Ecological Principles and Metrics for Improving Material Cycling Structures in Manufacturing Networks Academic Article uri icon


  • A key element for achieving sustainable manufacturing systems is efficient and effective resource use. This potentially can be achieved by encouraging symbiotic thinking among multiple manufacturers and industrial actors and establish resource flow structures that are analogous to material flows in natural ecosystems. In this paper, ecological principles used by ecologists for understanding food web (FW) structures are discussed which can provide new insight for improving closed-loop manufacturing networks. Quantitative ecological metrics for measuring the performance of natural ecosystems are employed. Specifically, cyclicity, which is used by ecologists to measure the presence and strength of the internal cycling of materials and energy in a system, is discussed. To test applicability, groupings of symbiotic eco-industrial parks (EIP) were made in terms of the level of internal cycling in the network structure (high, medium, basic, and none) based on the metric cyclicity. None of the industrial systems analyzed matched the average values and amounts of cycling seen in biological ecosystems. Having detritus actors, i.e., active recyclers, is a key element for achieving more complex cycling behavior. Higher cyclicity values also correspond to higher amounts of indirect cycling and pathway proliferation rate, i.e., the rate that the number of paths increases as path length increases. In FWs, when significant cycling is present, indirect flows dominate direct flows. The application of these principles has the potential for novel insights in the context of closed-loop manufacturing systems and sustainable manufacturing.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Layton, A., Bras, B., & Weissburg, M.

citation count

  • 29

complete list of authors

  • Layton, Astrid||Bras, Bert||Weissburg, Marc

publication date

  • January 2016