Industrial Ontologies Foundry (IOF) Charter

1    The Challenges Today’s Global Economy Places on Industry 

2    IOF Goals 

3    IOF Benefits 


5 IOF Organisation

        5.1    Governance Board 

        5.2    Technical Oversight Board 

        5.3    Domain Boards 

6    Strategy/Plan 

  1. The Challenges Today’s Global Economy Places on Industry

Industry and manufacturing is evolving ever more rapidly. It continues to become more complex, interconnected, and geographically distributed. The underlying economic model is based on

a) distribution of industrial processes and their supply chains,

b) internal and external collaboration, subcontracting, and offshoring, and

c) flexibility

As a result, more systems and software are being created to support the different aspects and phases of the manufacturing product life cycle. Thus, interoperability becomes more critical among all types of systems used in industry, especially information systems, but is considered a challenging topic.

To support interoperability there is a need to separate concerns and responsibilities and modularize every aspect of the product life cycle from conception, design, engineering, to manufacturing, supply and demand distribution networks, maintenance, customer service, and end-of-life decommissioning.

As industry has become more complex and global, artifacts created by industry themselves become more complex. Changes to supply chains and trade policies have fostered an international climate allowing globally distributed manufacturing. This increased interdependence entails more explicit relations and communication among participants (both human and systems), which in turn requires greater interoperability to allow these relations and communications to operate as expected.

To help resolve, facilitate, and manage the increasing number of relations and communications industry is responding by building more sophisticated, ‘intelligent’, frameworks, platforms and applications (aka apps). However, their degree of interoperability is not always as great as expected (or required).

Interoperability is a continuing challenge for information systems and those systems that rely heavily on the use, or production of, information. Consensus-based controlled vocabularies, and the more advanced technology called ontologies have proved themselves a valuable tool for achieving interoperability in various domains such as biology and finance. Ontologies can provide both a consistent base of terminology and well-defined interpretations (of natural language terms) that are correct for a domain of application. In addition to facilitating interoperability, ontologies have also demonstrated values in other sophisticated uses including knowledge discovery and information validation using reasoning.

In industrial domains, the use of ontologies has not lived up to initial expectations. As example, one attempt was OntoSTEP, a translation from STEP’s original representation, which was augmented with NIST’s Core Product Model, into OWL. This ‘translation’ demonstrated the feasibility of performing such mappings and was utilized in several academic ventures. However, its use in the industry is not known, perhaps due to the proprietary nature of industrial ontologies.  Hence, publicized uses of ontologies in industry domains, manufacturing in particular, have thus far remained largely at the level of academic research rather than commercial applications.

Industrial companies have remained hesitant to use ontologies due both 1) a continued lack of knowledge of the advantages ontologies can bring and 2) the persistent immaturity of the field in industrial domains – existing ontologies are segmented, not standardized, and inconsistent in quality – thus posing a risk. At the same time, however, the problems created by failures of interoperability of the systems being developed in areas such as digital manufacturing continue to accumulate. To promote interoperability, ontologies need a solid base of definitions with cross industrial domains support.  This support can come about through a community-based effort toward building this pre-competitive technology. To resolve the problems described, we propose a strategy based on principles similar to those of the Open Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) Foundry, a non-profit open initiative that has successfully promoted the development of high quality, non-redundant and interoperable ontologies used in a wide variety of different sorts of applications for retrieval, integration and analysis of biomedical data and information in the biomedical domain.

  1. IOF Goals

The goals of the IOF include:

  • Providing principles and best practices by which quality ontologies can be developed that will support interoperability for industrial domains,
  • Creating a suite of open and principles-based ontologies from which other sub-domain or application ontologies can be derived in a modular fashion, remaining ‘generic’ (i.e., non-proprietary, non-implementation specific) so they can be reused in any number of industrial domains or manufacturing specializations,
  • Instituting a governance mechanism to maintain and promulgate the goals and principles,
  • Providing an organizational framework and governance processes that ensure conformance to principles and best practices for development, sharing, maintenance, evolution, and documentation of IOF ontologies.

The proposed suite of ontologies is not intended to encompass the entirety of the industrial or manufacturing domains. It will contain a small number of reference ontologies, with the goal of non-redundancy in that no common terms, identifiers or relational expressions exist.  However, where overlap of common terms, identifiers, or relational expressions is unavoidable, any ‘overlap’ must be consistent among the ontologies.

The intent of these reference ontologies is to allow extensions to be progressive to more specific or constrained sub-domains (e.g., particular industry ‘verticals’ or applications). To meet this intent the IOF ontologies are expected to have an architecture that starts from alignment with a domain neutral ontology, also referred to as an Upper Ontology or Foundational Ontology, from which subsequent IOF ontologies can be developed (newly or adapted from existing ones) that are ontologically consistent, coherent, and modular allowing for reusability.  

Building from a foundational ontology the first ‘layer’ of IOF ontologies will be a collection of Domain Independent Reference Ontologies covering notions and relations including time, units of measure, logistics, information, geospatial, etc. The next layer will be a collection of Domain Specific Reference Ontologies covering notions specific to industrial domains. Extensions following the domain specific reference ontologies, Application Ontologies, will address more focused sub-domains of industrial and manufacturing.

The following notional diagram suggests how the suite of proposed IOF ontologies and their progeny may evolve. The expectation is that the application and/or bridging ontologies would be private or perhaps licensed.

  1. IOF Benefits

We believe that the benefits of the IOF will include

  • Standardizing common (natural language) terms/identifiers (e.g., noun notions) and relational expressions and their intended meanings within a domain in a manner that enables computer interpretation, information interoperability, and improves collaboration between its users.  
  • Improving the ability for a receiver of information to better understand the content in a manner consistent with the sender’s intended meaning.
  • Mitigating loss of meaning in information exchanges among heterogeneous systems
  • Improving the ability to share content and data within and across digital ecosystems, both:
  • Vertically across enterprise IT/OT and partner ecosystems where data is traditionally represented at different levels of granularity and on different models with insufficient common representation of data and little commonality in “meaning” across the levels.
  • Horizontally across the different stages of the product life cycle, from concept, design, development, testing, manufacturing/deployment, operation, upgrade, to decommissioning.
  • Improving the level of interaction between end-users, knowledge engineers, and subject matter experts (SME).


The IO Foundry will provide a framework to focus an open collaboration on developing, standardizing, sharing, maintaining, updating, and documenting ontologies relevant to the industrial/manufacturing domains in a non-profit and open fashion.

It will be designed to meet the needs of industrial stakeholders by providing a basis for reliable solutions and giving them best practices for integrating and extending ontologies in their own businesses. It will provide:

  • Fully open source, stable, well-maintained and well-documented ontologies.
  • Guidelines, documentation, and training for application developments.

  1. IOF Organization

To meet the goals and intent of the IOF, its organizational structure will be comprised of three ‘control’ boards.

  1. Governance Board

The Governance Board will be the top-level control board. Their role is to maintain the continued health and effective operations of the IOF organization. Responsibilities include:

  • Setting overall IOF policy
  • Adjudicating scope of IOF content
  • Resolve conflicts occurring in the Technical Oversight Board that aren’t resolved in that body
  • Selecting initial members for the Technical Oversight Board and selecting a portion of the members thereafter – The chair and co-chair of the Technical Oversight Board are members of the Governance Board
  • Acting as the public spokespersons for the organization including branding, marketing, and publications
  • Responsibility for bylaws, legal and policy aspects of the IOF including licensing, legal issues related to contributions (of or to ontologies), intellectual property, and patents.

  1. Technical Oversight Board

The Technical Oversight (TO) Board will oversee the overall coherence and consistency of ontologies managed by Domain Boards. TO Board will consist of chair and co-chair of each Domain Board and other members selected by the Governance Board. The responsibilities of this control board include:

  • Setting IOF ontology principles
  • Ensuring conformance to IOF principles
  • Developing design guidelines that reflect those principles
  • Ensuring interoperability and consistency of ontologies
  • Approving new domain boards
  • Managing domain boards
  • Resolving conflicts that may arise among domain boards
  • Communicating among Domain Boards and the Governance Board
  • Providing regular updates to the Governance Board
  1. Domain Boards

For each domain specific or domain independent area approved by the Management Board, there will be a ‘Domain Board’ to The responsibilities of this control board include:

  • Developing one or more ontologies for its domain consistent with the IOF policy
  • Managing change control for ontologies in its domain – adjudicating issues and change requests for ontologies in their domain
  • Accepting requests for progression in the IOF maturity cycle
  • Selecting members and chair and co-chair to represent the domain board in the Management Board
  • Communicating among domain board members
  • Providing regular updates to the management board

  1. Strategy/Plan

The IOF approach to solving the interoperability is to provide freely available (i.e., open) ontologies of high quality that allow interoperability solutions to be created with a high confidence of meeting expectations.  The intent is to create a suite of ontologies for industrial/manufacturing domains. Domain specific reference ontologies will cover the specifics of various stages of the product life cycle. Some “mid-level” or domain independent reference ontologies may also span Product Life Cycle stages or even cross into other domains.

The challenge of developing a suite of ontologies that facilitate interoperability is not mutually exclusive to other approaches and will reuse to extent possible existing work drawing from existing standards and initiatives in related domains.

The focus of the IOF is open ontology development and maintenance and does not anticipate the need to directly develop software, but may provide guidance to vendors.