An emerging trend in defence and aerospace is the move from manufacturing and selling products to providing the availability of a product-related function based on long term contractual agreements between the customer and the service provider. Therefore the concern of the manufacturer as a service provider shifts towards all means that are required to ensure the availability of the product related function. This ultimately imposes the adoption of a broader perspective on a complex system of interconnected and interdependent activities undertaken by a diverse network of stakeholders for the achievement of a common purpose. Nonetheless, a consistent and comprehensive way to represent such complex systems is not yet agreed upon in the literature. For the purpose of estimating the costs of a Product Service System (PSS) delivery, a consistent and common representation of products and services is a necessary precondition.

The focus of this paper is to contribute to the debate by proposing the use of knowledge as the underlying foundation for representing products, services and PSS.

Building upon inter-disciplinary literature, differing concepts of PSS are discussed, in order to identify recurring aspects and commonalities between product and service. While it could be recognised that technology represents such a common element, it is also recognised that differing definitions of technology do not facilitate the discussion about product, service, and PSS. Instead, evidence is found for the argument that applied knowledge can be seen as the underlying foundation for products, service and PSS. In this sense, knowledge is not considered as a single asset, but rather a composition of different kinds of knowledge.

The authors propose the application of knowledge to a process-based approach, which facilitates the representation of products and services by overcoming their distinction in a consistent way. While the composition of knowledge related to each process is a necessary precondition to enable the successful delivery of a PSS, it furthermore requires knowledge about integration of all process inputs, outputs and the processes’ dynamics within a given environment. Herewith the focus shifts to the preconditions that enable the successful delivery of a PSS, such as available set of skills and underlying process understanding.

Discussing the role knowledge plays in current cost estimation methods it is found that — despite its importance — knowledge is not always clearly defined, and very often it is reduced to repository-based data retrieval systems.

The proposed knowledge-based process-orientated approach aims to facilitate investigating products, services, PSS, and the underlying production and delivery systems by representing them in a transparent and consistent way. While this is generally not bound to a particular type of analysis, the motivation originates from estimating the costs of a PSS delivery.

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