5 Benefits of Digital Thread in the Enterprise

Written by: Greg Kaminsky

Read Time: 7 min

Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in March 2020 and updated with new information in May 2024. 

Product companies know how important it is to keep up with the changing expectations of customers and markets, as well as how challenging it is to manage the complexity of products, processes, and data across an entire value chain. A digital thread can help you overcome these challenges by interconnecting and contextualizing product-related data, from design to manufacturing to after-sales service and retirement, to facilitate a more seamless flow of information and collaboration across the extended enterprise.

By implementing a digital thread, product companies can more easily optimize their internal processes, automate tasks, and drive data-centricity that improves overall efficiency and productivity. In this blog post, we’ll share how a digital thread strategy can deliver meaningful benefits across your business.

Benefit 1: Accelerated time-to-market

Time-to-market speed is critical to staying competitive in today's ultrafast-paced environment. Being slow or late to introduce new products can negatively impact your market share and sales, while getting to market earlier than your competitors can provide a significant first-mover advantage. So, how can you accelerate your design and development processes to capitalize on timely new product opportunities?

A digital thread strategy can help speed your time-to-market in several ways. First, a digital thread helps to streamline the entire design and development process by providing employees with accurate, up-to-date, and contextualized product data. Stakeholders in different roles or functions can simultaneously work with the same shared product definition and each user can pull the information they need when they need it, including aspects of the product's design, software engineering, requirements, or manufacturing and service details. This level of traceability and data continuity makes it easier to manage change, product configurations, and portfolio complexity, ultimately leading to more efficient development workflows with less time spent waiting on approvals and inputs from others.

The digital thread also accelerates time-to-market by making it easier for you to reuse existing data. For example, engineers can reuse existing design data to develop and iterate new product concepts faster. Alternatively, downstream functions like manufacturing and service can reuse product data derived from design engineering to expedite the creation of process plans and work instructions.

Lastly, a digital thread provides the foundation for establishing data-driven feedback loops which can help businesses expand upon their product portfolio to capture more topline growth. The digital thread makes this possible by interconnecting usage and performance data from products deployed in the field and feeding those insights back to engineering to provide better visibility into how customers are utilizing their products. The insights gained from these feedback loops can also help to inform future design choices and uncover new opportunities faster.

Benefit 2: Increased efficiency and productivity

The productivity of your employees is a major factor when it comes to driving operational efficiency and improving business margins. The manufacturing industry, however, is hindered by increasingly complex products and processes, and siloed data in disparate systems that makes cross-functional collaboration difficult.

One of the biggest advantages of a digital thread is that it connects the disparate systems and data silos that are frequently slowing companies down. As products progress from concepts to designs, all the way through to being manufacturable and serviceable, each business function can leverage the digital thread to access the information they need to make decisions, give feedback, and generate deliverables that their own processes require.

With a digital thread, stakeholders from across the product lifecycle can access, analyze, and interpret product-related information within the unique context of their job role, including details around specific processes, events, or conditions that may have impacted the product.

Digital thread strategies help businesses drive down costs by increasing the productivity and efficiency of teams across the value chain. The digital thread minimizes errors and inconsistencies by reducing the need for manual data entry, duplication, and transcription. Additionally, digital threads enable faster and more accurate data exchange and collaboration with suppliers, partners, and customers, for greater value chain transparency and performance.

Benefit 3: Improved product quality

Product quality is a key differentiator for product companies as it affects things like customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. Poor product quality can lead to product delays, unnecessary rework, field failures, warranty claims, and even reputational damage. On the other hand, high quality products help brands enhance their image, increase market share, and boost profitability.

A digital thread can help drive quality improvements by facilitating data-driven feedback loops between engineering, manufacturing, operations, customer usage, and service. The digital thread lets you share customer feedback, product usage data, and performance analytics back into the system to influence design engineering decisions and drive continuous improvement.

A digital thread also reduces errors and miscommunications that lead to subpar quality by ensuring the availability of an authoritative source for product data. It also ensures that any changes or updates to the product data are propagated and communicated across the product lifecycle, keeping stakeholders on the same page and minimizing the likeliness for rework and scrap.

Furthermore, a digital thread can help improve product quality by enabling you to create and maintain digital twins of your products. A digital twin is a dynamic digital representation of a real-world product or process that mirrors, emulates, and measures its physical counterpart. Digital twins can help you better understand how products perform and behave in the real world, while providing insights that can help to optimize product quality and reliability.

Benefit 4: Improved regulatory compliance

Product companies face increasing regulatory pressures and requirements from various authorities and standards, such as the FDA, ISO, or CE. Compliance is not only a legal obligation but also a competitive advantage, as it demonstrates your commitment to quality, safety, and sustainability. However, compliance can also be a complex and costly process, requiring you to manage and document large amounts of product data while simultaneously ensuring its accuracy and traceability.

A digital thread can help you improve regulatory compliance by providing a comprehensive and interconnected view of your product data and its history. With a digital thread, you can track and trace the flow of data between different systems and processes throughout the entire product lifecycle, including requirements, design specifications, components, materials, changes, and other relevant information. This can help ensure that products meet their specified design and quality standards, and that you can provide evidence of compliance in case of audits or inspections.

Digital thread strategies also help improve regulatory compliance by enabling you to automate and streamline your compliance processes and workflows. The digital thread reduces the manual effort and time that’s required to collect, verify, and report product data. It also enables you to avoid errors and inconsistencies that can lead to non-compliance. With a digital thread strategy, you can efficiently monitor and respond to changes in the regulatory environment, while ensuring that your product data is always up to date and aligned with the latest requirements and standards.

Benefit 5: Differentiated customer experiences

Customer expectations are constantly evolving and the demand for more personalized, customized, and connected products and services only continues to grow. To meet your customers' expectations, you need to be able to capture and track customer requirements and ensure that those requirements are met in the physical product. You also need to create variants and options for your products to effectively support each customer’s unique needs. A digital thread allows you to efficiently manage and leverage all this configuration-specific product data which is key to meeting demand and fostering customer loyalty with high quality products.

With a digital thread as the foundation, you can extend and reuse product data from your CAD or PLM systems to easily develop accurate service documentation, instructions, and parts catalogues that improve technician efficiency, first time fix rates, and customer experiences. If you’ve invested in smart connected products, a digital thread can enable your organization to capture asset performance data on that can be used to inform quality and create better, more customer-centric products.

Final thoughts: The exceptional value of a digital thread

The digital thread delivers exceptional value by keeping everyone across your organization aligned and working efficiently throughout the product lifecycle. By implementing a digital thread, your organization can deliver a seamless flow of information, ensuring that accurate, up-to-date, and contextual product data is available for timely and informed decision making. These capabilities let you efficiently meet and exceed regulatory compliance, time-to-market, and quality requirements in today's demanding global marketplace.

Overall, the digital thread provides a comprehensive, interconnected, data-driven approach to managing complex products and processes, leading to meaningful productivity increases, quality improvements, and better decision-making capabilities. It's a crucial tool for product companies looking to stay competitive in today's fast-paced, technology-driven business environment.

Digital Thread Insights

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Tags: CAD Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Industrial Equipment Digital Thread Digital Transformation

About the Author

Greg Kaminsky Greg Kaminsky is a Senior Brand Marketing Manager at PTC based in Boston, Massachusetts. He focuses on sharing customer innovation stories and exploring how digital transformation helps product companies become more sustainable and efficient. With a background in marketing, video, and content creation, Greg is inspired by examples of people and technology that are pushing the boundaries of cutting edge. Outside of the office, Greg also enjoys volunteering and finding ways to positively impact the community as part of PTC's global ambassador group, Green at PTC.

Follow Greg Kaminsky on LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/gkaminsky