Technology Maturity Using S-curve Descriptors

First published in the Proceedings of the Altshuller Institute TRIZCON99

by: Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D.*
Director of Science and Technology
Ontro Incorporated

(*Adjunct Assistant Professor North Carolina State University)

March 1999



Macro-level evolution as a function of time can be applied to four descriptors to plot the maturity of a technology and thereby indicate the primary course for maintaining technological supremacy. This pattern of design evolution is based on a primary discovery of Altshuller: the evolution of a product or technology parallels the micro-evolution of biological systems (the biological s-curve). Researching data relevant to critical performance criteria of a technology, the number of inventions in this technological field, the levels of the aforementioned inventions, and the profitability of the primary resultant of the technology in question will allow interpolation and correlation of data that will indicate the resultant location on the s-curve1. The derived location on the curve (pregnancy, birth, childhood, maturity, or decline) will indicate to the manager of technology what posture should be assumed: further investment in the current technology, stasis, or various levels of research and development for a technology that will replace the current technology (pre-decline, maintaining a positive profitability). A careful study will yield valuable information based on data and the statistical analysis of this data in light of the Theory of Directed Evolution. This unique ability of the theory of innovative problem-solving demonstrates its versatility and power with respect to design and development.

A reduction to practice of this theory will be demonstrated by a case study about the direction of self-heating (exothermic chemical reaction) container technology.


  1. Introduction

Evolution in stages is a macrolevel methodology aimed at the maturity mapping of an existing technology. The stages of the S-curve are pregnancy, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and decline. Four curves plot the maturity of a technology from different perspectives: performance, number of inventions, the inventive levels of those inventions, and profitability, see Figure 1.0. The interpolation of these individual curves gives the analyst an indication of the technology’s location on the S-curve. Understanding this mapped maturity allows strategic decisions to be made concerning the investment of resources related to research, development, marketing, and sales. Understanding maturity allows the corporation to maximize the utilization of limited resources as well as market profitability. It is for at least these two key reasons that maturity mapping addresses fundamental issues associated with corporate survival during the coming millennium.

Figure 1.0: These four curves plotted versus time indicate location of a technology in reference to the extrapolated polynomial fits of previously studied technologies2. The data in question may be sufficient only to re-create a portion of the experimental curves indicated above. Correlation of the existing data may be accomplished by aligning the data regression with the appropriate portion of the indicated descriptors.


  1. Summary

Self-heating container technology has had patent activity from starting from 1976. The patent activity during the ensuing 23 years has been varied and non-consistent. These particularities make self-heating technology an ideal candidate for maturity mapping. Data were collected relevant to the technology that would provide necessary information to create the required graphs represented in figure 1.0. The search criteria was devised using Boolean operators selected to insure capture of relevant and associated self-heating technologies. The abstracts were then reviewed for relevancy and the database was modified accordingly. A properly constructed search can reduce the abstract review period while a search criterion that is too broad in nature will significantly increase the abstract review period.



Sustained core temperature was selected as the primary performance characteristic to trend. Data concerning sustained core temperature was collected from literature and company specifications for the last twenty years. This data was plotted as Figure 2.0. The core temperature sustainement is measured in seconds beginning when the specified core temperature is reached and ends when the specified temperature is no longer maintained due to exothermic exhaustion (the nominal required temperature is monitored and considered attained to +/- 5 F). A portion of the energy created is required to thermally condition internal membranes and is therefore not directly translated to the temperature elevation of the beverage. Due to this, beverage temperature was also selected as a primary performance characteristic. Beverage temperature would be the final quality criteria performance would be based on as it is directly transferred to the customer.

Figure 2.0


Figure 3.0: A second performance criterion was plotted for beverage temperature. There are noticeable differentiations in core temperature and beverage temperature.


Number of Inventions

The number of self-heating technology patents was collected from a patent database and these figures were collected and plotted, see Figure 4.0.

Figure 4.0 Patents per year for self-heating technology (and relevant criteria not specifically naming "self-heating"). A chart produced by Invention Machine TOPE 3.0 is reproduced below indicating almost identical information (demonstrating accuracy of the IMC search engine(s))



Level of Inventions

The associated aggregate level of inventiveness for the patents disclosed in Figure 4.0 are plotted below as Figure 5.0. The criteria used for level determination was primarily a combination of the following categories and the individual patent ranking versus each. The category list used was as follows:


Required trial and error iterations (if known or surmised (acknowledge strength or weakness of any assumption(s))

Presence or absence or invisibility of a contradiction(s) (administrative, technical, or physical)

Number of contradictions

Strength of the contradiction(s)

Impact on the relevant field

Impact on science

Degree of system change


Figure 5.0: The highest level of the inventiveness is represented per annum as an indication of the overall state-of-the-art in self-heating technology during the time frames indicated.



Profitability and bookings were investigated and plotted in the following Figures 6.0 and 7.0. There are many indicators that are evident without utilizing profitability data, as the company in question is a relatively young company. It is primarily in the "start-up" phase with reference to the evolution of the organization3.:

Figure 6.0: Profitability is plotted with reference to time and indicates losses for the first twenty. The peak in profitability is the result of the emergence (birth) of the technology.


  1. conclusions

The stage indicators placed the existing self-heating technology in the infancy stage. This is demonstrated by superimposing the predicted curves from Figure 1.0 over the experimental data from section 2.0. In each case the correlation suggests an immature status. A clear strategic implication was realized: invest in the production and marketing for this technology. Previous technologies were employed but the peak core and beverage temperatures realized were inadequate due to secondary limitations (or problems) associated with the technology in question (e.g., cost to manufacture, weight, safety). Therefore, there were several s-curves that were initiated but each declined prior to the emergence of the technology. This is the first cycle of this technology that has emerged. Several secondary problems were resolved and innovative design and utility patents were filed that will protect this technology as it matures. Maturity mapping will be utilized to insure the growth of this technology is understood and strategically managed to maximize profitability. Resources will be directed to a superceding technology at a point conducive to the maintenance of a positively sloped profitability curve.



  1. Creativity as an Exact Science, G.S. Altshuller, 1984 by Gordon and Breach Science Publishers Inc.
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  2. Systematic Innovation, J. Terninko, B. Zlotin, A. Zusman, St. Lucie’s Press
    (back to article)
  3. Organizational Evolution, private discussion with Ideation International Corporation, 1998.
    (back to article)