I know that the current title can be hard to understand. Let me try to explain our problem: We do manufacture and service industrial machines and we are currently updating our spare parts manuals for our distributors. In those manuals we do name some of the parts based on their placement for different planes on the machine like "top-bottom" part, "front-back" part, and of course the most problematic one "left-right" part. (It's problematic because people tend to name parts on the sagittal plane from their standpoint which reverses the placement of the parts. "Left" and "Right" do switch in that case.) When we name the parts on the sagittal plane (I'm not sure of the term for the plane. I've just looked it up) we use the driver's seat orientation which means we imagine ourselves standing in the machine facing its front side and deciding on the left-right nomenclature based on this position.

We need to educate our worldwide distributors and service technicians about this nomenclature and every time we explain it with sentences like the one above.

I'm trying to find out if this orientation has a standard naming which is accepted worldwide. Terms like "Driver's seat placement" or "Driver's seat orientation" doesn't do the job most of the time and needs further explanation.

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    $\begingroup$ It's not clear to me, but are you just trying to say, for example, "the operator's left"? And is that the answer? (Traditionally in the theatre "Stage left" would be the left of the stage from the actor's viewpoint; "House left" would be the opposite; the left side of the stage from the audience's viewpoint.) $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy I'm trying to figure out a term for the "actor's viewpoint" from your example which has to be a globally accepted term and make the "viewpoint reference" clearly understandable for our target audience. I'm guessing it has to be an engineering term, so I'm asking it here. I think that I could maybe ask this question on English.SE or on UX.SE, too. $\endgroup$
    – Montag451
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


Whether or not there is "standard naming convention" is irrelevant, if your customers don't know about that standard.

And unless you are supplying to people whose work involves anatomy, I doubt they will ever use technical terms like "saggital plane!"

The simplest answer is: draw a nice big diagram on Page 1 of your catalog (or even on the covers) with some clear labels - and then always use the same terminology as your diagram.


There are globally accepted names for these positions, and they're even color-coded!

If this is a really big issue, consider using port and starboard. This is used in nautical and aviation industries world-wide.

The way I kept myself straight on the terms was by letter count:

$$ \begin{array}{lr} \mbox{Fewer Letters} & \mbox{More Letters} \\ \mbox{Port} & \mbox{Starboard} \\ \mbox{Left} & \mbox{Right} \\ \mbox{Red} & \mbox{Green} \end{array} $$

Now, for left and right to have meaning, as you have discovered, you have to define "forward," because port means left and starboard means right as you face forward

If you are naming the parts based on how they will be accessed for maintenance and usage (from the operator's point of view), then it would probably be wise to put port on the operator's left and starboard on the operator's right.

However, nit-picking here, these are left and right as you face forward, meaning that, if you do go that route, the technically correct thing to do would be to have what is further away (radially) from the operator be forward and what is closer to the operator be aft or rear. As that may be confusing, you may want to flip the port/starboard directions.

This could also be reasonably explained in that you (the operator) are facing a machine (vessel) that is also facing you. In that case, port is right, starboard is left, forward is close to the operator, aft is away from the operator. That's probably the way I would do it.

And again, they're color-coded; port/red, starboard/green. So you can color code your machine and/or maintenance parts (or part packaging) that shows where the part goes. You don't need to color-code the entire machine - ships and aircraft just have running lights on the respective sides that are colored. You could get by just by posting color swatches somewhere visible.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting approach. I'll discuss it with our engineering and marketing departments. There is just the problem of finding an adequate method to color-code the machine surfaces. Maybe it can be solved with little labels. $\endgroup$
    – Montag451
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ But as you also referred to, this doesn't solve the problem of pointing out the "forward" direction. We do use the same referencing system as the automotive industry is using (and almost all machine manufacturers do use it). I would like to learn how they describe their referencing system. $\endgroup$
    – Montag451
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Montag451 - Every time I buy parts for my car they're labeled as "left" or "right". For example, on this page, if you go to the "Position", you can see it's "Front Left". $\endgroup$
    – Chuck
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Montag451 Front is a label - with a car (like a ship or a plane), "front" and "forward" are assumed to be the way the driver/helmsman/pilot is facing during vehicle operation. This is the thing that's up to you to decide for your labeling system. Again, I might argue that, if you were on the machine, then you would naturally face the operator. This means the operator and the machine are standing "nose to nose". In this case, like I mention above, machine forward is close to the operator, aft is away, port is operator right, stbd is operator left. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Montag451 - I think with any machine that doesn't have an operator cab, you'll always have to define the coordinates up front. But using internationally-recognized color codes would help remind people what the orientation is. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:29

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