrees of membership. A fuzzy set is a class of objects with grades of membership. These grades present
the degree of stability to which certain element belongs to a fuzzy set [70].

* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (D. Simić), (I. Kovačević), (V. Svirčević), (S. Simić).
1570-8683/© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
86 D. Simić et al. / Journal of Applied Logic 24 (2017) 85–96

Therefore, it is economically sensible for an enterprise decision maker to use fuzzy set theory, one of the
artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, which have limited use in this research. This paper continues author’s
6 year research in supplier assessment, ranking and selection domain, which is presented in [63,65,64].
The aim of this paper is to show how fuzzy set theory, fuzzy decision-making and hybrid solutions and
synergy based on fuzzy can be used in various supplier assessment and selection models during a 50 year
period. This paper outlines some long time approaches of fuzzy models which are implemented in the terms
of potential benefits gained in supplier assessment and selection in order to mitigate the uncertainty and
risks of the global world business turbulent environment.
The rest of the paper is organized in the following way: Section 2 overviews early period of Fuzzy Set
Theory, business influence on supplier assessment and selection of related work. Section 3 shows Existing
analytical methods for supplier assessment and selection. Section 4 presents Fuzzy Models in Supplier
Assessment and Selection in two sub-sections: the first one being individual fuzzy approaches; and the
second – integrated fuzzy approaches, while Section 5 gives concluding remarks.

2. Related work – fuzzy set theory and supplier assessment

Related work could be discussed from two deferent points of view. The first point of view deals with
the roots and early researches on fuzzy set theory (FST) and the second point of view deals with deferent
influences technology and rapid development have on supplier assessment and selection.

2.1. Early fuzzy set

Lotfali Askar Zadeh introduced fuzzy sets and systems for the first time in 1965 in a well known paper [70],
in Information and Control journal and a chapter [71] in book called System Theory. But, before him, Max
Black was the first one to introduce a very similar idea in 1937: Vagueness. An Exercise in Logical Analysis,
was a chapter title in book Philosophy of Science [11]. Almost the same idea was mentioned in 1952, when
Stephen Cole Kleene published his book Introduction to Metamathematics [41]. The same idea appeared in
Abraham Robinson’s book Introduction to Model Theory and to the Metamathematics of Algebra, published
in 1963 [57]. But, Lotfi A. Zadeh was the one who completed all of the previous researches in 1965, and
since then fuzzy set theory has presented an inexhaustible research subject for numerous researchers in the

2.2. Business influence on supplier assessment and selection

Nowadays, costs of purchasing raw materials and component parts from external suppliers are very
important. As an example, in automotive industry, costs of components and parts purchased from external
sources may in total make up more than 50 times the costs for high-technology firms [68]. The search for
new suppliers is a continuous priority for any company in order to upgrade the variety and typology of their
production range [23]. There are two key reasons for this. The main, general, reason is that product life
cycle is very short, from 3 to 4 years, and new models must often be developed using completely renewed
materials or new technologies. And the second reason is that the industries are, historically, labor intensive
Current technologies and organizational forms require involvement of more decision-makers. The influ-
ence of these developments on the complexity and importance of purchasing decisions is shown in Fig. 1
[25]. In addition, several developments further complicate purchasing decision-making. Changing customer
preferences, public-government procurement regulations, increase in outsourcing, globalization of trade and
the Internet enlargement are all changing a purchaser’s choice set [26].
D. Simić et al. / Journal of Applied Logic 24 (2017) 85–96 87

Fig. 1. Impact of developments on the complexity of initial purchasing decisions [25].

Global competition, mass customization, high customer expectations and harsh economic conditions
are forcing companies to rely on external suppliers to contribute a larger portion of parts, materials, and
assemblies to finished products and to manage a growing number of processes and functions that were
once controlled internally. Therefore, supplier categorization, selection and performance evaluation are of
strategic importance to companies.

3. Analytical methods for supplier assessment and selection

Supplier assessment and selection decisions are complicated by the fact that various criteria must be
considered in a decision making process. Many scientists and practitioners since the 1960s have been focused
on the analysis of criteria for selecting and measuring supplier performance. An interesting work, which is
a reference for majority of papers dealing with supplier or vendor selection problem, was presented by Gary
W. Dickson [29]. He defined 23 criteria for supplier selection, with regard to their importance. At that time
(1966), 50 years ago, the most significant criteria were the “quality” of the product, the “on-time delivery”,
the “performance history” of the supplier and the “warranty policy” used by supplier.
It is important to mention that with pronounced emphasis on manufacturing and organizational philoso-
phies such as Just-in-Time (JIT) and Total Quality Management (TQM), and the growing importance of
supply chain management concepts, the need for considering supplier relationships from a strategic perspec-
tive has become even more apparent [61]. With the recent emphasis on supply chain management, strategic
sourcing becomes even more important to improve company’s performance [66].
Purchasers always consider multi-criteria approach when selecting suppliers [68]. Numerous multiple-
criteria decision-making (MCDM) techniques, ranging from simple weighted averaging to complex mathe-
matical programming models have been applied to solve supplier evaluation and selection problems.
According to [1], data envelopment analysis (DEA) is the most often used MCDM approach (30%),
followed, in order of distribution, by mathematical programming (17%), analytical hierarchy processes
(AHP) (15%), case-based reasoning (CBR) (11%), fuzzy set theory (10%) and analytical network processes
(ANP) (5%).
Summarized, Existing analytical methods for decision models in supplier assessment and selection, are
based on: 1) Single models: (a) Mathematics, (b) Statistics, and (c) Artificial Intelligence, 2) Combined
models: (a) AHP, (b) DEA; and is illustrated in Fig. 2 [19]. And, although this model [19] is from 2011
88 D. Simić et al. / Journal of Applied Logic 24 (2017) 85–96

Fig. 2. Existing analytical methods for supplier assessment and selection [19].

and only 5 years old, the entire section of Combined models should be appropriately expanded, not just
presented with the AHP and DEA hybrid models.

4. Fuzzy models in supplier assessment and selection

Supplier assessment and selection are usually multi-criteria decision problems which, in actual business
contexts, may have to be solved in the absence of precise information. In order to do this, the decision
process of purchasing could be modeled and structured in a realistic way. A number of authors suggest
using a fuzzy set theory (FST) to model uncertainty and imprecision in supplier choice situations. In short,
FST offers a mathematically precise way of modeling vague preferences, for example setting weights of
performance scores on criteria. Simply stated, FST makes it possible to mathematically describe statements
like: “criterion X should have a weight of around 0.8”. FST can be combined with other techniques to
improve the quality of the final tools [26].
The developed and proposed model for – Methods for supplier assessment and selection – is presented in
Fig. 3. It could be divided in two major approach groups. The first one being a group of Individual fuzzy
approaches and the second one, group of Integrated fuzzy approaches, similar to Existing analytical methods
where there are Single and Combined models, as presented in Fig. 2. Individual fuzzy approaches are models
where only fuzzy logic and fuzzy set theory are implemented to solve real-world problems. On the other
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Fig. 3. The proposed model – methods for supplier assessment and selection, individual and integrated approaches (extended by
authors based on [19]). (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure, the reader is referred to the web version of this

hand, Integrated fuzzy approaches combine fuzzy set theory with numerous: multiple-criteria decision-making
(FST + MCDM); mathematics (FST + Mathematics); statistics (FST + Statistics); artificial intelligence
(FST + AI); models and techniques. Red text in grey fill boxes, in Fig. 3, presents our extensions of the
original model. These extensions are in great detail discussed further in this paper. Blue text in white fill
boxes also presents our extensions but they are not discussed in this paper.

4.1. Review of individual and integrated fuzzy approaches

In this research, the authors have, meticulously, collected papers dealing with: (1) supplier assessment,
(2) supplier evaluation, and (3) supplier selection. The authors collected a very large body of papers from
journal and conference proceedings. For this review, the authors selected only 54 papers published in re-
spectable journals.
It must be stressed that, out of 54 selected papers, only 6 deal with Individual fuzzy approach while 48
papers, that is 88% of all papers, deal with Integrated fuzzy approach. This shows that fuzzy set theory has
much greater significance when integrated with other methods and techniques from: multi criteria decision
making, mathematical, statistical and artificial intelligence filed. Next two sub-sections briefly present some
of individual approaches and some integrated fuzzy approaches.

4.2. Individual approaches

Florez-Lopez (2007) [31] picked 14 most important evaluating factors out of 84 potential added-value
attributes, which were based on the questionnaire response from US purchasing managers. To obtain a
better representation of suppliers’ ability to create value for the customers, a two-tuple fuzzy linguistic
model was illustrated to combine both numerical and linguistic information.
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Table 1
Review of individual and integrated fuzzy approaches.
Methods References
Fuzzy linguistic quantifier [17] [56]
Numerical and linguistic information [31] [55]
Fuzzy strategic system [49] [60]

Integrated fuzzy approaches

Integrated Fuzzy AHP [37] [16] [40] [43] [52] [28]
Fuzzy Fuzzy ANP [48] [24] [32] [14]
MCDM Fuzzy MADM [20] [69] [12] [30]
Approaches Fuzzy QFD [10] [39]
Fuzzy TOPSIS [35] [8] [21] [51] [72]
Fuzzy PROMETHEE [62]
Fuzzy VIKOR [59]
Fuzzy SMART [47] [22]
Fuzzy SWOT [6]

Integrated Fuzzy DEA [42]

Fuzzy MP Fuzzy linear programming (LP) [33] [38]
Approaches Fuzzy goal programming (GP) [58] [44]
Fuzzy MOP [50] [54] [9]
Fuzzy MOM [3] [4] [5] [45]
Fuzzy Integral model [34]

Integrated Fuzzy CA [13] [53]

Fuzzy Fuzzy probability assignments [27]

Integrated Fuzzy GA [36] [18] [65]

Fuzzy AI Fuzzy inference system [7]
Approaches Adaptive neuro-fuzzy IS [2]
Fuzzy neural network [46]
Multiple Attribute Decision Making (MADM); Quality Function Deployment
(QFD); Technique for Order Performance by Similarity to Ideal Solution
(TOPSIS); Preference Ranking Organization Method for Enrichment Evalua-
tion (PROMETHEE); Multi-criteria Optimization and Compromise Solution
(VIKOR); Simple Multiple Attribute Rating Technique (SMART); Strengths–
Weaknesses–Opportunities–Threats Analysis (SWOT); Multi-Objective Pro-
gramming (MOP); Multi-Objective Model (MOM), Cluster Analysis (CA); Ge-
netic Algorithm (GA); Inference System (IS).

Sarkar and Mohapatra (2006) [60] suggested that performance and capability were two major measures
in the supplier evaluation and selection problem. The authors used the fuzzy set approach to account
for the imprecision involved in numerous subjective characteristics of suppliers. A hypothetical case was
adopted to illustrate how two best suppliers were selected with respect to four performance-based and ten
capability-based factors.

4.3. Integrated fuzzy MCDM approaches

Among 54 journal articles, twenty-six papers (48.15%) formulated the supplier selection problem as
various types of fuzzy multi-criteria decision making models. Based on the principle behind these MCDM
techniques, they can be classified them into four categories: (1) multi-attribute utility methods such as AHP
and ANP; (2) outranking and ranking methods such as PROMETHEE; (3) compromise methods such as
TOPSIS and VIKOR; (4) other MCDM techniques such as SMART [15].

4.3.1. Integrated fuzzy and multi-attribute utility methods

Kahraman et al. [37] applied a fuzzy AHP to select the best supplier in a Turkish white goods man-
ufacturing company. Decision makers could specify preferences about the importance of each evaluating
criterion using linguistic variable. Chan and Kumar [16] also used a fuzzy AHP for supplier selection as
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the similar case as previous mentioned paper. Triangular fuzzy numbers and fuzzy synthetic extent analysis
method were used to represent decision makers’ comparison judgment and decide on the final priority of
different criteria.

4.3.2. Integrated fuzzy and compromise MCDM methods

Chen et al. [21] presented a hierarchy model based on fuzzy sets theory to deal with the supplier selection
problem. The linguistic values were used to assess the ratings and weights for the supplier evaluating factors.
These linguistic ratings could be expressed in trapezoidal or triangular fuzzy numbers. The proposed model
was capable of dealing with both quantitative and qualitative criteria.

4.3.3. Integrated fuzzy and other MCDM techniques

Kwong et al. [47] integrated fuzzy set theory into SMART to assess the performance of suppliers. The
supplier assessment forms were first used to determine the scores of individual assessment items, and then
the scores were input to a fuzzy expert system for the determination of supplier recommendation index.
Chou and Chang [22] applied a fuzzy SMART approach to evaluate the alternative suppliers in an IT
hardware manufacturing company. A sensitivity analysis was carried out to assess the impact of changes in
the risk coefficients in terms of supplier ranking order.

4.3.4. Integrated fuzzy and quality function deployment

Bevilacqua et al. [10] applied QFD approach for supplier selection. A house of quality was constructed to
identify the features that the purchased product should have in order to satisfy the customers’ requirements,
and then to identify the relevant supplier assessment criteria. The importance of product features and the
relationship weightings between product features and assessment criteria were assigned in terms of fuzzy
variables. Finally, the potential suppliers were evaluated against these criteria.

4.4. Integrated fuzzy and mathematical programming approaches

Thirteen journal articles (24.07%) among 54 collected papers, formulated the supplier selection problem
as various types of mathematical programming models.

4.4.1. Integrated fuzzy and linear programming

Guneri aimed to present an integrated fuzzy and linear programming approach to the problem. First,
linguistic values expressed in trapezoidal fuzzy numbers are applied to assess weights and ratings of sup-
plier selection criteria. Then a hierarchy multiple model based on fuzzy set theory is expressed and fuzzy
positive and negative ideal solutions are used to find each supplier’s closeness coefficient. And finally, a
linear programming model based on the coefficients of suppliers, buyer’s budgeting, suppliers’ quality and
capacity constraints is developed and order quantities are assigned to each supplier according to the linear
programming model [33].
Lin [48] tackles the multiple criteria and the inherent uncertainty in supplier selection. This study proposes
to adopt the fuzzy analytic network process (FANP) approach first to identify top suppliers by considering
the effects of interdependence among selection criteria and to handle consistent and uncertain judgments.
FANP is then integrated with fuzzy multi-objective linear programming (FMOLP) in selecting the best
suppliers for achieving optimal order allocation under fuzzy conditions.

4.4.2. Integrated fuzzy and multi-objective programming

Three very similar articles by Amid: (1) constructed the fuzzy multi-objective linear programming decision
model [3]; (2) fuzzy multi-objective mixed integer linear programming model [4]; (3) weighted max–min fuzzy
model [5]; on supplier selection. The presented models could handle the vagueness and imprecision of input
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data, and help the decision makers to find out the optimal order quantity from each supplier. Three objective
functions with different weights were included in the model.

4.5. Integrated fuzzy and statistical approaches

Statistical studies incorporate uncertainty and there are not many articles in the literature that utilize
fuzzy set theory and statistics approaches in the supplier selection process.

4.5.1. Integrated fuzzy, AHP, and cluster analysis

Bottani and Rizzi [13] developed an integrated approach for supplier selection. The approach integrated
cluster analysis and fuzzy AHP to group and rank alternatives, and to progressively reduce the amount of
alternatives and select the most suitable cluster. Fuzzy logic was also brought in to cope with the intrinsic
qualitative nature of the selection process.

4.6. Integrated fuzzy and artificial intelligence approaches

Artificial Intelligence based models are based on computer aided systems that in one way or another can
be trained by a purchasing expert or historic data, however, the complexity of the system is not suitable
for enterprises to solve the issue efficiently without high capability in advanced computer programs.
Although only few examples of AI methods applied to the supplier evaluation problem can be found
in the literature to date it is important to investigate these methods for their potentialities. One of the
strengths of methods such as artificial neural networks (ANN) is that they do not require formalization of
the decision-making process. In that respect, ANN can cope better with complexity and uncertainty than
traditional methods”, because AI-based approach are designed to resemble human judgment functioning.

4.6.1. Integrated fuzzy and GA

Jain et al. [36] suggested a fuzzy based approach for supplier selection. The authors stated that it might
be difficult for an expert to define a complete rule set for evaluating the supplier performance. GA was
therefore integrated to generate a number of rules inside the rule set according to the nature and type of
the priorities associated with the products and their supplier’s attributes.

4.6.2. Integrated fuzzy and artificial neural networks

Kuo et al. [46], present the study intended to develop an intelligent supplier decision support system
which is able to consider both the quantitative and qualitative factors. It is composed of: (1) the collection
of quantitative data such as profit and productivity; (2) a particle swarm optimization based fuzzy neural
network to derive the rules for qualitative data; (3) a decision integration model for integrating both the
quantitative data and fuzzy knowledge decision to achieve the optimal decision.

4.7. Advantages, disadvantages and limitations of approaches

The last objective of this paper is to critically analyze the approaches, and try to find out some drawbacks.
As mentioned before, DEA technique is the most popular individually used technique with 30% in MCDM.
On the other hand, there are various integrated approaches for supplier selection and it was noticed that the
integrated AHP approaches are more prevalent, as shown on Table 1. All of the most popular approaches,
including integrated FST approaches have their advantages, disadvantages and limitations.

4.7.1. Advantages and disadvantages in DEA approaches

DEA has attracted more attention mainly because of its robustness which is its greatest advantage
when compared with other approaches. But, there are two limitations of DEA approach and they can be
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reflected as disadvantage in real-world applications. First, the practitioners may be confused with input
and output criteria. For example, some authors considered price/cost as an output criterion, whereas the
others used it as an input criterion. The second problem is due to the subjective assignment of ratings to
qualitative criteria. In generally, DEA is used to measure the relative efficiencies based on numerical data
only. Considering that the supplier selection problem involves both qualitative and quantitative criteria,
DEA has been modified and extended by soft computing techniques to handle qualitative data [42]. In
addition, it can now be used to consider stochastic performance measures and handle imprecise data. On
the other hand, some authors deployed five-point and seven-point scales to rank the priorities of qualitative
criteria, respectively, and some inconsistencies may occur because of the subjective judgments.

4.7.2. Advantages and disadvantages in AHP approaches

There are various integrated AHP-based approaches for supplier selection, and they are more prevalent.
The integrated AHP-based approaches extended classical AHP process. AHP has been integrated with
other soft computing techniques, including: fuzzy set theory, goal programming (GP), DEA, ANN, and
multi-objective programming (MOP). Comparatively, the integrated AHP–GP approach is the most popular.
The major reason is that the individual techniques possess unique advantages. The consistency verification
operation of AHP contributes greatly to prevent inconsistency because it acts as a feedback mechanism for
the decision makers to review and revise their judgments. Consequently, the judgments made are guaranteed
to be consistent, which is the basic ingredient for making good decisions. Nevertheless, the output of AHP is
merely the relative importance weightings of criteria and sub-factors. In supplier selection problem, besides
the weightings of alternative suppliers, the decision makers also need to consider the resource limitations.
For this reason, the GP can compensate for AHP. It can definitely provide more useful information for the
decision makers. Based on the analysis above, it is believed that it must be beneficial to the decision making
process if AHP and GP are integrated together.

4.7.3. Advantages and disadvantages in fuzzy approaches

There is a small number of research papers which deal with Individual fuzzy approach in supplier assess-
ment and selection processes, but this is due to the nature of FST. There are two significant limitations
of FST approach and they can be reflected as disadvantages in real-world applications. First, the rules of
combining membership functions are known as the min-max rule for conjunctive and disjunctive reasoning.
These rules have a major drawback, and they are not robust at all. Many researchers have proposed different
rules of combining conjunctive or disjunctive clauses: instead of taking the minimum or the maximum of the
membership functions, they take the arithmetic or the geometric mean. It is possible, if there are enough
training data, conditions and class assignments by the experts, to train the system so that it chooses the
best rule that fits the way of reasoning of the expert that did the classification. Another disadvantage of
the rules is that they give the same importance to all factors that are to be combined.
To improve previously mentioned disadvantage, integrated FST approaches are implemented. The first
of them are the integrated FST approaches extended with classical AHP such as: Fuzzy extended AHP
process (FEAHP). FEAHP is an efficient tool to handle the fuzziness of the data involved in deciding the
preferences of different decision variables. The linguistic level of comparisons produced by the customers and
experts for each comparison are tapped in the form of triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy numbers to construct
fuzzy pair-wise comparison matrices.
The next prosperity integrated fuzzy approach is combining FST and QFD, and should be developed
to select suppliers strategically. The most important information that the QFD provides is the importance
weightings of evaluating criterion, which are derived by the expected ratings of requirements, together
with the relationship weightings between different requirements and evaluating criterion. Generally, both
importance ratings of requirements and relationship weightings are determined by the decision makers
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arbitrarily. This may result in a certain degree of inconsistency, and therefore degrade the quality of the
decisions made. To overcome this drawback, QFD is used to evaluate them consistently.

5. Conclusion and future work

This paper is dedicated to 50th anniversary of Fuzzy Set Theory established by Lotfi A. Zadeh in 1965,
and since then fuzzy set theory has presented an inexhaustible research subject for numerous researchers
in the world. This paper is furthermore dedicated to Gary W. Dickson who first established the list of 23
most important criteria for supplier selection, which also happened 50 years ago, in 1966.
Supplier assessment and selection is one of the most important components of logistics chain, which
influences the long term commitments and performance of the company. Good suppliers allow enterprises
to achieve good manufacturing performance and make maximum benefits for practitioners.
This paper presents how fuzzy set theory, fuzzy decision-making and hybrid solutions based on fuzzy can
be used in the various models for supplier assessment and selection in a 50 year period. For this review, the
authors selected only 54 papers published in respectable journals, but only 6 of them deal with Individual
fuzzy approaches while 88% of all the selected papers deal with Integrated fuzzy approach. This shows that
fuzzy set theory has much greater significance when integrated with other methods and techniques from
mathematical, statistical and artificial intelligence filed. This paper also suggests the novel model for –
Methods for supplier assessment and selection – which is to replace the Existing analytical methods for
supplier assessment and selection from 2011.
This research has shown that fuzzy hybrid approaches can be used to solve very complex real-world
decision-making problems such as supplier assessment, ranking and supplier selection.
As already mentioned, DEA is most often used technique with 30% in MCDM. The future work could
focus on additional research on hybrid DEA supplier assessment and selection systems which integrate
mathematics, statistics, and some softcomputing techniques such as evolutionary algorithms and neural


The authors acknowledge the support for research project TR 36030, funded by the Ministry of Science
and Technological Development of Serbia.


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