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The field of human anatomy seems to have standardized on a number of useful terms to unambiguously describe the human body. For example the three planes and axes as well as various directions seem to be unambiguously defined and those definitions universally accepted. Those terms also seem indispensable for clear verbal and written communication.

If I were using the anatomical terms, I'd be able to refer to the plane made by the side of a book case as a sagittal plane, and refer to a dimension measured from left to right as measured along the frontal axis.

Are there corresponding standardized terms in mechanical or structural engineering that refer to axes, planes, and directions?

If not, how are such axes, planes, and directions customarily communicated verbally and in writing?

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This answer comes from my experience in mechanical engineering, a structural engineer might have a different perspective.

It is difficult to come up with a standard set of terms for planes or axes in mechanical and structural engineering since each there are so many different types of work within each discipline. There are probably some specialist-specific terms out there for people who frequently deal with the same kind of geometry repeatedly. There are some terms that do get used across disciplines, for example the "longitudinal axis" would generally be the axis along the primary length of something. Could be along the length of a pipe or a beam, etc.

However, the real answer to this question is: rather than relying on standardized terminology, engineers use diagrams. Whenever you start discussing reference frames, planes or whatever else, drawing a schematic or diagram is standard practice. The advantage to this is that you aren't relying on everyone who comes across your report or design calculations to speak the same engineering jargon. Assuming you keep your diagram or drawing mostly symbolic you also have the advantage that even people who don't speak your language can understand your coordinate system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Best thing with drawings is there are different ones first angle and third angle projection & isometric. But i agree diagrams give clarity. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike May 26 '17 at 6:00
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In engineering there are four views, or axes that I can think of:

  • longitudinal - which is parallel to the longest vertical side of an object,
  • cross-sectional - which is parallel to the shortest vertical side of an object & is at right angles to the longitudinal view/axis.
  • plan - which is usually the horizontal view or axis, as viewed from above the object, and
  • oblique - which is at an angle between cross-sectional and longitudinal.
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For aviation, aerospace, and naval (and to a lesser degree automotive) engineering, the three axes are pitch, yaw and roll axes - with the names pitch, yaw and roll corresponding to rotational motion around these, and sway, heave and surge for translational motion along them. Velocities in these are groundspeed/speed over ground(SOG) (measured along travel axis; airspace/naval terms respectively), slip rate (sideways) and climb/sink rate (vertical). (angular speeds are plain yaw, pitch, roll rate.)

Additionally, faces/directions would be fore/aft (+/- along roll axis; front/back), ventral/dorsal (+/- along yaw axis; bottom/top; sometimes yaw axis is oriented upwards - naval and space tends towards bottom orientation, aviation often uses upwards oriented yaw axis); and star/port or starboard/portboard (+/-pitch axis; right, left.)

To complete the image, to locate these axis in space, we have directions: magnetic north or geographic north (obvious), zenith and nadir (directions relative to Earth, up and down respectively), location: with geographical coordinates latitude and longitude, and height (relative to surface) or altitude (sea level). Angle between magnetic north and roll axis is called heading (the other two angles are just pitch and roll). To add a bit to the confusion, there's also track which is the direction of travel (groundspeed + slip + climb/sink), and airspeed (speed relative to surrounding air; couldn't find the related naval term)

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer isn't bad, as it does give clear examples of axes with an established naming convention; but I will say that this question seemed geared towards directions of motion, where as the meat of this question seemed more concerned with what those faces would be called, not what the motions on the axes of those faces are called. $\endgroup$ – JMac May 26 '17 at 13:45

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