A procedure for evaluation of multiple attributes in the preliminary design stage is necessary to the development of a more formal theory and methodology of design. In this paper we prescribe, demonstrate, and compare two such techniques: fuzzy set analysis and multiattribute utility analysis. We analyze the problem of preliminary material selection for an automotive bumper beam to illustrate the application of both analytical procedures. Preliminary assessment of incommensurate performance measures of weight, cost, shape restriction, stiffness, and corrosion are made for steel and polymer composite alternatives. Fuzzy analysis readily accommodates design evaluation based on semantic assessment of relative attribute levels, although it can also employ information which is entirely numerical. In contrast, utility analysis requires considerable numerical quantification. For the example studied, the ordinal ranking of alternatives was the same for both methods. Recommendations include using fuzzy analysis in the earliest stages of preliminary design evaluation or in situations limited to semantic input from design decision makers. Utility analysis may be used in later stages of preliminary design, where numerical quantification of attribute levels is possible and when decision makers are able to assess the individual attribute utility functions in the standard way. The results of utility analysis can be used to quantify acceptable design tradeoffs between attribute levels and can be used in later stages of the iterative design process.

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