The industrial enterprise in 2020 is digitally connected and globally dispersed. Many are leveraging a global supply chain and have multiple factories across the globe. At the same time, they are collecting more data than ever before by using connected products, machines, and other digital technologies.
On the one hand, this has resulted in an incredible amount of data – by 2025, it’s estimated there will be 175 zettabytes of data generated annually – and when properly managed, it can lead to impactful outcomes and business results. The challenge is industrial enterprises are struggling with the management of all this data and are often overwhelmed by it. PTC's State of Digital Thread report found that only 16 percent of data from across the enterprise is widely available.
The solution? Digital threads create a closed loop between the digital and physical worlds to optimize products, people, processes, and places. When implemented in small, strategic use cases, digital thread initiatives can become the building blocks to greater visibility and increased collaboration across the value chain.
Tying digital thread to enterprise-level strategic goals – and a digital transformation strategy – is not only an effective way to get executive buy-in, it’s also the best way to ensure the initiative drives business value.
In this blog, we’ll explore the benefits of the digital thread and how it can contribute to digital transformation.
One of the hallmarks of Industry 4.0 is utilizing digital capabilities to move faster within the marketplace. Agility is one of the attributes of companies that are best-in-class with their digital transformation.
Gaining real-time visibility into products, processes, and people across the enterprise is one of the most effective ways to achieve a more agile organization. However, often critical enterprise data is siloed, living in multiple operational domains with no common thread. The results are one or more of the following: duplicated efforts, numerous “sources of truth”, and challenges with data security, control, and interoperability.
With a digital thread, enabled by a suite of interconnected technologies, upstream and downstream data is assembled and available in a single place. Up-to-date data and analytics can then be delivered in role-specific lenses; this allows the workforce to take advantage of data insights in ways never before possible, ultimately leading to agility and quicker reactions to market and business conditions.
For example, Volvo Group, the global truck and construction equipment manufacturer, recently implemented a digital thread to improve its quality assurance process. As the market increasingly demands custom products, Volvo looked to streamline its operations, while adhering to the highest quality standards. They left behind the laborious paper-based process in favor of augmented reality, which delivered the most up-to-date upstream engine engineering & design information to downstream QA operators.
This enables agility for Volvo Group in several ways: they can react to the market more quickly, be more efficient operationally, improve QA process experience for employees and ensure the highest levels of product quality.
Collaboration goes hand-in-hand with agility. In order to accelerate product design or adjust operations to meet market demand, there needs to be upstream and downstream communication in as close to real time as possible.
A digital thread helps create a full lifecycle loop from product design and engineering to manufacturing to service (and back again). In many industrial enterprises, there has been little communication between engineering and service. Now, with the Industrial Internet of Things and connected products, there is more insight possible – and more incentive to harness this end-to-end connection.
A digital thread enables communications and insights across a product lifecycle, informs processes, and empowers people with new analytics. With a better understanding of how a product and its various features are used and the service required in the field, engineers and designers can adapt future product iterations to better fit the needs of customers. This type of collaboration can accelerate innovation and improve quality.
Much like the process of knitting a blanket, a digital thread is meant to be layered and connected, weaving different pieces into an increasingly complete picture. Choosing the initial digital thread use case(s) with care and consideration is essential to the long-term success of digital thread across the enterprise.
However, a digital thread becomes more powerful – and transformative – with each new application and data source. By diligently building out a digital thread, adding new functions, departments, and roles, enterprises are able to realize substantial value and ROI as they scale.
Agile, collaborative enterprises are able to scale faster and achieve more. Digital thread has the potential to be a transformative power for an organization - achieving results in engineering and design, manufacturing efficiency, and product and service innovation.
Nancy White is the content marketing manager for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.