Digital Thread and Digital Twins  – are those new names to replace PLM?

Digital Thread and Digital Twins – are those new names to replace PLM?

The use of the term “PLM” might have worn out its welcome says Peter Bilello, president of CIMdata analyst and consulting service outfit. CIMdata is a well-known name for leadership and strategic view on PLM. CIMdata uses “cPDM” as a name commonly associated with PLM. A broader scope of CIMdata PLM includes CAD, simulation, and even construction, but in my view, most people mean cPDM (CIMdata) in the context of PLM. Check out the CIMdata announcement about the PLM industry and market research for 2019 here and key trends in PLM industry.

Here is the key passage I captured.

“Many of the research findings are heavily weighted towards the traditional aspects of PLM, which is consistent with CIMdata’s experience with its industrial clients,” says Peter Bilello, CIMdata’s president, “Survey responses indicate that industrial companies find PLM to be worth the investment and that PLM budget trends show a continued investment in the near term. The major challenges facing users going forward are the confusion surrounding the overlapping processes and functions of enterprise systems (e.g., PLM, ERP, and MES), the lack of understanding around PLM payback opportunities, and cultural issues.”

Two engineers usually have three opinions about what to do. I learned it many years ago working for PLM companies and getting involved in PLM implementations. Enterprise system functions are overlapping and confusing. And modern manufacturing gives us a little chance to believe that simplification is actually possible.

Earlier this week, I attended 3 webinar sessions organized by Aras about Digital Twin, Digital Thread, and System Thinking. Organized under the subject – Digital Thread in Action, the webinars provided a version of Digital Thread definition from Aras.

Aras Digital Thread Webinars

These webinars provided an interesting perspective on the usage of modern terminology Digital Twin, Digital Thread, and System thinking to explain problems that most of the manufacturing companies are facing and experiencing for the last two decades. At the same time, the industry is not standing still. Product complexity is growing, the dependencies between companies and suppliers are growing and products are now “connected”, which means a manufacturing company activity doesn’t stop when the product is shipped from the company loading dock to customers.

Aras webinars provided very interesting examples of process and use cases demonstrating multiple bill of materials, sharing data between engineering and maintenance services, ECO process, 3D review, multi-level bill of materials, where used queries, and a broader scope of information structuring between requirements and other information domains and structures.

Aras flexible modeling capabilities are shining in all demos and this is a key- relationships and dependencies are well represented. However, the data “objects” are not very much different from what we’ve seen in the PLM industry for the last decade.

An interesting novelty – Digital Item. According to Aras definition, digital item purpose is to save software items in Aras database. It is probably similar to other object types, but it is explicitly defined.

So, where is the catch? Are those the same PLM “things” with new names or Digital Thread and Digital Twin according to Aras is something new?

My favorite feature from this webinar is Aras graphical visual navigation (Aras call it Dynamic Product Navigation). It allows drill down through the dependencies and connections. It is interesting to see how a very similar structure sometimes called “Digital Twin” and sometimes called “BOM”. You can think about Digital Twin as a BOM of a specific representation – eg. connect engineering and service BOMs. It might be a bit confusing, but I have no doubt, that ability to create different links and relations is a powerful capability of Aras modeling engine and it might be missing in other PLM systems (I need to write a separate blog about it).

Will Digital Twin and Digital Thread solve the problem of confusion CIMdata outlined in the 2019 market review? The answer is not obvious. Terminology is a tough thing. You can force marketing to change how things are presented in the corporate slide decks, but traditional companies will continue to use their own terminology. However, I have to say, some of these new “digital” terminologies are catchy and there is some chances that new names will be adopted.

Tenant model was out of the scope of discussion during the webinars and in my view, it is something that creates a difference when you think about Digital Thread and Digital Twins belonging to different organizations. As companies speak about the conecting of OEMs, contractors, suppliers, and customers, the tenant model will play a key role. Otherwise, you risk putting all the data in a single data belonging to a single organization. This is what Aras does. It can certainly work for some organizations, but as the network will grow can create a challenge to scale and provide granular access and control to the data belonging to different companies. Think about the network of suppliers, contractors, online stores, and marketplaces. How to make a digital thread to be shared between multiple companies? It is one of the most critical aspects of moving towards future PLM architectures of Digital Thread and Digital Twin.

What is my conclusion?

Digital Thread and Digital Twin are new very fancy names. I like them. They are coming together with system thinking and RLFP models, which were around for the last two decades. How these things can help the PLM industry? I bet the robust data modeling engine of Aras is more important than renaming the BOM structure into the Digital Twin structure. Aras data modeling combined with dynamic product navigation (graph) provides some very interesting capabilities. Thread and graph mean connections between data and companies. Aras provides a good solution for that. How the solution will be available to multiple companies in a multi-tenant environment? I didn’t find the answer on this question, which is one of the most critical. Otherwise, we will have limited twins and somewhat limited threads. 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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