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Digital Thread: A new era for the Digital Manufacturing

Posted by Charlotte Foglia

Digital Thread

Data siloes are one of the most common problems organizations face as they move forward in their digital transformation journeys. Departments often use their own systems for their processes, and the organizational data is scattered. Because of this, executives often find it difficult to gain complete visibility over the organization and processes.

A digital thread is a new concept proposed to make processes more transparent across various industries.

The idea behind a digital thread is to bring together all the information pertaining to the design, manufacturing, sale, use, and recycling of a product or a service. This includes all the different 3D models used in designing, the design specifications, the manufacturing methods, material sources and specifications, and just about every piece of information associated with getting a product to market.

The goal is to help the different teams view how the product goes from ideation to design to manufacturing to sale and optimize the processes involved.

Why is Digital Thread important?

With industries adopting Industry 4.0 solutions to their manufacturing processes, they can access large amounts of previously unavailable data. Enterprises are using IoT systems to automate manufacturing and assembly and make them more efficient. Industries load the equipment on the factory floor with these sensors to collect the data.

To leverage this data and make decisions, executives and stakeholders need to analyze them within the relevant context. According to research, manufacturing knowledge workers waste up to 18 hours trying to find and analyze information to make decisions. With smoother access to relevant data, teams can accelerate this process and make it more efficient.

The digital thread is expected to help decision-makers and stakeholders connect the relevant data with different stages of a product’s lifecycle.

The digital thread is also necessary for better communication among designers, engineers, and others in the development process. To create optimum manufacturing processes and product designs, the product development and engineering teams must communicate clearly. Digital thread solutions promise to bring together the 3D models and digital twins of the product under development and make this communication more seamless.

It promises to ensure that the different stakeholders get the data and can provide inputs at various stages of product development.

The digital thread reduces time-to-market and even improves after-market activities for all stakeholders. It makes it easy for enterprises to add more capabilities to the product and offer after-sales support at much lower costs.

Digital thread vs. Digital Twin

Digital threads and digital twins are among the pillars expected to support tomorrow’s design and manufacturing technologies. The two technologies help accelerate an organization’s product development process and will significantly manage its entire lifecycle. While there are a lot of similarities between the two, and are often talked about at the same time, they are very distinct from each other.

Digital twins are exactly what they sound like; they’re a digital reconstruction of a physical object or a system. They’re a lot more than a 3D or CAD model, though. They include information about the material, simulation, and results and can be used to predict how different systems may react. Digital twins are used in recreating entire manufacturing processes, production lines, and products and are essentially simulations of real-world assets.

Digital threads, on the other hand, bring together all the information – both physical and digital – about a product. They are closely associated with product lifecycle management from ideation to recycling. All the information involved in developing a product is brought together with a digital thread, including 3D models, CAD designs, and is used to deliver the right information to the right personnel at the right time.

The digital thread brings together digital twins with other information to create a smoother product development flow.

Benefits of Digital Thread

The digital thread concept offers multiple benefits to businesses. Here are a few of them.

Digital Thread reduces product development time

With the digital thread, all the stakeholders and teams get access to the relevant information on time. They get a complete picture of the product development process and can easily figure out inefficiencies or delays. Digital thread empowers teams to make quick decisions and reduce the time they spend testing and making changes.

If a product development faces a roadblock or a certain component does not meet the required specification, the team can trace it back to the underlying issue. This reduces the overall time for product development.

Digital thread enhances communication among different departments

Digital threads can also be viewed as a communication tool for enterprises. From product ideation to the time a product reaches the shelves, and beyond, many departments are involved. The design team, the engineering team, the marketing team, after-sales support, and more have to actively take part in the process and provide their inputs to make a successful product.

With a digital thread, every one of these stakeholders will know where the product is at and make sure that it is moving in the right direction.

It makes manufacturing more efficient

Digital threads offer enhanced visibility into the manufacturing process. It helps engineers and analysts to understand the process better and identify the inefficiencies.

Digital threads can also reduce scraps and material losses and improve equipment efficiencies. It can prevent unscheduled downtime and improve worker productivity. With granular data and models, digital threads streamline the manufacturing process and help prevents delays, avoid wastage, and improve overall efficiency.

Improves after-sales processes

The digital thread doesn’t stop with manufacturing alone. It involves marketing, sales, and after-sales support. The digital thread helps organizations easily resolve concerns expressed by customers. If they notice a pattern or trend among customer complaints, they can trace back the issue to the source and fix it there.

The business can completely streamline its customer support process with this strategy.

What are the challenges of the digital thread?

One of the main challenges is that the technology is in its nascent stage. Enterprises are experimenting with their solutions and figuring out their best practices. It may be a while before the technology is mature enough to show justifiable ROI.

Many organizations are also working with legacy systems that are often isolated. It’s not easy to integrate them all together and collect data from them to create a digital thread.

Even with modern systems, enterprises use interoperable solutions from multiple vendors. Many organizations are struggling with data siloes, and it may not be easy for them to create a digital thread for their processes.

Intelligent search can help companies facing data access issues

Intelligent enterprise search empowers organizations to go through large troves of structured and unstructured data with ease. It helps them quickly find out the information they’re looking for. With intelligent search, teams can search across large amounts of data to find inefficiencies in their manufacturing processes.

Sinequa’s enterprise search solution allows enterprises to streamline their manufacturing processes and make their systems more efficient.

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