The ever-increasing use of data in real-world applications is a clear indication that we are moving into the era of Industry 5.0 where human-machine collaboration would be key to enable digital transformation. As the amount of data increases, it is necessary to store, standardise, process, and make data accessible in a way that gets beyond the quirks of different teams and technology. This requires interoperability to be in place to sustain the potential value that we can get from Cyber Physical Systems (CPSs) and the ever-growing richness of information. Interoperability is a vital aspect of modern technology, driving the seamless interaction and collaboration between diverse data sources, software/hardware systems, applications, devices, and enterprises. Managing interoperability sits at the heart of this Cranfield University PhD research project proposal, with an aim to provide an interoperability platform using ontologies to enable the exchange of data across platforms at scale.

The goal of an ontology is to enable knowledge sharing and reuse by means of a definitive classification of entities in specific domains constructed on the basis of a controlled vocabulary with logical definitions of its terms. This approach will semantically enhance the data enabling interoperability across a system of systems environment. For ontologies, a significant aspect is a hierarchical classification of ontologies based on their level of abstraction.

This PhD aims to develop a common ontology based methodology to address interoperability issues both in the context of new and legacy assets. A breakdown of the objectives with an explanation of the approaches to be taken is provided below: 

  • Objective 1 is focusing on mapping the current data types, structures, and interoperability challenges to develop a detailed as-is model. This will be developed through interviews, and cross case analysis, to capture trends, and a detailed risk analysis will be conducted to prioritise data value creation opportunities. 
  • Objective 2 is measuring and assessing interoperability levels by means of designing and applying a new process to identify metrics for interoperability measurement, and also define thresholds for a minimum required interoperability level (MRIL). The output will be the interoperability of both quantitative and qualitative indicator metrics and the process for their measurement. Quantitative metrics include system compatibility and portability percentage, system response times and error rates. Qualitative metrics examples are user experiences, and user satisfactions. 
  • Objective 3 makes use of the previous output to develop an ontological architecture that will enable high-level interoperability. It consists of building competency questions, taxonomies, relationships, axioms, and the connection to upper levels of ontologies (i.e., BFO) using tools such as ontology modelling language (OML), and protégé, and Neo4j to build and visualise knowledge graph. This will form the common way to develop ontologies, which will be scalable, and adaptive to variations systems over time. 
  • Objective 4 is a verification assessment and validation through BAE based use cases. Through the use cases, the developed processes, metrics and ontology framework will be validated. Validation includes, on the one hand, the unit, the functional, the compatibility and the security test, and on the other hand, the Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reuse (FAIR) assessment. Tools such as Shapes Constraint Language SHACL, a reference model for interoperability (NCT3TA), and interoperability standards (e.g. HISO 100xx, ISO/IEC 11179-xx) will be employed for efficient and effective framework development. The main outcomes encompass feedback and reflection on the ontology performance, scalability, reusability and enhanced FAIR evaluation.

Cranfield University is wholly postgraduate institution and is famous for its applied research in close collaboration with Industry. At Cranfield, the candidate will be based within the Manufacturing theme at the Centre for Digital Engineering and Manufacturing (CDEM). The Centre hosts cutting-edge simulation and visualisation facilities. The student will have access to high-end computers for simulating the complex nature of maintenance. There will be relevant visits to BAE Systems (as the Industrial Sponsor of the project) in particular but also various other organisations throughout the PhD to develop and demonstrate the research. This PhD is offering a fully funded PhD through the EPSRC ICASE scheme and BAE Systems.

At a glance

  • Application deadline26 Jun 2024
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date30 Sep 2024
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK
  • Reference numberSATM487

Entry requirements

We are inviting applicants with a First or upper Second Class degree equivalent qualification in an engineering background, software or an alternative quantitative focused discipline.


Sponsored by EPSRC and BAE Systems, this studentship will provide a stipend of £25,222 (tax free) plus fees* for four years.

To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be UK national.


Diversity and Inclusion at Cranfield

At Cranfield, we value our diverse staff and student community and maintain a culture where everyone can work and study together harmoniously with dignity and respect. This is reflected in our University values of ambition, impact, respect and community. We welcome students and staff from all backgrounds from over 100 countries and support our staff and students to realise their full potential, from academic achievement to mental and physical wellbeing.

We are committed to progressing the diversity and inclusion agenda, for example; gender diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through our Athena SWAN Bronze award and action plan, we are members of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and Working Families, and sponsors of International Women in Engineering Day. We are also Disability Confident Level 1 Employers and members of the Business Disability Forum.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship please complete the online application form.

For further information please contact
Professor John Erkoyuncu