My most recent article on TDAN.Com covered Digital Twin and how data plays a key role in its implementation.
It is just a matter of time that I’d introduce Digital Twin’s twin (sorry for the pun) called Digital Thread. As we learnt from my previous article, a digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical object or a process or a system for that matter across its entire life-cycle.
Digital thread, on the other hand, is the digitization and traceability (via data) of this product from its concept to implementation, or in other words ‘cradle to grave.’ Digital thread ‘threads’ all the various functionalities / capabilities of the digital twin via data to its parts, requirements, and the software that represented the digital twin.
Digital Twin and Digital Thread
There is quite a bit of confusion in the industry about digital twin and digital thread, so I’d like to compare and contrast these two closely related yet different concepts. As we learned before, digital twin is an exact digital replica of a product at a given point of time. It could be a replica of an IOT component deployed out in the field or could be a replica of car. Digital thread, on the other hand, refers to the flow of data on the product’s entire lifecycle from the digital twin’s concept to its final replica. Essentially, digital thread is the communication framework that provides an integrated view of the asset’s data as it flows through its lifecycle across multiple functions. The digital thread concept provides “the right information to the right place at the right time” of the product on its lifecycle journey.
Why Digital Thread?
As you look through literature, you’ll find that digital thread is closely connected with product lifecycle management (PLM) in product design and manufacturing. Digital thread owes its roots to defense industry but the evolution of IOT market precipitated its adoption in mainstream industries. As it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage costs in manufacturing, maintenance of disparate products / systems in the field, and identifying root causes of failures of complex products, manufacturers are being forced to depend on data and digitization to get a better control over product design, manufacturing, repair, and maintenance.
Key benefits of digital thread are:
Standardized data: Digitization of lifecycle management across geographies and functions forces discussion on data standardization and data quality. As data management professionals, we know how important data standardization and improving data quality are to delivering business results.
Reduced costs: One of the key goals of digital thread is to reduce overall costs (not necessarily in a specific functional area) by enabling master data, cloud services, and optimization of processes.
Improved Operations: Collaboration is a forced by-product of digital thread as teams will now have access to common product data all the time regardless of location. Common standardized data results in improved operations and hopefully faster decision-making.
Improved Manufacturability: As data is being analyzed from the very product concept, it is easier to identify bugs and usability issues early on and this early detection results in better manufacturability of the product. And side-benefits of improved manufacturability are: reduced scrap, reduced unplanned downtime, shortened manufacturing cycle.
Aligned business goals: It might seem like we are now throwing the kitchen sink of business goals, but digitization of entire product lifecycle truly results in increased customer satisfaction, centralized data supporting product improvements, cost-effective service/repairs/maintenance, and decreased design and product manufacturing costs.
Digital Thread and Data Management
As I dig deep into the emerging technologies, the very first question I ask myself is how this technology relates to or impacts my field of data management and data analytics. With respect to digital thread, the answer is that data management and data analytics is the front and center of digital thread. I haven’t seen any other new technology that requires and depends on data management and analytics as much. Let’s dig into the core principles of data management and their ties to digital thread:
- Data organization: The very first step in digital thread as it relates to data management is identifying data sources, accessing the data, and organizing it in a way that various functions can harness that data.
- Data Quality: As the data is being harnessed from across the company, digital thread process forces organizations to clean the data and either dismantle archaic standards and put in a much more useful and usable standards.
- Data placement and democratization: As digital thread relies on collaboration across locations and functions, key decisions have to be made about the placement of data (warehouses or what you have) and making it available as needed.
- Data governance: It goes without saying that ongoing data governance is crucial to ensure that data continues to be of high quality and accessible to relevant folks.
Digital Thread Use Cases
Digital thread enables some very interesting use cases across the entire company.
- For example, product engineers can now collaborate with manufacturing engineers during the creation of 3D models and also deliver product manufacturing / processing instructions during the creation itself.
- Remote troubleshooting: Even though I identified this use cases in my digital twin article, the digital thread takes the remote service / repair / maintenance to a new level by involving product engineers / manufacturing engineers as well in diagnosing complicated failures as digital thread provides a digital view of entire lifecycle. This particular use case could not even be imagined earlier without incurring the enormous costs of taking the experts into the field.
- Digital thread enables innovative product design without expensive physical proof-of-concepts as the proof-of-concepts can now be simulated.
Digital thread provides a communication framework to help facilitate an integrated and connected data flow of the product’s data throughout its lifecycle. Digital thread enables accessing, transforming, integrating, and analyzing data from various different systems in the entirety of the product life cycle. The digital thread concept helps in delivering the right information at the right time and at the right place. As digital thread relies predominantly on data, the core principles of data management and data analytics play an outsized role in digital thread and that is what excites me about digital thread.