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Additive, subtractive, and formative manufacturing of metal components: a life cycle assessment comparison

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Manufacturing processes are typically divided into three categories: formative, subtractive, and additive. While formative and subtractive manufacturing processes are considered more traditional, additive manufacturing (AM) is a family of evolving technologies that are rapidly growing with techniques and constraints yet to be explored. In this paper, a life cycle assessment comparison of casting (formative), machining (subtractive), and three AM methods, namely, binder jetting (BJ), powder bed fusion (PBF), and novel bound powder extrusion (BPE) has been performed. To compare each method from the sustainability standpoint, a life cycle assessment was conducted on a double cardan H-yoke, as a case study, focusing on environmental metrics such as water consumption, energy requirements, and CO2 emissions. This study focuses on the environmental effects of the novel BPE process with respect to current traditional manufacturing and AM methods. The case study was divided into two scenarios of the original and topology-optimized H-yoke to investigate the potential environmental footprint reduction by utilizing the capability of AM in generating complex geometries. The results proved that casting, as a formative manufacturing process, is the most environmentally friendly option for large-scale production of the investigated processes. Among the AM technologies that have been studied, PBF was the most environmentally friendly choice when coupled with renewable energy, reducing the total CO2 emission by 9.2% when compared to casting. In contrast, BJ was more environmentally friendly when fossil fuel was assumed as the main source of energy, showing only an 8.7% increase in CO2 emissions. The novel BPE preformed equal to or just short of BJ in all metrics, showing only a 9.4% increase of CO2 emission using fossil fuel compared to the 41.7% increase seen by PBF, with respect to BJ. AM environmental metrics were significantly improved when the topology-optimized part was employed. Machining, as a subtractive method, performed the worst from the environmental perspective due to the initial billet size and the amount of material to be removed (wasted). The production time for each process was analyzed to display the feasibility of producing the cast study part in a mass manufacturing scenario. The LCA case study proves that the increased number of BPE manufacturing steps does not negatively affect the environmental impact of the process, based on current LCA data. However, the BPE process is the most time-consuming process and must be considered when selecting the method of manufacture.

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additive manufacturing


subtractive manufacturing


binder jetting


powder bed fusion


bound powder extrusion


direct energy deposition


sheet lamination


selective laser sintering


selective laser melting


electron beam melting


fused filament fabrication


metal injection molding


hot isostatic pressing


life cycle assessment


computer numerical control


acrylonitrile butadiene styrene


finite elements


solid isotropic material with penalization


bi-directional evolutionary structural optimization

n :

factor of safety

σ max :

maximum stress (MPa)

σ min :

minimum stress (MPa)

σ a :

stress amplitude (MPa)

σ m :

mean stress (MPa)

\( {S}_e^{\prime } \) :

endurance limit of ideal specimen (MPa)

S e :

actual endurance limit of material (MPa)

S ut :

ultimate tensile strength of material (MPa)

k a :

surface condition modification factor

k b :

size modification factor

k c :

load modification factor

k d :

temperature modification factor

k e :

reliability factor

k f :

miscellaneous-effects modification factor

x :

process index abbreviation

m x :

part or material mass for process x (kg)

E x :

energy consumption for process x (MJ/kg)

W x :

water consumption for process x (L/kg)

C x :

CO2 emission for process x (kgCO2/kg)

xR E :

energy consumption rate for process x (MJ)

xR W :

water consumption rate for process x (L)

xR C :

CO2 emission rate for process x (kgCO2)

D :

distance travel between manufacturing process (km)


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The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Ontario Tech STAR Award for their financial support.

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Correspondence to Ali Hosseini.

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DeBoer, B., Nguyen, N., Diba, F. et al. Additive, subtractive, and formative manufacturing of metal components: a life cycle assessment comparison. Int J Adv Manuf Technol 115, 413–432 (2021).

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