Background on the KCV Designs

Geoff Vining on Feb. 21, 2020

Design-Expert® software, v12 offers formulators a simplified modeling option crafted to maximize essential mixture-process interaction information, while minimizing experimental costs. This new tool is nicknamed a “KCV model” after the initials of the developers – Scott Kowalski, John Cornell, and Geoff Vining. Below, Geoff reminisces on the development of these models.

To help learn this innovative methodology, first view a recorded webinar on the subject.

Next, sign up for the workshop "Mixture Design for Optimal Formulations".

The origin of the KCV designs goes back to a mixtures short-course that I taught for Doug Montgomery at an adhesives company in Ohio. One of the topics was mixture-process variables experiments, and Doug's notes for the course contained an example using ratios of mixture proportions with the process variables. Looking at the resulting designs, I recognized that ratios did not cover the mixture design space well. Scott Kowalski was beginning his dissertation at the time. Suddenly, he had a new chapter (actually two new chapters)!

The basic idea underlying the KCV designs is to start with a true second-order model in both the mixture and process variables and then to apply the mixture constraint. The mixture constraint is subtle and can produce several models, each with a different number of terms. A fundamental assumption underlying the KCV designs is that the mixture by process variable interactions are of serious interest, especially in production. Typically, corporate R&D develops the basic formulation, often under extremely pristine conditions. Too often, R&D makes the pronouncement that "Thou shall not play with the formula." However, there are situations where production is much smoother if we can take advantage of a mixture component by process variable interaction that improves yields or minimizes a major problem. Of course, that change requires changing the formula.

Cornell (2002) is the definitive text for all things dealing with mixture experiments. It covers every possible model for every situation. However, John in his research always tended to treat the process variables as nuisance. In fact, John's intuitions on Taguchi's combined array go back to the famous fish patty experiment in his book. The fish patty experiment looked at combining three different types of fish and involved three different processing conditions. John's intuition was how to create the best formulation robust to the processing conditions, recognizing that the use of these fish patties was in a major fast-food chain. The processing conditions in actual practice typically were in the hands of teenagers who may or may not follow the protocol precisely.

John's basic instincts followed the corporate R&D-production divide. He rarely, if ever, truly worried about the mixture by process variable interactions. In addition, his first instinct always was to cross a full mixture component experiment with a full factorial experiment in the process variables. If he needed to fractionate a mixture-process experiment, he always fractionated the process variable experiment, because it primarily provided the "noise".

The basic KCV approach reversed the focus. Why can we not fractionate the mixture experiment in such a way that if a process variable is not significant, the resulting design projects down to a standard full mixture experiment? In the process, we also can see the impact of possible mixture by process variable interactions.

I still vividly remember when Scott presented the basic idea in his very first dissertation committee meeting. Of course, John Cornell was on Scott's committee. In Scott's first committee meeting, he outlined the full second-order model in both the mixture and process variables and then proceeded to apply the mixture constraint in such a way as to preserve the mixture by process variable interactions. John, who was not the biggest fan of optimal designs when a standard mixture experiment would work well, immediately jumped up and ran to the board where Scott was presenting the basic idea. John was afraid that we were proposing to use this model and apply our favorite D-optimal algorithm, which may or may not look like a standard mixture design. John and I were very good friends. I simply told him to sit down and wait a few minutes. He reluctantly did. Five minutes later, Scott presented our design strategy for the basic KCV designs, illustrating the projection properties where if a process variable was unimportant the mixture design collapsed to a standard full mixture experiment. John saw that this approach addressed his basic concerns about the blind use of an optimal design algorithm. He immediately became a convert, hence the C in KCV. He saw that we were basically crossing a good design in the process variables, which itself could be a fraction, with a clever fraction of the mixture component experiment.

John's preference to cross a mixture experiment with a process variable design meant that it was very easy to extend these designs to split-plot structures. As a result, we had two very natural chapters for Scott's dissertation. The first paper (Kowalski, Cornell, and Vining 2000) appeared in Communications in Statistics in a special issue guest edited by Norman Draper. The second paper (Kowalski, Cornell, and Vining 2002) appeared in Technometrics.

There are several benefits to the KCV design strategy. First, these designs have very nice projection properties. Of course, they were constructed specifically to achieve this goal. Second, it can significantly reduce the overall design size while still preserving the ability to estimate highly informative models. Third, unlike the approach that I taught in Ohio, the KCV designs cover the mixture experimental design space much better while still providing the equivalent information. The underlying models for both approaches are equivalent.

It has been very gratifying to see Design-Expert incorporate the KCV designs. We hope that Design-Expert users find them valuable.


Cornell, J.A. (2002). Experiments with Mixtures: Designs, Models, and the Analysis of Mixture Data, 3rd ed. NewYork: John Wiley and Sons.

Kowalski, S.M., Cornell, J.A., and Vining, G.G. (2000). “A New Model and Class of Designs for Mixture Experiments with Process Variables,” Communications in Statistics – Theory and Methods, 29, pp. 2255-2280.

Kowalski, S.M., Cornell, J.A., and Vining, G.G. (2002). “Split-Plot Designs and Estimation Methods for Mixture Experiments with Process Variables,” Technometrics, 44, pp. 72-79.

Return to blog