In all types of communication, the ability to share information is often hindered because the meaning of information can be drastically affected by the context in which it is viewed and interpreted. This is especially true in manufacturing because of the growing complexity of manufacturing information and the increasing need to exchange this information among various software applications. Different manufacturing functions may use different terms to mean the exact same concept or use the exact same term to mean very different concepts. Often, the loosely defined natural language definitions associated with the terms contain so much ambiguity that they do not make the differences evident and/or do not provide enough information to resolve the differences.

A solution to this problem is the development of a taxonomy, or ontology, of manufacturing concepts and terms along with their respective formal and unambiguous definitions. This paper focuses on an effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to identify, formally define, and structure the semantic concepts intrinsic to the capture and exchange of manufacturing information.

Specifically, this paper documents the results of the first phase of this project — that of analyzing existing ontological systems to determine which is most appropriate for the manufacturing domain. In particular, this phase involved the exploration of efforts that are studying both the uses of ontologies in the general sense and those that are using ontologies for domain-specific purposes.

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