Today’s forward-looking organizations are using both digital threads and digital twins. Yet, many traditional digital thread platforms are not optimized for a company’s success. Implementing an integrated digital twin and digital thread strategy based on a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution is a better option. Then organizations can connect with and use information in new ways to drive business and innovation forward.
Defining the Digital Thread and Digital Twin
Today, there is a lot of activity around the digital thread. In reality, however, there are several definitions for the term.
In one definition, a digital thread is an automated business process where stakeholders can digitally share and collaborate all related digital assets of a product across the lifecycle. Since all the steps in the process are digitally executed, there is a trail of how the digital definitions such as BOM, CAD models, production plans, software versions, service records, and more change over time.
In another definition, the digital thread is a virtual representation of a product before anything is physically built. Members of all functional departments can collaboratively work from an unambiguous digital blueprint. This “single source of truth” makes it easier for manufacturers to develop an optimized design and predict its performance long before they put any parts together. And just as importantly, everything that is related to one another is connected.
In this post, we will compare and contrast the traditional and progressive approach for using the digital thread as a business process and tracking the history of digital definitions.
Traditional Approaches to a Digital Thread
Traditionally, companies implement the digital thread, defined as business processes, using pre-defined templates. Often, these templates have been developed in-house to meet the specific needs of an organization. This approach to tracking and managing information and data may seem to serve a company well, but there are significant limitations on the use of traditional digital thread systems.
In the traditional approach, communications are document-based, using simple digital office tools. Companies use standard document templates and email to run processes such as executing an engineering change, requesting a formal simulation, requesting the release of funds to build a prototype, and more. Clarifications, notifications, and approvals are all executed using email in the traditional approach. Of course, using these methods is flawed. Emails can be accidentally deleted, buried under an avalanche of other emails, or ignored. As a result, the process can be significantly delayed or proceed without the proper approvals.
Companies using a traditional digital thread approach may also face challenges in data organization and access. Companies use desktops and shared drives to store files. Engineers and others store new versions of designs, drawings, simulations, and more by saving new files and tracking filename changes. This approach has significant shortcomings. It is challenging to locate specific iterations of a design on a hard drive. It is hard to manage and review specific iterations. Files quickly become outdated.
By utilizing a progressive approach to implementing a digital thread, a company may address these and other challenges.
Progressive Approaches to a Digital Thread
Make no mistake: the traditional approach has its flaws. However, in a progressive approach, the PLM system handles all business processes with clearly defined workflow and logic. All documents, forms, and templates become a part of the process managed by the PLM.
Notifications are used to get inputs and approvals from stakeholders. Using an automated process, all stakeholders know what they are supposed to do and when. Further, all processes are standardized and executed in a system of record. All approvals are streamlined as well and are a part of this system of record. Executives can continuously monitor these processes and can improve them based on changes in business needs. This approach provides an up-to-date, single source of truth for all digital assets and all information for all stakeholders.
This progressive approach also connects various versions of the digital definitions to one another. Versions are tracked and managed, preserving the historical trail of changes. Using the right kind of PLM solution eliminates ambiguities around changes while keeping the network of relationships correct and intact. This approach also connects everything relevant to one another. Requirements are allocated to specific parts. Simulation models are connected with analysis results and the change to a design model it affects. Physical test results are connected to both requirements and the physical item that was tested. Creating and managing the right connections between digital deliverables establishes a network of interrelated things so development participants can quickly and easily find what they need.
These features in the progressive approach using a PLM maintains traceability and accountability. There is no ambiguity around obsolete digital definitions, and all stakeholders can access the latest information.
Connecting the Digital Thread and Digital Twin
There is a symbiotic relationship between the digital thread and the digital twin. And connecting them in the right way can amplify each. The digital thread, executing specific steps in a business process, requires access to the right definitions in the digital twin. Consider an ECO initiated by a stakeholder. This process can automatically notify the concerned design engineer to explore alternatives and an analyst to study the impact of the change on requirements. This connected process leads to a more efficient way of executing the development of products. Stakeholders can make faster and better decisions because accurate, up-to-date digital definitions inform them.
Additionally, when a digital thread is integrated into the digital twin process, stakeholders can trace design changes directly from a customer to the engineering team and onto the production floor. Using the digital thread to trace a line among more than individual pieces of information, but using it to improve a digital twin enables an engineering team to get real-time customer input and model how that input will affect the design of a product.
With a progressive approach, the right kind of PLM solution not only automates business processes, the digital thread, and manages all digital definitions, the digital twin. The solution also connects them in meaningful ways, providing stakeholders with access to the right information at the right time. As a result, the entire organization executes more efficiently and faster.