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The objective of the international standard is to provide a mechanism that is capable of describing product data throughout the life cycle of a product, independent from any particular system. The nature of this description makes it suitable not only for neutral file exchange, but also as a basis for implementing and sharing product databases and archiving.
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STEP is developed and maintained by the ISO technical committee TC 184, Automation systems and integration, sub-committee SC 4, Industrial data. Like other ISO and IEC standards STEP is copyright by ISO and is not freely available. However, the 10303 EXPRESS schemas are freely available, as are the recommended practices for implementers.
The evolution of STEP can be divided into four release phases. The development of STEP started in 1984 as a successor of IGES, SET and VDA-FS. The initial plan was that "STEP shall be based on one single, complete, implementation-independent Product Information Model, which shall be the Master Record of the integrated topical and application information models". But because of the complexity, the standard had to be broken up into smaller parts that can be developed, balloted and approved separately. In 1994/95 ISO published the initial release of STEP as international standards (IS) with the parts 1, 11, 21, 31, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 101, AP 201 and AP 203. Today AP 203 Configuration controlled 3D design is still one of the most important parts of STEP and supported by many CAD systems for import and export.
In total STEP consists of several hundred parts and every year new parts are added or new revisions of older parts are released. This makes STEP the biggest standard within ISO.Each part has its own scope and introduction.
The Application Reference Models (ARM) is the mediator between the AAM and the AIM/MIM. Originally its purpose was only to document high level application objects and the basic relations between them. IDEF1X diagrams documented the AP of early APs in an informal way. The ARM objects, their attributes and relations are mapped to the AIM so that it is possible to implement an AP. As APs got more and more complex formal methods were needed to document the ARM and so EXPRESS which was originally only developed for the AIM was also used for the ARM. Over time these ARM models got very detailed till to the point that some implementations preferred to use the ARM instead of the formally required AIM/MIM. Today a few APs have ARM based exchange formats standardized outside of ISO TC184/SC4:
The AP 221 model is very similar to the ISO 15926-2 model, whereas AP 221 follows the STEP architecture and ISO 15926-2 has a different architecture. They both use ISO-15926-4 as their common reference data library or dictionary of standard instances. A further development of both standards resulted in Gellish English as general product modeling language that is application domain independent and that is proposed as a work item (NWI) for a new standard.