Randolph E. Kirchain, Ph.D.

Research: Mapping the Broader Implications of Materials Design

Economic Performance - Cost

On the face of it, cost appears to be a simple metric - the financial consequences of an action. However, when it comes to relating specific technical changes to their economic implications, cost can become a more elusive measure. The classical tools for analyzing costs are based in an accounting heritage which focuses on the performance of existing facilities and designs. This historical and aggregate focus limits the relevance of the resulting analyses when exploring significant technological change - the kind associated with novel materials technologies.

Fortunately, there are methods to meet this need. Specifically, Dr. Kirchain's research group has been advancing the frontier of generative cost modeling methods. In the same way that engineering models allow designers to understand the physical consequences of their technical choices before implementation, generative cost models project economic consequences. A number of authors have applied generative cost models to study individual cases of technology selection or manufacturing configuration, but no common method has emerged. (Noble 1990; 1993) Dr. Kirchain's research has focused both on applying generative models to explore case studies of materials technology competition and generalizing the specific method referred to as process-based cost modeling (PBCM).

Product Design

Within the context of structural materials selection, Dr. Kirchain's group has demonstrated the application of the PBCM method to the process of product development. Such tools in concert with the manufacturing models mentioned above were used to (i) identify the potential for development costs to change with materials and, therefore, alter the materials selection decision, (ii) characterize the interdependence of materials choice and architectural platforming, and (iii) develop improved metrics to guide platforming decisions.

Selected Publications

M Johnson and R Kirchain, "Quantifying the Effects of Parts Consolidation and Development Costs on Material Selection Decisions: A Process-Based Costing Approach", submitted to International Journal of Production Economics.

M Johnson and R Kirchain, "A Process-based Cost Modeling Approach to the Development of Product Families", submitted to Journal of Product Innovation Management.

M Johnson and R Kirchain, "The Importance of Product Development Cycle Time and Cost in the Development of Product Families", Journal of Engineering Design, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2011. pp. 87-99.

S Akamphon, "Methods for Capturing the Impact of Non-Steady State Production on Technology Choice", Doctoral Thesis in Mechanical Engineering, June 2008.

M Johnson, "Quantifying the Impact of Material and Architecture on Development Cost", Doctoral Thesis in Mechanical Engineering, June 2004.


A core aspect of Dr. Kirchain's case study work focuses on developing a comprehensive suite of process-based cost models to evaluate the competitive position of alternative structural materials within the automobile. This set of tools, in whole or in part, is used currently by General Motors, the DOE's US Advanced Materials Partnership, and numerous materials suppliers and component producers throughout the automotive supply-chain. This work has identified the most economical opportunities for emerging materials such as advanced composites, high-strength steels, and light metals to reduce vehicle mass.

Additionally, Dr. Kirchain's group applied PBCM to study the technologies of optoelectronic communications. Specifically, through a collaboration with Professors Lionel Kimerling and Rajeev Ram his group has developed the first detailed process-based cost model of optoelectronic component production. This model has shown that, contrary to widely held belief, it would be cost effective to utilize integrated designs even given current low production volumes. This analytical work served as a key element within the document Microphotonics: Hardware for the Information Age, the first-ever broad technology roadmap for the optoelectronic components industry that was published by the MIT Communications Technology Roadmap Project.

Through this work across two distinct industries, Dr. Kirchain's research has developed generalizable modeling approaches to create models that are reconfigurable and scalable with regard to process flow and that can simultaneously analyze multiple platformed products. These tools now bring accurate information to the early stage of the decision process when materials technology choices are made.

In terms of fundamental learnings around the economics of materials technologies, these models have been applied to (i) characterize the impact of cost structure on expected cost evolution in response to manufacturing learning, specifically, identifying technologies with limited or great potential for cost decrease, (ii) demonstrate the tight coupling between materials, architecture, and process decisions, and (iii) identify the potential for manufacturing location to affect the technological trajectory of an industry.

Selected Publications


F Field, R Kirchain, and R Roth, "Process Cost Modeling: Strategic Engineering and Economic Evaluation of Materials Technologies", Journal of Metals, Vol. 49, Iss. 10, 2007. pp. 1543-1581.
doi: 10.1007/s11837-007-0126-0

R Kirchain and F Field, "Process-Based Cost Modeling: Understanding the Economics of Technical Decisions", in Encyclopedia of Materials Science & Engineering, v2, pp 1718-27, Elsevier Science, 2000.


E Fuchs, F Field, R Roth, and R Kirchain, "Strategic Materials Selection in the Automotive Body: Economic Opportunities for Polymer Composite Design", Composites Science and Technology, Vol.68, Iss. 9, 2008. pp.1989-2002.
doi: 10.1016/j.compscitech.2008.01.015

T Montalbo, T Lee, R Roth, and R Kirchain, "Modeling Costs and Fuel Economy Benefits of Lightweighting Vehicle Closure Panels", SAE 2008 World Congress, Detroit MI, April 14-17, 2008, 12 pages.

S Matwick, "An Economic Evaluation of Sheet Hydroforming and Low Volume Stamping and the Effects of Manufacturing Systems Analysis", Master's Thesis, February 2003.

E Fuchs, "The Significance of Production Cost Inputs in Regional Technology Choice: Composite Automotive Body-In-Whites in the US versus China", Master's Thesis, Technology Policy Program, June 2003.

D Dantec, "Analysis of the Cost of Recycling Compliance for the Automobile Industry", Master's Thesis, Technology Policy Program, February 2005.

A Kar, "A Cost Modeling Approach Using Learning Curves to Study the Evolution of Technology", Master's Thesis, Materials Science and Engineering, June 2007.

R Cirincione, "A Study of Optimal Automotive Materials Choice Given Market and Regulatory Uncertainty ", Master's Thesis, Technology Policy Program, June 2008.


E Fuchs, E Bruce, R Ram, and R Kirchain, "Process-based Cost Modeling of Photonics Manufacture: The Cost Competitiveness of Monolithic Integration of a 1550-nm DFB Laser and an Electroabsorptive Modulator on an InP Platform", Journal of Lightwave Technology, Vol. 24, Iss. 8, 2006, pp. 3175-3186.
doi: 10.1109/JLT.2006.875961

S Liu, "Process Based Cost Modeling of Emerging Optoelectronic Interconnects: Implications for Material Platform Choice", Master's Thesis, Technology Policy Program, June 2008.

Other Industries

R Kirchain, The Role of Titanium in the Automobile: Understanding the Economic Implication of Three Emerging Technologies, prepared for United States Advanced Materials Partnership and the US Department of Energy. July 2002.

J Gregory and R Kirchain, "Eco-Efficient Recycling Alternatives for End-of-Life Cathode Ray Tubes", Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of TMS: Light Metals Division, San Antonio, 2006, pp. 909-918.

J Gregory, J Atlee, and R Kirchain, "Driving Eco-Efficiency-Informed Decisions: A Process-Based Model of End-of-Life Electronics Recycling", Proceedings of IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, San Francisco, 2006, pp.138-143.

J Dahmus, S Fredholm, E Olivetti, J Gregory, and R Kirchain, "Modeling the Economic and Environmental Performance of Recycling Systems", Proceedings of the IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, San Francisco, CA, May 19-22, 2008, 6 pages.