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Circular Economy Product Design and Digital Thread


The Circular Economy: Product Design and Digital Thread project focuses on better managing how products are designed, made, and used in response to the increasing recognition of the limited nature of global critical material resources. This project’s initiative is founded on improving practices for designing new products and identifying methods to trace those products throughout their life cycle, aligning with the concepts of a Circular Economy.

A Circular Economy is an economic model in which waste is minimized and materials within the financial system retain their value for as long as possible. In a circular economy, value recovery activities, such as reuse, remanufacturing, and refurbishing, are preferred over the traditional economic “take, make, dispose” model.

Shifting towards a Circular Economy includes identifying, collecting, and using life cycle data to assist in adopting practical value recovery activities. Leveraging this data in product design, termed Circular Product Design, can allow designers to reimagine, plan, and execute the recovery and reuse of products and their constituent materials. Designers and other product stakeholders can collaborate to ensure maximum economic value retention through digital manufacturing technologies, digital product passports, and clearer data operability between product life cycle stages. The use of circular product design to connect product life cycle areas and stakeholders improves the accuracy and execution of sustainability initiatives. It increases the manufacturing and economic resilience of U.S-based commerce.


The objective of the Circular Economy Product Design project is to develop methods and standards to create products intentionally designed to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency throughout their entire lifecycle, resulting in positive social and environmental impacts.

Technical Idea
The U.S. design and manufacturing community faces challenges with respect to both data management and product design for the Circular Economy. These challenges include:

  • Expanding the data connectivity between life cycle areas
  • Determining what data is sufficient for tracking life cycle activity
  • Improving the interoperability of life cycle data
  • Defining product life cycle data ontologies for deployable circular product design and data management
  • Apply novel and reactive digital twin systems to product design, standardize circular manufacturing and value recovery activities, and develop design guidelines surrounding end-of-use.
  • Enabling sustainability through circular concepts
  • Developing accessible design-for-the Circular economy principle and metric standards

Research Plan
The Circular Product Design and Digital Thread project develops and deploys data informatics (collaborative activities that apply trusted data in creative and valuable ways) to support the transition to a Circular Economy, with a specific focus on design for mass-produced, low-customization, mixed-material --consumer products. The goals of this work include a substantial reduction of waste from manufactured products in the U.S. through design for end-of-use and life cycle data integration, introduction of novel standards that support design for the circular economy and use cycle data integration, significantly increase the body of knowledge of design principles that consider value recovery processing for circularity and significantly improve knowledge of information integration requirements for the product life cycle.


ASTM WK83603 Principles of Circular Product Design.
ISO 59010 Circular Economy: Guidance on the transition of business models and value networks
ISO 59004 Circular Economy: Terminology, principles, and guidance for implementation
ISO 59020 Circular Economy: Measuring and assessing circularity

Research Publications
Circular Economy: A Product Life Cycle Perspective on Engineering and Manufacturing Practices, Procedia CIRP.
Optimizing Product Life Cycle Systems for Manufacturing in a Circular Economy, GCSM.
Adapting Modern Product Design to the Circular Economy, IDETC-CIE.
A Critical Analysis of Circular Product Attributes and Limitations of Product Circularity Assessment Methods (RCR)
Designing Products for the Circular Economy: A Review of Principles from 260 Sources

Technical Workshops
Fostering a Circular Economy of Manufacturing Materials, ASTM-NIST, 2022.
Design for a Circular Economy: Addressing the Nexus of Research, Standards and Education, ASME-NIST, 2023.

Created April 26, 2024, Updated April 27, 2024