During conceptual design of systems, the emphasis is on generating the system architecture: the configuration of sub-systems and the interactions between them. Ports, as locations of intended interaction, play an important role at this stage of design. They are convenient abstractions for representing the intended exchange of signals, energy or material; they can be applied at different levels of detail, across different energy domains, and to all aspects of design: form, function, and behavior. But to play this versatile role, ports need to be represented in an unambiguous yet flexible fashion, accommodating the differences in vocabulary and approach across different disciplines and perspectives. In this article, we introduce the semantic structure for such an unambiguous representation: a port ontology. The ontology formalizes the conceptualization of ports such that engineers and computer aided design applications can reason about component connections and interactions in system configuration. It defines ports in terms of form, function and behavior attributes and further includes axioms that can be used to support a variety of engineering design tasks, such as port refinement, port compatibility checking, and the instantiation of interaction models. A LEGO example is used to illustrate the ontology and its applications in conceptual design.

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