Prototypes for automating product system model assembly



The flexibility of life cycle inventory (LCI) background data selection is increasing with the increasing availability of data, but this comes along with the challenge of using the background data with primary life cycle inventory data. To relieve the burden on the practitioner to create the linkages and reduce bias, this study aimed at applying automation to create foreground LCI from primary data and link it to background data to construct product system models (PSM).


Three experienced LCA software developers were commissioned to independently develop software prototypes to address the problem of how to generate an operable PSM from a complex product specification. The participants were given a confidential product specification in the form of a Bill of Materials (BOM) and were asked to develop and test prototype software under a limited time period that converted the BOM into a foreground model and linked it with one or more a background datasets, along with a list of other functional requirements. The resulting prototypes were compared and tested with additional product specifications.


Each developer took a distinct approach to the problem. One approach used semantic similarity relations to identify best-fit background datasets. Another approach focused on producing a flexible description of the model structure that removed redundancy and permitted aggregation. Another approach provided an interactive web application for matching product components to standardized product classification systems to facilitate characterization and linking.


Four distinct steps were identified in the broader problem of automating PSM construction: creating a foreground model from product data, determining the quantitative properties of foreground model flows, linking flows to background datasets, and expressing the linked model in a format that could be used by existing LCA software. The three prototypes are complementary in that they address different steps and demonstrate alternative approaches. Manual work was still required in each case, especially in the descriptions of the product flows that must be provided by background datasets.


The study demonstrates the utility of a distributed, comparative software development, as applied to the problem of LCA software. The results demonstrate that the problem of automated PSM construction is tractable. The prototypes created advance the state of the art for LCA software.

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Code availability

The project and prototypes are available as open-source software on the collaborative coding platform GitHub. The resources provided to the developers, including test datasets can be found in the Product System Assembly Resources repository. Each prototype was published independently by its author, and the repositories are publicly available:






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Bill Michaud, CSRA, managed personnel. Chrys Starr, NAVAIR, provided the primary test dataset. IPC International, Inc. provided the PCB BOM. Rebe Feraldi, LAC Group, and Bill Barrett, USEPA, provided initial reviews. Two anonymous reviewers provided formal reviews and recommendations through Int. J LCA.


This research was supported by the SERDP-ESTCP research program under project WP-2757 and conducted via EPA contract EP-C-15-02 WA-20 with CSRA.

Author information




WI conceptualized the study, developed the methodology, and administered the project. BK, CM, and MS conducted the investigation/wrote the software and provided visualization of their respective software. KS and WI acquired funding and resources. BK and WI validated the prototype builds and resulting product systems and were the primary writers. Terms for contributions come from CRediT.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wesley Ingwersen.

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Communicated by Martin Baitz.

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Kuczenski, B., Mutel, C., Srocka, M. et al. Prototypes for automating product system model assembly. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2021).

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  • Product system model
  • Foreground
  • Background
  • Linking
  • Software
  • Hackathon