Oil IT Review—Introduction to ISO 15926

Gord Rachar’s Introduction to ISO 15926 does a good job of setting out the store front. But don’t look here if you are rolling up your sleeves to code some RDF!

The ISO 15926 standard for plant data exchange got a shot in the arm when it was endorsed in 2009 by the US-based Fiatech Association. Fiatech is about to release an ‘Introduction to ISO 15926’—a pre-publication version of which, the Primer, was used for this review.

Oil IT Journal has been diligently following ISO 15926 since around the turn of the millennium and has observed its evolution into what is today probably the most significant industrial use of the W3C’s semantic web technology. Diligence in our coverage has been necessary since, while the case for an interoperability standard is easily made, the choice of relatively untried technology was a bold one. We studied the Primer with interest, particularly to see if it offered an intelligible half way house between the ‘business benefits’ approach and the perplexing world of RDF graphs.

Author Gord Rachar, an engineering automation specialist, writes entertainingly and well. His starting point is that ISO 15926 means that, ‘Your computer can talk to my computer and we don’t have to know anything about each other’s system beforehand.’ This facility comes from using the various ‘Parts’ of ISO 15926. Part 2, the data model, contains the ‘rules of grammar’ to use Rachar’s ‘conversational analogy.’ Part 4, the reference data, is ‘like a dictionary or a thesaurus.’ And thus, ‘using the jargon of ISO 15926, when machines structure their data using the data model of Part 2, and when their terminology matches Part 4, they can communicate.’

Part 7, the templates, is ‘like a phrase book,’ which makes it easier to create meaningful sentences in a new language without having to learn the language. Part 7 was developed to allow ordinary engineers to use Part 2 without having to actually master it.

Rachar’s naming of the parts appears to run out of steam at Part 8 which is ‘made up of some semantic web tools called resource description framework (RDF) and web ontology language (OWL).’ Part 8 is ‘like paper in a book, or a computer file’ and Part 9, the facade, is ‘like the postal service.’

Well, we are not really sure if that will be of great help to someone coming into the field from say, a relational database background or from an engineering one for that matter. Rachar continues to thrash his metaphors to death with ‘students […] playing host at a local coffee shop, [… ] might create a website with a paywall where readers create an account and pay a fee.’ All of which is apparently ‘analogous to Part 9.’

More a propos perhaps is Rachar’s walk though the history of CAD data exchange—from the US Department of Defense’s Initial Graphics Exchange System, through the desire to render CAD drawings ‘intelligent’ and the Standard for Exchange of Product Information (STEP), the immediate parent of ISO 15926.

This is all very well but we were are three quarters of the way through the Primer and still no wiser as to how to write the code!

Oh, this must be it—a ‘Practical Guide to ISO 15926 Modeling.’ Here we learn that modeling with Part 7 is ‘sufficiently different that it was becoming a barrier to the wide acceptance of ISO 15926.’ At this point we are referred to the iRING users group website for more.

Getting back to more comfortable ground, Rachar explains in detail how compliance colors are used to judge the quality of ISO 15926 implementations. He then, like many educators before him, rushes quickly through the hard stuff—‘bindings to OWL/RDF’ SPARQL, ‘a language similar to SQL, but for ontologies.’ ‘WSDL, SOAP and HTTPS.’ The whole W3C enchilada in one sentence!

In summary, the Primer does a good job of setting out the ISO 15926 store front. It does a not quite so good job of explaining what all the Parts are there for. And it makes no attempt at all to provide instruction as to how to get down and code all this stuff that magically will enable machine to machine communication. Rachar, as a volunteer, is to be complimented on having made the considerable effort involved in authoring the guide. But the definitive oeuvre on real-world use—complete with code samples, has yet to be written. Read the Primer on www.oilit.com/links/1110_7.

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