Research Papers: Design Theory and Methodology

Function Based Design-by-Analogy: A Functional Vector Approach to Analogical Search

[+] Author and Article Information
Jeremy Murphy

Schlumberger Limited,
Sugarland, TX 77478

Katherine Fu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Singapore University of Technology and Design,
Cambridge, MA 02139

Kevin Otto, Kristin Wood

Engineering Product,
Development Pillar,
Singapore University of Technology and Design,
Singapore 138682

Maria Yang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dan Jensen

United States Air Force Academy,
Colorado Springs, CO 80840


1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received June 20, 2013; final manuscript received July 16, 2014; published online August 14, 2014. Assoc. Editor: Jonathan Cagan.

J. Mech. Des 136(10), 101102 (Aug 14, 2014) (16 pages) Paper No: MD-13-1271; doi: 10.1115/1.4028093 History: Received June 20, 2013; Revised July 16, 2014

Design-by-analogy is a powerful approach to augment traditional concept generation methods by expanding the set of generated ideas using similarity relationships from solutions to analogous problems. While the concept of design-by-analogy has been known for some time, few actual methods and tools exist to assist designers in systematically seeking and identifying analogies from general data sources, databases, or repositories, such as patent databases. A new method for extracting functional analogies from data sources has been developed to provide this capability, here based on a functional basis rather than form or conflict descriptions. Building on past research, we utilize a functional vector space model (VSM) to quantify analogous similarity of an idea's functionality. We quantitatively evaluate the functional similarity between represented design problems and, in this case, patent descriptions of products. We also develop document parsing algorithms to reduce text descriptions of the data sources down to the key functions, for use in the functional similarity analysis and functional vector space modeling. To do this, we apply Zipf's law on word count order reduction to reduce the words within the documents down to the applicable functionally critical terms, thus providing a mapping process for function based search. The reduction of a document into functional analogous words enables the matching to novel ideas that are functionally similar, which can be customized various ways. This approach thereby provides relevant sources of design-by-analogy inspiration. As a verification of the approach, two original design problem case studies illustrate the distance range of analogical solutions that can be extracted. This range extends from very near-field, literal solutions to far-field cross-domain analogies.

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Fig. 1

Overview of the functional analogy search development

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Fig. 2

Knowledge database processing involves parsing, tokenizing, and stemming textual content of 65,000 random patents

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Fig. 3

Functional vocabulary generation involves checking for convergence of functional terms, defining function regimes using zipf's law, and using wordnet/thesaurus to perform affinity mapping, defining functional vocabulary hierarchy

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Fig. 4

Cumulative functions versus number of patents indexed with horizontal asymptote at ∼1700 functions and 61,000 patents verifying convergence of function vocabulary

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Fig. 5

Term-document frequency versus order, showing the frequency falls below a 1% threshold (occur in <∼45,000 patents)

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Fig. 6

Function vocabulary document frequency versus rank order comparison with zipf's power law distribution

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Fig. 7

Query formulation and evaluation involves creating a sample patent database of 275,000 patents, defining how to build query vectors for chosen primary and secondary functions, and establishing a relevancy scoring for any patent in the database to a given functional query

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Fig. 8

Query generator user interface

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Fig. 9

Information retrieval and data clustering involves entering desired primary and secondary functions into query generator, exploring top 500 patents in search result viewer clustered by uspto patent class, viewed in PDF form with online patent database website

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Fig. 10

Search result viewer showing average total relevancy score for patent class and individual total relevancy score for identified patents

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Fig. 11

Integration into design process involves input from user generated functional modeling of design problem into patent analogy search, use as one of many possible design inspiration methods/aids during concept generation

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Fig. 12

Black box functional model (top) and simplified functional model (bottom) of core functionality for an automated window washer

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Fig. 13

Patent analogy search results. (a) Automated window cleaning device, an example of a near-field analogy (Patent No. 5,086,533), (b) automated floor cleaning device, an example of a far-field analogy (Patent No. 6,883,201), (c) transportable elevator system for vertically traversing buildings under construction (Patent No. 5,033,586).

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Fig. 14

Simplified functional model of a guitar pickup winder

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Fig. 15

Search results for pickup winder generic functions showing fruit peeler analogy

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Fig. 16

Illustrations from analogous patents for the pickup winder. (a) U.S. Patent No. 5,105,735: perfected machine for peeling oranges and similar fruits, (b) U.S. Patent No. 5,121,888: spinning reel with a spool disengageable from a rear-mounted drag, (c) U.S. Patent No. 3,577,684: abrading machine with steering roll and tensioned abrading belt.

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Fig. 17

Wire tension control analogy solution, U.S. Patent No. 5,038,657




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