Digital Thread is a new catchy phrase you can hear often these days. Very often, Digital Thread is used by companies today to replace old fashion PLMish marketing slogans. To be honest, I like it and it makes a lot of sense. But it raises so many questions and I’ve been contacted by many industry colleagues and companies with questions about different aspects of digital thread implementations – technological, solution architecture, legacy data, and many others.
In my earlier discussions this month, I found it interesting how companies are using digital threads to solve different problems. Which made me think about some kind of digital thread classifications. While I’m still not sure about this classification in the broad range of the companies, I’d like to give you some ideas about various types of “digital thread” and what kind of problems it can bring.
Complex Product Development and Engineering Data
Modern products are super complex combining a variety of pieces – mechanical, electronic, software with tons of dependencies on other tools, components, and software systems. Today, the products are operated by cloud software services combining a variety of functions together. The challenge of all tools is to combine the data together produced by multiple tools in a dynamic fashion. We all need to have the right data at the right time. A combination of these two factors is a killer. What if the data you have is distributed between multiple files and databases? How to make use of it. This is one type of digital thread for product development connecting data from multiple system and software sources.
History and Traceability
The change is the only constant that we have. Depending on the product type, you will have different types of changes in design, production planning, field operations, supply chain. All these events will trigger changes in the product data- supplier components replacement, product defects, problems with suppliers. There are a lot of changes and a lot of data. Companies need to cope with the regulations and provide traceability on many pieces of information. How to do so? How to have the right information visibility when it is needed. This is how you come to another type of Digital Thread – managing history and trace changes back to the source of operation.
Maintenance and Operation
Manufacturing is switching from products to services. You don’t buy equipment – you buy hours of operation, you don’t buy cars – you buy miles of driving. You don’t buy engines – you buy a subscription to a specific performance. These fundamental changes in business models require systems capable of supporting them. One of them is a total shift to maintenance operations that now is owned by manufacturing companies and not customers. There is a need to manage data about each instance of the product. The data is owned by the customers and needs to be managed with a high level of complexity and connectivity to other data sources. This is another Digital Thread – connecting data about product instances in real life.
What is my conclusion?
Digital Thread is a broad name for the technology that is capable of combining pieces of information together. While it is very generic and can be used in multiple applications, knowing the specific problem, methodologies, tools, and technological limitations is important to make the right choices of products, suppliers and navigate your architecture and decision making in the right direction. A note for PLM architects working on Digital Thread programs – choose wisely, don’t buy marketing slides, and dig deeper. I’d be happy to help you. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.