Cost estimation and viability

When are metal foams viable? By viable we mean that the balance between performance and cost is favourable. The answer has three ingredients: a technical model of the performance of the material in a given application, a cost model giving an estimate of material and process costs, and a value model which balances performance against cost. Viability is assessed by constructing a value function that includes measures of both performance and cost. It allows ranking of materials by both economic and technical criteria.

At present all metal foams are produced in small quantities using time and labor-intensive methods, and all, relative to the solid metals from which they derive, are expensive. But it is not the present-day cost which is relevant; it is the cost which would obtain were the process to be scaled and automated to meet the increases demand of one or a portfolio of new applications. The role of a cost model is to assess this, to identify cost drivers, to examine the ultimate limits to cost reduction, and to guide process development.

Balancing cost against performance is an example of multi-objective optimization. This chapter expands on this, and the role of cost and performance metrics in determining viability. The method, which can encompass multi-functionality, is illustrated by examples.

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