Digital Thread – another name for PLMish goodness?

Digital Thread – another name for PLMish goodness?


PLM industry is in a full swing to promote new concepts – digital thread and digital twin. While digital term by itself is a concept and buzzword that requires clarification in a modern world, let me speak today about digital thread.

Industry Week article Demystifying Digital Thread and Digital Twin concepts making a point about military aircraft program roots in both definitions, gives you a good skim of what is that. Digital twin is a model of a specific asset (product) that describes geometry, materials, components and behavior. Digital Thread is communication model around Digital Twin.

The concepts of the digital thread and digital twin have been spearheaded by the military aircraft industry in their desire to improve the performance of future programs. They apply lessons learned through these digital technologies to current and upcoming programs.

The digital twin refers to a digital model of a particular asset that includes design specifications and engineering models describing its geometry, materials, components and behavior. More important, it also includes the as-built and operational data unique to the specific physical asset that it represents. For example, for an aircraft, the digital twin would be identified to the physical product unit identifier which is referred to as the tail number. The data in the digital twin of an aircraft includes things like specific geometry extracted from aircraft 3D models, aerodynamic models, engineering changes cut in during the production cycle, material properties, inspection, operation and maintenance data, aerodynamic models, and any deviations from the original design specifications approved due to issues and work-arounds on the specific product unit. 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 perspectives. The digital thread concept raises the bar for delivering “the right information to the right place at the right time.”

PLM companies are spinning the ideas of digital thread to support the development and marketing of PLM concepts. The idea sounds like a new thing. I came across the article – Yes, The Business of Engineering includes Manufacturing Process Planning which gives good explaining about how processes are connected in a typical manufacturing firm. The following picture caught my attention


The following passage confirms the meaning of the picture – use PLM database to store all data together and trace communication (thread) between models and elements (twins).

By integrating the Manufacturing team into the Aras PLM Platform managing changes becomes much simpler.  The connected firm is illustrated here.  Data is shared among all of the team and other enterprise systems. Assessing the impact of a change streamlined by having all of the product definition data connected by relationship and housed within the PLM system.  Any member of the product team – Engineering, Manufacturing or Supply Chain can evaluate the scale of a change in seconds.  Your change processes and business rules will be applied and your team can get to work implementing the changes.

My second example today is coming from AU2016. Monica Shnitger put an excellent write up about AU2016 product keynote and presentations – #AU2016 bridges point/platform, individual/teams, old/young. An interesting part of this write up is a story about Fusion360 and Common Data Environment platform. Here is the passage:

Each of the platforms is driven by a Common Data Environment –in other words, one for AEC, one for manufacturing– that will include Autodesk products but also third parties’. And in the cloud, to a large extent, to offer what Autodesk calls a “connected experience”. In manufacturing, for example, Fusion 360 will move from conceptual design through detailed design, to simulation and manufacturing. The idea is that designers and engineers start in Fusion and never have to leave; they add data as the design progresses, collaborate with partners — all in the managed environment of Fusion 360, with PLMish goodness in the background to track it all. On a Mac, on a mobile device, on a PC. Product manager Stephen Hooper said that the goal of Fusion 360 is to fully unite design and manufacturing in a single complete solution — rather than deploying multiple products. Mr. Hooper’s examples included integrated PCB layout in the context of its 3D design; sheetmetal design and unfolding/fabrication; mechanical simulation at the point of design creation –for optimization not validation– via pay-as-you-go cloud credits; shape optimization via generative design to create lattices that may make stronger, lighter products; and others.

According to the article, Autodesk is connecting different elements of engineering model together (twins) and track it with PLMish goodness (thread). This story is consistent with what I’ve heard about Autodesk Forge Platform (the foundation of Common Data Environment) earlier this year during Autodesk Forge DevCon in San Francisco – Forge Distributed Design Data Platform.

What is my conclusion? Both examples made me think that despite new and fancy names such as digital twin and digital thread, the idea of placing information into PLMish database is still pretty much the same. Which raises questions how such platforms will evolve into coherent connected platform. Connected is an important characteristic here. It is very hard to find an exclusive single vendor environment in manufacturing world. So, operating into heterogeneous connected data environment is a key thing. It is not clear how new PLM platforms are going to address it. And it is hard to put global connected manufacturing environment into single PLM database. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Pictures credit Industry Week article and Aras blog.

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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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