Digital Twin vs. Digital Thread: Defining the Concepts

Written by: Nancy White

Read Time: 3 min

Before we dive into the details of the difference between digital twin and digital thread, here's one way to describe the two concepts:

A digital thread unifies diverse but interrelated data sets in order to uncover insights. This data unification is a necessary pre-requisite to building a true digital twin.

As with most emerging technologies, there is often some confusion around the concepts, applications, and use cases. This is especially so when the two technologies have similar names, are leveraged in the same type of environments, and are often inextricably connected.

Digital twin and digital thread are two concepts that have been around for decades, but the technology to make them powerful, useful, and accessible is emerging. This post ventures to differentiate the two, while shedding light on how the two concepts are connected in today’s industrial applications and environments.

With that baseline, let’s go in to more specifics:

What is Digital Thread and How Is It Used?

A digital thread creates a closed loop between digital and physical worlds to optimize products, people, processes, and places. It's a way to create a universal access to data – a single source of truth. When implemented across a value chain, it can create consistency and foster collaboration by aligning different functions around a robust set of data. The data set is enabled with real-time data synchronization so upstream and downstream information is available to all users.

Benefits of Digital Thread

As industrial enterprises (especially those with a global footprint) look to advance product innovation and differentiation, optimize processes for efficiencies, and empower workers for greater productivity, the digital thread can benefit all three areas.

A digital thread increases flexibility and agility within an organization by equipping employees across the value chain with the right information at the right time. Digital threads can leverage a variety of technologies, but in an enterprise setting, most commonly connect data sets from CAD, product lifecycle management (PLM), Industrial IoT (IIoT), ERP, CRM, MES, BOM, and more. Digital threads are flexible and – with an identified use case and business outcome in mind – have the potential to expand beyond manufacturing software to include other areas (and their related software/data) of the organization.



What is Digital Twin?

A digital twin is digital model that virtually represents its physical counterpart. Digital twins are not restricted to products or physical “things”, they can also be developed for operational processes, or even a worker’s task.

They are increasingly common in industrial applications. In many digital twin use cases, the digital twin is used to better understand the physical counterpart and offer insights, or even predict how the physical counterpart will react or behave. Twins typically leverage multiple data sets to render a full representation of the physical counterpart.

This often includes business system data and sensor data, so digital twins truly reflect the physical counterpart and its environment. With higher quality and diverse data streams, the fidelity and complexity of a digital twin increases. Furthermore, by bringing together disparate and previously siloed data sets unlocks new insights and possibilities.

Benefits of Digital Twin

One of the benefits of digital twins is the ability for a single twin to be leveraged by different roles and applications. With these different “lens”, new (and additional) value can be uncovered. For example, a digital twin delivered through augmented reality could assist a service technician in a repair and the same digital twin could also improve quality assurance procedures. Because the twin has a single source of truth – generated from the foundational digital thread – users are able to access the most accurate and up-to-date information.

With digital twin technology, industrial enterprises can improve operational effectiveness, achieve product differentiation, and increase quality and productivity.




The Future of Digital Twin and Digital Thread

The possibilities of these two technologies (both separately and combined) are limitless. As more industrial enterprises implement digital thread and digital twin, they’ll unlock more opportunities to drive business outcomes.

Integrating augmented reality to both these technologies is an emerging method to realize value. As this technology becomes more prevalent in factories and other industrial applications, it provides the “lens” in which workers quickly and effectively view information in context from the digital thread and/or digital twin.

Among the most important steps as leaders consider these concepts for their organization is determining an impactful starting point – a project that is manageable to implement and delivers significant value.

For more on getting started on a digital twin strategy, read our whitepaper, Digital Twin: A Primer for the Industry Enterprise.

State of Digital Twin

Learn how industrial companies are using digital twin across engineering, manufacturing, and service. Read the report
Tags: Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things Digital Transformation Digital Twin Industry 4.0

About the Author

Nancy White

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.