6 Real-World Digital Thread Examples

Written by: Greg Kaminsky
2/7/2024

Read Time: 6 min

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in Sept. 2020 and updated in January 2024.

What is it that makes a company a true leader in its industry? There are many potential answers to this question, but one that’s becoming increasingly prevalent is the ways that a company uses digital technologies to differentiate its products, processes, and services.

Finding the right technology use cases to deliver business value is at the crux of a successful digital transformation. As an essential enabler of digital transformation, the digital thread helps manufacturers unlock the potential of their data to modernize processes, improve operations, and create new opportunities to provide value to customers.

What is a digital thread? A digital thread is an interconnected and synchronized flow of data that defines a product throughout its lifecycle. It ensures accurate, up-to-date, information is accessible across the enterprise, removing data silos and keeping everyone on the same page. A digital thread connects systems and functions along the value chain, providing data continuity and traceability that keeps organizations aligned and working efficiently.

In this post, we will explore how six market-leading manufacturers are addressing their top business challenges by implementing a digital thread.

Digital thread for product footprint: Vestas


Challenge:

Recently named the most sustainable energy company in the world, Vestas is working toward a goal of manufacturing zero-waste wind turbines by 2040 while striving to meet the current needs for today’s customers, including providing greater transparency around the carbon footprint of its products.

Project:

To achieve these ambitious goals, Vestas partnered with PTC to implement a model-based digital thread with a strong PLM foundation for enterprise governance and traceability. Using this digital foundation, Vestas was able to create a centralized materials database that links base material data from the Ansys Granta solution with 3D CAD models in Creo and Windchill, where parts and raw materials data is maintained.

Outcome:

With a unified, closed-loop flow of product and process information in place, Vestas can support its sustainability initiatives by empowering stakeholders across the value chain with the insights they need to make more informed decisions. Engineering teams utilize information from Vestas’ centralized materials database to optimize product designs for circularity and material recovery, while the digital thread allows Vestas to extend engineering insights to customers that want to configure based on carbon footprint. In addition, Vestas has utilized its digital thread to accelerate innovation, improve efficiencies, and optimize service processes, further cementing its products and operations as market leading.

Digital thread for service and parts information: Kirloskar Oil Engines


Challenge:

As a leading provider of aftermarket service support, Kirloskar Oil Engines maintains a widespread network of 435 service outlets with approximately 4,000 people engaged in its service dealerships. To ensure consistent high-quality service, Kirloskar needed a more effective way to manage a service parts catalog that features over 1,000 equipment models, more than 10,000 parts lists, and over a million engine serial numbers.

Project:

To move past document-based, 2D parts catalogs to a governance and traceability model driven by engineering, Kirloskar partnered with PTC and created a digital thread with a backbone of Windchill PLM and PTC’s Arbortext Content Delivery solution. This digital thread provides an authoritative source of truth between Kirloskar’s products and dealers, so engineers can rapidly release up-to-date 3D parts information to the field, and dealers can identify the right part requirements and view real-time parts information—all within a single platform.

Outcome:

Implementing a digital thread to ensure the delivery of accurate service and parts information has ultimately helped Kirloskar improve customer satisfaction, while also the providing foundational building blocks for future enhancements and extensions. Parts lists, technical documentation, and illustrations from CAD models are automatically linked and updated with recent design and engineering information, resulting in dealers getting the necessary service documentation sooner, and customer problems getting resolved faster.

Digital thread for improved quality: VCST


Challenge:

VCST, an automotive supplier of powertrain and brake components, wanted to accelerate its digital transformation to better meet expectations for high quality products within their industry. They identified several smart factory initiatives for their manufacturing facility in Belgium with goals of reducing costs, increasing quality, fueling innovation, and improving time-to-market.

Project:

To kickstart its digital transformation initiative, VCST set out to unify its IoT and PLM systems by combining the connect, collect, and analyses capabilities of ThingWorx with the data governance and traceability of Windchill. Working with PTC's implementation services team, they were able to create a digital thread that captures and relates the data of machines and processes within the factory with change management and product configuration information.

Outcome:

The immediate outcome for VCST was being able to produce higher quality products at a faster rate. With a digital thread connecting its engineering and manufacturing operations, VCST estimates a 25% improvement in the time it takes to implement changes to a manufacturing process. In addition to improving its change management strategy, VCST also improved its ability to respond to quality concerns, regulatory requirements, and customer demands.

Digital thread for product customization: Groupe Beneteau


Challenge:

With increased demand for customization across over 10 brands and 200 different boat design models, Groupe Beneteau needed a better way to deliver the exact product configurations that customers want, and within a reasonable timeline.

Project:
To accomplish its goal, Beneteau set out to establish a digital thread that democratizes product data across its many brands and models. With this digital foundation enabled by PLM now in place, Beneteau has been able to drive increased collaboration between design and manufacturing, accelerating time-to-value for customers while helping to meet their interest in customization.

Outcome:
Beneteau’s digital thread has paid off significantly. Beneteau is now able to efficiently create customized designs and configurations, resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction and differentiation. And with the digital thread now firmly established, Beneteau has been able to leverage additional technologies like augmented reality to further enrich the customer experience.

Digital thread for process efficiency: Carlsberg


Challenge:

To improve margins, world-renowned brewer Carlsberg was looking to optimize manufacturing processes across its production sites, floors, and machinery. The global beverage company needed to find an effective way to access the critical information that resides within its manufacturing execution systems. These systems were widely dispersed across Carlsberg’s 100 locations, making the data difficult to access and utilize.

Project:

To execute its digital thread strategy, Carlsberg integrated PTC’s industrial IoT software, ThingWorx, with its legacy systems, enabling business leaders to drill down into factory floor data and connect and analyze data from interrelated factories.

Outcome:

Carlsberg can now access key performance indicators at the global factory and production-line levels. Since enabling this visibility into its operations, Carlsberg has been able to optimize the manufacturing processes it uses across its global production facilities, driving efficiencies that have helped Carlsberg expand into new markets.

Digital thread for consumer education: Mercedes-Benz


Challenge:

To continue leading in the luxury automotive market, Mercedes-Benz is always looking for new ways to improve its connection with consumers. One of the automaker’s goals for its E-Class and S-class sedan was to leverage the digital thread to further enhance the customer experience.

Project:

To accomplish its goal, Mercedes-Benz created ‘Ask Mercedes,’ a self-service augmented reality application that helps consumers better understand its vehicles by extending engineering and design insights to the consumer. Using Mercedes’ AR application, consumers can digitally overlay engineering and manufacturing information onto the actual carto discover and explore special features.

Outcome:

The ‘Ask Mercedes’ app provides an engaging way to for consumers to learn about features of the vehicle they’re interested in, while differentiating the customer experience with digital technology. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz can utilize data from the application to better understand customer needs and inform future product iterations.

Final thoughts

The digital thread is a powerful concept that leading manufacturers are implementing to create meaningful impact across their business. From improving collaboration and operational efficiency to exploring new ways to differentiate the customer experience, there are endless ways for manufacturing companies to use the digital thread to their advantage.

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Tags: Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Digital Thread CAD

About the Author

Greg Kaminsky Greg is a technology blogger telling real stories about industrial innovation, digital transformation, and futurism in the workplace. As a Content Marketing Manager at PTC, Greg is helping business leaders discover how augmented reality and the internet of things are empowering frontline employees, driving productivity, and differentiating brands.