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The problem

Throughout the supply chain and during the life cycle of a product, technical information in the form of engineering data has to be transferred in parallel with the transfer of the product through all of the stages of the product life cycle - design, test, manufacture, storage, use, recovery, etc. The availability of complete information about a product throughout and beyond its useful life is particularly important for the aerospace and energy sectors, because of the need for full information for monitoring of safety during many decades of use, and for nuclear systems in the decommissioning phase and in the long-term storage of radioactive material. Engineering information about a product should therefore have the same importance as the product.

Each engineering software system has its unique internal method of representing the data that it processes and this particular form of the digital product information cannot be understood and processed directly by alternative systems that have different internal representations.  Interoperability by direct communication of engineering data between different software systems requires some method of ensuring that the data representation in the message can be understood by the receiving software system.  Furthermore, the lifetime of many products is usually greater than the lifetime of engineering software systems. So, there is an additional requirement to ensure that the digital product data is retained in a computer-processable form that can still be understandable in this form many years after the originating computer system is obsolete or else no longer available.


The solution

The solution adopted by the global engineering community to the problem of digital information conservation and the exchange of data between different engineering software systems is to use International Standards to specify the description of the product and its properties in non-proprietary information models.  They provide a common language for the representation of engineering information and they are the modern equivalent of standardising the description of screw threads and the sizes of nuts of bolts in the 19th Century.  They can also form the basis for the quality control and quality assurance of the digital engineering data.

These International Standards can describe any engineering product, process and property independently from any proprietary software. They have been developed since 1984 in ISO Technical Committee 184 Sub-Committee 4 (ISO/TC 184/SC4) by collaboration between most industrial nations and many of the global industrial sectors. These standard specifications have been developed by engineers for engineers in order to reduce the problems caused by interoperability and its related costs. The future strategy of the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe is based on the widespread adoption of this technology . An introduction to this technology of data representation and exchange has been published in a new book: 'Interoperability for digital engineering systems', ed. Anna Moreno (ISBN 978-88-917-06000-3, Kindle e-book).