Realizing the Potential of the Digital Thread 

Every organization, regardless of industry or size, can benefit from the use of digital threads. These linked processes allow for highly efficient and collaborative teams that leverage the latest solutions to make better decisions at each stage of the design-to-source process.

Join us as we explore the concept of the digital thread, and what steps organizations can take to maximize this approach.

The Digital Thread Explained

A digital thread is a discrete, linked, and traceable activity sequence that digitally replicates assets across physical products and the production lifecycle.

The functions of digital threads range widely in scope and can navigate rapidly and flexibly through all record systems. Some are executed in just one area, such as design, while others span multiple areas, such as design, engineering, and manufacturing. Likewise, some focus exclusively on the product, while others focus on the production line. 

The impact of digital transformation projects depends partly on their increase in size and scale and how well they use the data generated. One of the most effective ways enterprises harness data is through digital threads.

Digital threads and digital twins interact directly with each other. Individual digital threads and series of threads expand digital twins over time. Once there is a detailed design, each domain can introduce its digital definitions, documentation, and simulations. The result is an explosion of digital content that includes diagrams, models, simulations, drawings, and other relevant content.

The comprehensive digital thread has two intersecting lifecycles: the product and the production line. The product is the asset being created, and the production line determines how it will be produced. The digital twins of the product and production intersect and influence each other. When production starts, the virtual and real worlds merge, creating a new digital twin.

Whether a plant, system, production line, cell, or equipment, the physical product streams data back to its digital twin. The twin can then mimic and predict behavior and performance, which enables real-time products and production that utilize feedback from the real world.

Of course, product development is nuanced, and the development of a new product or plant starts from scratch. Almost all new products and plants reuse entire systems, operations, assemblies, and components, or at least use them as a starting point. As a result, some digital threads integrate existing elements into the product or plant while other digital threads develop brand-new things.

The Importance of Digital Threads 

The product development process is frequently split between teams that need to communicate. However, this structure increases the risk of bugs, budget overruns, delivery delays, unsuccessful testing, validation, recalls, and other issues. 

To decrease risk, greater cross-team collaboration and early identification of product management issues are necessary to provide end-to-end visibility of procedures. When addressing risk, companies often opt to use just one software platform. This strategy is not feasible or realistic because a digital thread engineer costs nothing and should remain free to select tools that optimize their digital model and operations.

The system engineering flow defines the requirements and specifications and breaks them into sub-requirements. It produces and connects functional architectures, creates physical architectures, and creates a production facility where engineers can shift manufacturing lines and systems while simulating material flow.

Digital threads offer a seamless framework for data flow across the product’s lifecycle, from ideation to design, manufacturing, sales, integration, use, and eventually disposal or recycling. This article offers insights into how customers use the digital threads, how the products perform, and how, by adding new features, they can be improved and expanded.

Digital threads produce data that helps companies rapidly improve existing products and develop new innovative offerings. The data reduces cost, improves the quality of customer support, and enables the sale of such data—or the intelligence derived from it—to customers, suppliers, and partners. Finally, digital threads can boost an organization’s brand by proving its products are responsibly sourced. 

A digital thread is a synchronized flow of electronic data that tracks a product’s lifecycle, from design to manufacturing and use to disposal. The data comes from inside and outside the company and includes supplier information, blockchain, and point-of-sale data. 

A digital thread is defined as a sequence of digital and automated activities captured over the lifecycle of products and production systems. Digital threads can navigate fluidly between engineering and manufacturing systems. However, some focus exclusively on the product, others on production, and some span both environments.

The systems engineering flow defines the requirements and specifications and breaks them into sub-requirements. The flow builds out functional architectures and creates and connects physical architectures.

  • Planning and designing production facilities allow engineers to shift manufacturing lines and systems while simultaneously simulating material flow.
  • Engineers who assemble and integrate the physical version of a product use the prototype and test process to run physical-digital test cases.
  • The virtual commissioning sequence allows engineers to digitally validate the logic of the manufacturing equipment controllers for production processes.

Digital Threads and Digital Twins

Digital threads and digital twins interact directly and influence each other. Over time, individual and series of digital threads expand the comprehensive digital twins.

While every company relies on digital threads in its development process, many variants exist. Some are standard for specific industry sectors, while others are unique to a company.

Some industry-specific digital threads are managed by third parties that ensure regulatory compliance and enforce standards and processes that do not vary from company to company. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration uses regulatory-driven lab documentation procedures for drug development. 

Industry-specific digital threads are common practice and generally accepted within the industry. Of course, companies can choose not to leverage digital threads. However, Supplyframe suggests using some version of the threads is in their best interest. For example, the automotive industry uses a systems-driven method to develop electrical and electronic systems. Digital threads can also be company-specific, a significant differentiator that creates a competitive advantage. 

Looking Ahead

As manufacturers look to make targeted improvements in their product and factory production lifecycles, they realize the value of pursuing digital transformation. Such efforts enhance the company’s product development and production activities from the start of their respective lifecycles.

To succeed in these initiatives, organizations must rigorously plan their digital thread and twin strategies as a roadmap for their digital transformation initiatives. The digital thread is a significant enhancement that provides the digital twin with data and context that informs every phase of the product lifecycle and production timeline. 

As a Siemens company, Supplyframe’s Design-to-Source Intelligence solutions integrate seamlessly into an organization’s digital thread, allowing for better design and sourcing decisions at the beginning of the product lifecycle and across its lifespan.

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