Digital thread and “fake PLM” debates

Digital thread and “fake PLM” debates


Have you heard about “digital thread”? If not, you probably should, because it might become the next point of debates about real vs. fake PLM. My attention was caught by Yoann Maingon article – Fake PLM is sexy but Real PLM is important. The article brings two videos – one from Boeing and another from Aras PLM. Watch the videos, read the article and draw your opinion. The following passage gives you a culmination of the debates:

But then I’m thinking about what I saw, and I’m like “wait a minute!!!! This is not PLM!!”. This is a suite of cool stuff, for sure, but this is not the heart of PLM, what really connects all the valuable information about your product through its versions, variants,… And the valuable information is not just the various CAD model used for definition, simulation and production planning.

PLM is tough because of the data itself, because of industry-specific needs and company-specific processes. Once you close the CAD software, each company has different processes. It is also tough because of the dynamic of the data, the workflows, the life cycles, and add the rights and permissions on top of it. Companies need to open “some” of their system to partners, customers, suppliers. This is not the cool CAD stuff, this is real PLM.

The article made me think about the agreement about what is “digital thread” and how is that correlates to vendors’ view on the scope of PLM. I found few references to share with you.

NIST website provides the following definition of Digital Thread:

The NIST Digital Thread for Smart Manufacturing project enables the repurposing, reuse, and traceability of information throughout the product lifecycle. The project research focuses on standards and implementation needs to exchange information between each phases of the lifecycle — particularly between engineering, manufacturing, and quality functions.

Here is GE definition coming from the following website. GE is one of the strongest proponents of digital thread:

“While the Industrial Internet may be unchartered territory to some manufacturers, early adopters are starting to understand the benefits of the ‘Digital Thread – a web of data created the second they initiated their Industrial Internet journey. The digital thread is the result of several advanced manufacturing initiatives from the past decade, creating a seamless flow of data between systems that were previously isolated.

However, my favorite definition comes from US Air Force public presentation about Digital Thread. Navigate here to see more details. The presentation provides you a comprehensive perspective of building composite information structure extracting data from multiple domain systems and combining information into single knowledge management system.

Digital Thread is the creation and use of cross-domain, common digital surrogates of a materiel system to allow dynamic, contemporaneous assessment of the system’s current and future capabilities to inform decisions in the Capability Planning and Analysis, Preliminary Design, Detailed Design, Manufacturing, Testing, and Sustainment acquisition phases. The digital surrogate is a physics-based technical description of the weapon system resulting from the generation, management, and application of data, models, and information from authoritative sources across the system’s life cycle.


Getting back to Yoan’s article, “real PLM” is capable to acquire information from all domains and hold it as a full knowledge databases representing a complete set of information about the product and related records. So, in other words, “digital thread = PLM” is the vision of Aras taking it beyond CAD specific information. This is a good confirmation that data will become a future manufacturing platform. It will ultimately raise a question about potential limits of existing PLM architectures.

What is my conclusion? The growing complexity of product and related information is creating a strong demand for better data management. Digital thread concept is a great example how to rationalize and improve information model for manufacturing. Different PLM platforms have variety of tools and data management capabilities. Digital thread will become a test for PLM data management platforms. I’m not sure “real PLM” is a the terminology to apply here. As it was stated in the article, industry and company specific processes are different. The devil is in details and therefore to understand a specific data management capabilities is the right approach to check what PLM system and platform can fit  digital thread model for a specific company. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

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 about BOM can be unintentionally biased.


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