The Problem:
Knowledge Transfer across Time, Space, and People

The complexity of modern technical systems requires extensive knowledge about topics ranging from basic engineering principles to device- and variant- dependent specifics. On the one hand this knowledge about the design, manufacturing and maintenance of systems makes companies and their products unique and potentially gives them a lead over competitors. On the other hand it makes them dependent on a well organized knowledge distribution network within the organization.

Typically the lifetime of technical systems spans several years. During this time different persons are concerned with tasks such as design, validation, safety analysis, manufacturing, testing, training, performance monitoring, maintenance, diagnosis, repair and eventually re-design based on the experience gained during the previous lifecycle. Consequently, an organization's most critical knowledge about its products and the associated processes is tied to persons who are located at different places and are concerned with the product at different times. This makes knowledge transport difficult and in practice often impossible.

Two simple consequences are major retardations in product development and overly high costs in maintenance. The success of mixed engineering teams in industry where people from different phases of the lifecycle meet highlights the potential of new forms of knowledge transfer. But of course, mixed engineering teams remain a partial solution because they cannot be implemented across a whole company and the knowledge is still tied to highly skilled personal.

Towards a
Repository of Corporate Technological Knowledge

An ideal solution makes a corporation's technological knowledge available at whatever time and place the corporation chooses. A repository of corporate technological knowledge represents knowledge explicitly and formally. It is independent of persons, time and location and it supports communication within the organization across time and space. Knowledge and experience is documented in a common place and reflected in more coherent designs enabled by early feedback. In general, more concurrency of business processes associated with the products building upon the repository becomes possible. This reduces product development time and avoids redundant efforts. Re-use of device and process components is promoted by re-use of models.

At the core of a corporate technological knowledge base we find models of the products and processes associated with them. In order to be general and therefore re-usable these models must obscure neither basic principles achieving the actual functioning of devices nor their explicitly stated intended uses behind irrelevant detail. Qualitative models are the key for achieving this goal.