Do we need a standard like PLCS to build a digital thread?

Do we need a standard like PLCS to build a digital thread?

Standards are like toothbrushes, a good idea but no one wants to use anyone elses. The history of engineering and manufacturing software is full of stories about standards. It came from usage oof different CAD file formats, later applied to a variety of data and database interoperability scenarios.

There are many standards available today. Some of them are more formal standards approved by standard bodies and organizations (eg. ISO). Some of them are de-facto standards like DWG files. And some standards are presented by actually specific software packages widely used, so file generated by this software is recognized any other packages. You can also find organizations promoting standards, like Code of PLM openness and companies using a specific standard as the foundation of products like Eurostep.

There are many debates about PLM standards. I wrote a number of articles about it earlier. You can check here. Some of my favorites:

PLM standards – from files to frameworks

Why standards are not a silver bullet to create an innovation platform

Digital Thread is a relatively new idea and trend in data organization, which recently became more popular in the discussions about data organization in manufacturing companies through the lifecycle of product development.

I’ve got a recommendation from Eurostep’s Hakan Karden to look at PLCS and how it can help to build a digital thread. Check out the paper here. Note, it is Eurostep marketing. I’m not endorsing it, but only provide it for information. Eurostep is a software outfit, built a business around PLCS standard for the last 15 year.

According to Eurostep, the digital thread refers to the communication framework that allows a connected data flow and integrated view of the asset’s data throughout its lifecycle across traditionally siloed functional…

The article provides their view of digital thread and multiple digital twins.

According to Eurostep, implementing PLCS provides an immediate Digital Thread capability adding this functionality to already existing software and processes. It includes but not limited to things like BOM views and breakdowns, to record values over time, store requirements, record processes, and sub-products.

The article made me think that PLCS is indeed a mature data modeling framework that can be used to manage information about the product and its lifecycle. It can be very useful… if you decide to rely on it. Do we really need to use it or is it the only way to model digital thread? Of course, it is not the only one.

In my view, as we move from standard files to frameworks, there is also the next move to products and systems. The digital thread is a complex system that once organized can contain multiple sets of services and data elements. It is a live system, which means the data is continuously updating. Even more, this system should be available and sustain for many years of the product lifecycle. Does PLCS answer these questions? I don’t think so. Software, which is using PLCS can do it. In such a case, Eurostep’s Share-A-Space is an option to do so. The article doesn’t say much about it, but I imagine it is an implied message. At the same time, it is of course, not the only system which can do so.

What is my conclusion? Digital Thread is an important trend for the organization and lifecycle of product data. To have open and sustainable data platform is important. Is PLCS a data framework for Digital Thread? Probably yes. But as soon as you claim this, the famous “standard like toothbrushes” quotes is coming to my mind. It will be interesting to see how Digital Thread development will be evolving in the next few years. The idea is good, but the implementation is actually something that can make a difference. How to make an open, sustainable, live system to hold digital thread info. It can be a big deal. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.

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  • Standards are like toothbrushes, a good idea but no one wants to use anyone elses.

    This is the type of one-liner that generalizes a topic and kills the discussion. No need to read further…….

  • Oleg

    @jos_voskuil:disqus I’m surprised, but it looks like you have no arguments. This phrase is the best summary of the tragedy of many standards in IT, data and process management. In my view, the usefulness of the standard can be validated by the adoption. Another way to introduce standards is to use economical incentives and power to enforcement.

    This discussion is not about usefulness of electrical outlets and importance of safety regulations. This discussion is about setting data formats and data structures and claiming that these structure are helpful to solve the problem because somebody created it. If it is useful, the adoption will be skyrocketing (look at XML, REST and some others). Otherwise, it is just a data structure.

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