6 Reasons Enterprises Are Pursuing Digital Thread

Written by: Sarah Sherard

Read Time: 5 min

Editor's note: This blog was originally published in July 2021 and updated with new information in April 2024.

As a company that produces complex, long-lifecycle products—that the world relies on—you are investing in digital transformation initiatives to make these products better, faster, more efficiently and more sustainably.

As a product progresses through the product lifecycle—design, engineering, manufacturing, service, end of life—organizations need a central source of data to ensure at each step teams can perform their function efficiently. Each function needs access to data to collaborate, make decisions and give feedback, and then to generate the information deliverables required by their own processes.

This makes product data is one of the most valuable, transformational, and strategic assets for your business. It can be the key to winning or losing. But, for most of you, your digital product data remains siloed, inaccessible, or hidden across functions.

To be successful and unlock the true value of your data, it is imperative that these siloed data, functions, and systems be connected. To enable this, many industrial manufacturers are moving away from traditional approaches and pursuing a digital thread strategy.

What is a digital thread?

The digital thread is an interconnected flow of relevant digital data, from one or multiple sources, that defines a product throughout lifecycle—from ideation through design, manufacturing, and operation, service, and end of life.

A digital thread enables organizations to break down silos, streamline workflows, and achieve interoperability and collaboration across departments and functions–to deliver the right data and insights to the right people at the right time and in the right place.

Overall, the digital thread serves as a foundation of successful digital transformation initiatives, empowering organizations to overcome challenges, improve business outcomes, and achieve sustainable growth in today's digital age.

In this blog, we’ll explore six reasons why companies are choosing to pursue digital thread.

1. Product innovation and development

The digital thread can help companies accelerate innovation by creating a seamless collaboration environment, where teams can simultaneously develop parts of the same product in context of the same overall goal. The digital thread enables faster prototyping, iterative development, and agile product design processes, facilitating innovation and rapid product iterations.

Until recently, engineers did not have access to concrete data on how products performed and were used by customers in the real world. With connected products—and digital thread—design and engineering professionals can get access data-driven insights into product performance and customer experience. With this closed loop, engineers are better equipped to improve and innovate product design and functionality.

2. Collaborative change management

Change management is one of the challenging aspects of creating a product. Changes are inevitable and must be communicated upstream and downstream to reduce rework, quality issues, and delays. The product lifecycle and the products themselves are increasingly complex and it’s critical that all stakeholders utilize the most current data so they can react quickly to changes or new insights.

Ultimately, if not handled properly, changes can cost you a lot of money.

Collaborative change management centers around the governance of the engineering data throughout the product lifecycle. It ensures that all changes and configurations are fully defined and controlled, tasks are delivered to those responsible with repeatable automated workflows, and changes are made, and issues are resolved, accurately and efficiently.

The digital thread empowers teams to make quick decisions and reduce the time they spend testing and making changes–early in the lifecycle before the design is locked in.

3. Concurrent manufacturing planning

In this stage of the product lifecycle, a digital thread connects engineering and manufacturing, enabling traceability and connectivity from the digital design of the product, through BOM transformation, process planning, and validation.

The digital thread provides real-time visibility into manufacturing planning data, ensuring that all stakeholders have access to the latest information before it hits the production or assembly line. Designers, engineers, production planners, and operators can seamlessly exchange information, ensuring that manufacturing plans align with product design specifications and engineering requirements.

Integrating manufacturing planning with the digital thread brings significant advantages to the manufacturing process. Enhanced collaboration, real-time visibility, improved control, and continuous improvement opportunities enable higher efficiency, quality, and agility in your manufacturing operations.

4. Production execution

This stage builds on the prior one by making the digital engineering data available in the systems that your procurement, manufacturing operations and quality control teams use to complete their daily functions and build the product (e.g., ERP and MES systems).

Production execution involves translating manufacturing plans into action, where products are manufactured or assembled according to specified processes and requirements.

The digital thread enables accurate, up-to-date digital work instructions and product manufacturing information (PMI) to be delivered to your shop floor in digital format.

This ensures your operations, supervisors, quality control personnel and managers are all working from the same information. This eliminates communication gaps, reduces errors, and enhances overall productivity.

5. Closed loop quality

Closed loop quality establishes governance and traceability around a single source of information related to quality data - from ideation to field service. With streamlined communication and data sharing via the digital thread in engineering, teams can quickly identify and address quality issues before they escalate into larger problems.

The digital thread includes data and information related to inspections, tests, non-conformances, and corrective actions taken during the manufacturing process. Feedback loops enable this information to flow back upstream to help improve first pass yields, scrap and rework, failures, and accelerates corrective and preventative actions.

With PLM as the backbone for the digital thread, quality and regulatory reporting and audits can be automated, ensuring compliance with industry standards and regulations without the added burden of manual reporting.

6. Service optimization

Optimizing service processes is critical for manufacturers of complex, long-lifecycle products and the digital thread plays a key role. As with manufacturing planning, service engineering can also work collaboratively with Product Engineering leveraging product data to create a Service BOM that can be utilized to improve service planning and execution.

For example, technical publishing can access product data (like the 3D CAD model of exact products) to create user manuals, parts catalogs and build work instructions attached to the most common replacement parts and procedures.

With complete, accurate and up-to-date information service teams can streamline and improve the installation, repair, maintenance, and performance of business-critical equipment and systems.

Final thoughts

By implementing a digital thread strategy, enterprises can achieve greater collaboration, efficiency, and quality across the product lifecycle. Companies that invest in a digital thread will more effectively leverage one of the most critical assets they have – their product data. Done successfully, a digital thread can be a competitive differentiator as much as the products themselves.


Digital Thread: Key Enabler of Digital Transformation

Explore how a digital thread brings improved access to product data and ways to unlock new value across the enterprise. Click Here
Tags: Digital Thread Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

About the Author

Sarah Sherard

Sarah is a Marketing Content Specialist on PTC’s Commercial Marketing team. Her mission is to create intriguing, informational content that supports PTC’s product and service offerings.