Towards a formal ontology of engineering functions, behaviours, and capabilities

Tracking #: 3188-4402

Francesco Compagno
Stefano Borgo

Responsible editor: 
Guest Editors SW for Industrial Engineering 2022

Submission type: 
Full Paper
In both applied ontology and engineering, functionality is a well-researched topic, since it is through teleological causal reasoning that domain experts build mental models of engineering systems, giving birth to functions. These mental models are important throughout the whole lifecycle of any product, being used from the design phase up to any diagnosis activity. Though a vast amount of work to represent functions has already been carried out, the literature has not settled on a shared and well-defined approach yet. This work develops some crucial steps towards an ontological description of functions and related concepts, such as behaviour, capability, and capacity. A conceptual analysis of such notions is carried out using the top-level ontology DOLCE as a framework, and the ensuing logical theory is formally described in first-order logic and OWL, showing how ontological concepts can model major aspects of engineering products in applications. In particular, it is shown how functions can be distinguished from the implementation methods to realize them, how one can differentiate between capabilities and capacities of a product, and how these are related to engineering functions.
Full PDF Version: 


Solicited Reviews:
Click to Expand/Collapse
Review #1
By Hyunmin Cheong submitted on 15/Aug/2022
Review Comment:

The authors have satisfied most of my concerns and improved the paper to be more complete and thorough. The paper should be accepted.
I also would encourage the authors to contribute an extension or application of this work to the engineering design community (e.g., ASME IDETC / JMD, Design Studies, DCC, etc.).

Review #2
Anonymous submitted on 26/Aug/2022
Review Comment:

The authors have addressed by main concerns from the previous round.

They have clarified Section 4 significantly, with a better presentation of the notions of "systemic" and "ontological functions" why are key to the paper.

Perhaps, the formalization is not as definitive as it could be but I understand the point the authors make in their response (of not providing full characterizations).

They have engaged with the BFO literature and Jansen's work concerning function, together with GFO and DOLCE a lot of ground in the main foundational ontologies is covered. Since a strength of the paper is the consideration of related work, perhaps, now some UFO-based work on dispositions should be mentioned for completeness. The latest work on UFO ( cites work by Azevedo et al that could be relevant concerning capabilities.

They have also significantly extended the evaluation section, which now provides more evidence of quality (section 6.2) and a good discussion on implications to applications (section 6.3).

I propose the paper should be accepted.

Review #3
Anonymous submitted on 20/Sep/2022
Review Comment:

The paper introduces an ontological description of functions, behavior, capability, and capacity. The proposal extends DOLCE ontology. The article clearly describes the concepts in natural language, formalizes them using first-order logic, and then implements these formalizations using OWL.
Although many proposals define functions, the approach that is introduced in the article is originally well ontologically founded. An interesting issue of the article is that its formalization allows the implementation of the concepts to be used in practice. The proposal is general enough to be specialize in several domains in a straight fashion.
The article is well organized, and the quality of writing allows the reader to understand the proposal easily.
The authors provide an access to a GitHub repository with the proposed ontology.
The authors have appropriately addressed the requirements of the revisors and upgraded their manuscript significantly.