The concept of digital thread is becoming more commonplace. Over the past two years, companies choosing to begin digital thread projects have skyrocketed. PTC’s State of Digital Thread report found that 94 percent of industry leaders surveyed were at least in the planning stages of digital thread – and 67 percent of companies have started those projects in the last two years. The survey showed that digital thread is incredibly popular yet remains in the early stages of maturity. The other nuance is “digital thread” is manifesting itself in multiple applications within the enterprise.
At PTC, we define digital thread as creating a closed loop between the physical and digital worlds optimizing products, processes, people, and places. This definition encompasses the growing number of applications and benefits of digital thread.
In this blog, we’ll explore six reasons why enterprises are choosing to pursue digital thread and how those efforts are paying off.
What: In this application, 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.
Why: As enterprises matured digitally by adopting new technologies, it rarely was done in a with a holistic enterprise-wide strategy. The result was disconnected systems across functions, which inhibited the exchange of data, introducing the potential for errors, rework, and inaccuracies. With production preparedness, enterprises create a more seamless exchange of data from design, engineering, and manufacturing that ensures all parties have access to the right information before it hits the production or assembly line.
Powering Technologies: CAD+PLM
How: Many organizations are creating a foundation for enterprise digital thread with a unified product lifecycle management (PLM) system connected to their product design/engineering (CAD) software, in combination with other manufacturing software, like ERP.
Benefits: With this type of digital thread, enterprises are reducing rework, accelerating time-to-market, and reducing the cost of poor quality.
Example: Volvo CE, like many companies with longevity, had a jumble of different product data management systems as a result of mergers, acquisitions over the years. AS part of their digital transformation vision, they are implementing a unified PLM system (Windchill) to serve as the backbone of their digital thread and enable a consistent product architecture.
What: This application builds on the prior one by making the digital engineering data available on the factory floor in a digital format, such delivering digital work instructions and product manufacturing information (PMI) data to connected tools for workers.
Why: The pace of business (and pace of change) today, paper documentation has a short shelf life. Things like rising customer demands for personalization and corresponding mass customization are forcing factories to work differently. These trends have the potential to leave the shop floor disconnected from the up-to-date information, which could create issues around productivity, rework, scrap, safety, and more.
Powering Technologies: PLM+IoT+AR
How: PLM configures rich 3D product data from design and engineering. There can be an augmented reality (AR) component to deliver work instructions or other data for factory workers. Companies may not need all these technologies, but all three are worth considering.
Benefits: A connected, digital shop floor drive improvements in worker productivity, reduces scrap, improved safety, and expedite training. Another benefit is the ability for closed loop feedback – as shop floor execution data is created, it can be given back to engineering for improve production plans and work instructions.
Example: Volvo Group has rigorous quality checks in order to maintain its commitment to excellence. Because of product complexity, quality assurance required extensive experience and training. To improve and scale the quality assurance process, Volvo Group implemented a digital thread to be delivered through the lens of augmented reality, ensuring QA workers can access and view the latest engine configurations and supporting materials in near real time to complete quality checks.
What: 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.
Why: The product lifecycle and the products themselves are increasingly complex and it’s critical that those involved upstream and downstream are working off the same product data. This application of digital thread drives down the costs of poor quality, the time to implement changes, and the time for new products to be introduced to market.
How: With a comprehensive PLM system automatically manages, communicates, and tracks changes and configurations across the enterprise. With PLM, all aspects of the change are easily accessed during the review and approval process, which simplifies organizational collaboration.
Powering Technologies: PLM
Benefits: This type of digital thread drives productivity increases, reduces scrap and rework, improves quality, and enables enterprise-wide collaboration.
Example: The Vaillant Group, a global market and technology leader in the field of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) technologies, took a long-term approach to digital transformation, which included implementing change management through PLM (Windchill).
What: Closed loop quality establishes governance and traceability around a single source of information for quality data from ideation to field service.
Why: The digital thread connects previously disparate data sources to help improve first pass yields, scrap and rework, line and field failures, and accelerates corrective and preventative actions.
How: The unification of IoT and PLM creates a “closed loop” lifecycle system that captures all changes and configuration data. An IoT platform can collect data, monitor processes and machines, and send information back to engineering for root cause analysis and corrective and preventative actions.
Powering Technologies: PLM+IoT
Benefits: Creating a single source of truth, from engineering to machines to maintenance processes enables companies to unlock insights and find patterns to continuously improve products and processes
Example: VCST created digital continuity from engineering to manufacturing by linking PLM and IoT solutions establishing a continuous feedback and improvement loop for machine and operator performance, maintenance, and production.
What: Similar to the closed loop quality application, a similar digital thread can be used to inform and accelerate product innovation.
Why: Until fairly recently, engineers did not have access to concrete data on how products performed and were used out in the real world. With IoT and a digital thread, engineering gains 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.
Powering Technologies: CAD+PLM+IoT+AR
How: With a data foundation from CAD and PLM, this type of digital thread makes available critical information to downstream counterparts. As products are manufactured and ultimately used by customers, smart connected products are feed IoT data back to the thread. Additionally, augmented reality could capture how products are serviced, which could have design ramification. With this closed loop, all functions can be data-driven and iterate faster.
Benefits: This type of digital thread supports multiple functions across the company: Design and engineering can optimize product design, product management teams can develop and deliver new business models, and sales and marketing organizations can use it to drive revenue growth.
Example: Flowserve, a leading manufacturer and aftermarket service provider of flow control products and services, enables its global engineering teams to collaborate and share best practices and designs. In doing so, they are able to reduce lead time between customer inquiry and quote, as well as design to manufacturing.
What: The ultimate vision for digital thread is holistic system that drive value end-to-end across the enterprise, from engineering to service. In this application, the digital thread can help optimize service by enabling customer self-service, remote service, and improving technician efficiency.
Why: For many enterprises, service is cost center and incremental optimizations here can translate to big savings as well as unveil new revenue streams.
Powering Technologies: CAD+PLM+IoT+AR
How: This digital thread application can leverage PTC’s full portfolio CAD, PLM, IoT, and AR and empower teams and employees across the enterprise with the right data at the right time. IoT supports predictive maintenance efforts, and AR can deliver procedural guidance for service technicians or even customers.
Benefits: Empowered with the complete, up-to-date information, technicians can provide more efficient customer service (even remotely!), improve first-time-fix rates, and decrease truck rolls.
Example: With their Data-Driven Advantage program, Howden, a solutions provider for industrial air and gas handling, has been able to completely transform the way it delivers service.
The possibilities with digital thread are endless – and enterprise businesses are realizing significant value in the long- and short-term. Our State of Digital Thread research offers insight into adoption trends and lays out a compelling case for using this concept as a cornerstone for digital transformation.
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.