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CHIPS Articles: Industry-wide Interoperability — Investment Pay Off

Industry-wide Interoperability — Investment Pay Off
By National Shipbuilding Research Program Staff - October-December 2002
The goal: Provide a set of tools that enables information interoperability among diverse systems technologies that support ship design and construction. An applied research and development project, sponsored by the National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP), is doing just that. NSRP is an industry-led program, co-funded by U.S. shipyards and the Naval Sea Systems Command.

In September 1999, NSRP funded the Integrated Shipbuilding Environment (ISE) project. Now, roughly three years later, the ISE project team, which includes six U.S. shipyards and a number of information technology companies, is delivering an innovative interoperability approach grounded in Web services and the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) to shipbuilding systems users.

The ISE project's XML-infused interoperability solution is gradually replacing an inefficient process for system-to-system transfer of complex three-dimensional (3-D) information used in ship design and construction. Data transfer in the old environment was costly, time-consuming, and plagued with obstacles to easily exchanging information between systems. Data often had to be manually re-keyed, leading to numerous errors.

ISE is changing all that. The system, which is being tested and implemented in phases (the last testing phase is scheduled to be complete in spring 2003), is bringing reliable and efficient digital transfer of data to several key shipbuilding areas. They include: transferring parts information from vendor electronic libraries to shipyard parts libraries; transferring 3-D design data from Computer Aided Design (CAD) files to sophisticated computer analysis and simulation tools that validate the design of each ship system; and transferring 3-D design data between diverse CAD systems and versions at shipyards specializing in defense work, commercially oriented U.S. shipyards, and marine suppliers.

ISE's technical approach is open and standards-based. It integrates the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP) and XML information sharing standards in an architecture that releases information from the constraints of proprietary systems technologies and ensures interoperability and access to ship design and construction data between shipbuilding systems, both within and across shipbuilding enterprises.

To enable reliable and easy transfer of information between systems, ISE is tackling challenges that are common to XML-based structures. One such challenge is representing a globally unique, persistent instance identifier in XML. The ISE architecture handles this issue with an Enterprise Data Object (EDO) key. The EDO key is an XML representation of the information needed to locate a data instance across company and system boundaries. It is a Global Unambiguous Identifier (GUID) for information interoperability.

ISE also provides necessary flexibility in systems supporting information interoperability. In particular, ISE uses Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT), a language for transforming XML documents, to support its users, who have a wide range of information needs.

ISE tools are supporting two transformation use cases. Transcoding, the transformation of an instance document from one encoding form to another, is largely a syntactical exercise that can be accomplished independent from the XML schema involved. The second use case is the physical to conceptual transformation. This is the transformation required to convert a physical instance document (STEP Application Information Model file or proprietary database or application) to/from a conceptual instance document (STEP Application Reference Model file or ISE EDO file).

The drive toward greater information interoperability through ISE use is already bearing fruit. Shipyards are using ISE tools in warship production on the submarine and carrier programs. ISE tools enable shipyards

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