3 Transformative Digital Thread Customer Stories

Written By: Bradley Rhoton
  • 10/29/2021
  • Read Time : 8 mins

What do electric generators, beverage dispensers, and military aircraft have in common? They are leading representations of how powerful digital threads can deliver peak service outcomes.

A recent digital thread webcast showcased three organizations (Koel Green, Celli Group, and Boeing Global Services) and described how they are capitalizing on cutting-edge technology innovation to create better products, faster, and optimize service delivery.

The digital thread is delivering rapid improvements for OEMs in engineering, manufacturing, and service. The principal benefit is increased asset uptime and readiness, but with many tangential benefits like reduced total maintenance costs, higher customer satisfaction, loyalty, and optimized planning, process, and decision-making.

Before capitalizing on the digital thread within the enterprise, OEMs must understand what the digital thread is.

Pushpinder Toor, General Manager for PTC’s Arbortext Business Unit helped demystify the digital thread. “A digital thread creates a full lifecycle closed loop between the physical and digital worlds from product design and engineering through manufacturing to service (and back again).” She continued, “a product’s lifecycle begins with a digital design, then it’s manufactured into a physical product, and delivered to the field to begin its serviceable life. The digital thread and its rich data create a valuable loop.”

Customers demand more from the products and services they use. They don’t just want products; they want outcomes. The rich data from the digital thread helps OEMs maximize equipment uptime, utilization, and availability. For an operator, always having the right asset for the job is extremely valuable. When work needs to get done, the last thing you want is an unusable asset in need of service. The more frequently that happens, the faster customer loyalty erodes.

“The single greatest leading indicator for a customer to repeat purchase is the answer to this simple question – if the product required service, did it get fixed the first time?” said Toor. 

The benefits from the rich data in the digital thread including maximum uptime and loyalty are great justifications for investment from the enterprise. Historically, the vision of the digital thread within the enterprise might have been narrow. Toor advised, “Don’t think of it narrowly as a PLM digital thread or a service digital thread.”

The digital thread captures data for each lifecycle and makes it available to the broader enterprise. From engineering the original product design, to building the first generation product, and maintaining the finished product through service in the field.

When one part changes, when one procedure changes, the impact should cascade from the engineer to the technician -- and in a best case scenario, from the technician to the engineer, in a continuous loop.

Service information creators struggle to access up-to-date product definition because they are siloed from other organizations. For any manufacturer, service information plays a vital role in ensuring excellent levels of customer satisfaction while maintaining the after-sales profitability.

It is the service group that provides that all-important link between a manufacturer’s internal departments and external service dealer partners responsible for providing support to customers and their end users.

“Service information is used in every service transaction, by every service provider – every single day,” said Toor. “At the end of the day, its quality is imperative for world-class service operations.”

Delivering maximum asset uptime and outcome-based service is not insignificant. The complexity is illustrated well by KOEL Green’s story.

KOEL Green – Focus on Product Innovation

KOEL is a leading manufacturer of air-cooled and liquid-cooled diesel engines, power generating units, and agriculture pump sets. KOEL is the largest producer of non-automotive diesel-powered engines in India, first incorporated in 1946 and with more than 2,400 employees.

Their 3D parts catalog contains more than 1,000 equipment models, more than 10,000 parts lists, and 12,000 interactive illustrations for more than 1 million engine serial numbers. That’s a lot of technical product data and information!

Toor explained, “As KOEL grew its business, they found their legacy system for tracking product data changes wasn’t in sync with their production reality.” The disconnect led to higher volumes of interaction between engineering and other downstream teams. “It also created issues due to siloed problem solving by individual teams without the bigger picture in mind,” explained Toor. This led to a vicious cycle of excessive user demand for product data and documentation while disconnected solutions and processes continued to grow rapidly.

The overall effect was lower focus on innovation and an environment where all teams were working hard with little or no effect on the top or bottom line of the business.

KOEL urgently embraced organizational change through digital transformation. KOEL strived for Bill of Materials transformation from engineering to manufacturing. Ensuring that changes were automatically cascaded to downstream teams gave confidence to all stakeholders that they were using the most up-to-date information in their tasks.

KOEL’s use of PTC technology – including Windchill, Creo, and Arbortext, has resulted in dramatic improvements. With an end-to-end solution, they have seen:

• 73% drop in production-based engineering change management
• 100 labor hours a month saved because the content is easy to find and automated
• Improved technician’s time to repair rates by providing a one-stop-shop for both KOEL and its dealers

KOEL Green’s story illustrates the need for the enterprise to capitalize on data from the digital thread to maximize equipment availability. “With a service-enabled digital thread of product data that runs from engineering to service, KOEL can now ensure they deliver accurate and up-to-date service and parts information at all times to all users,” explained Toor.

How can connected products and equipment utilization data benefit the digital thread?

Iain Michel, General Manager for PTC’s Smart Connected Products Solutions Group, explains how connected products and equipment utilization data benefit the digital thread. “Giving a voice to field-deployed equipment empowers the product to place the service call, often before the customer knows.” This breakthrough provides numerous benefits to the entire value chain:

• Condition-based monitoring and service helps the service team get out of break/fix mode
• Remote service tools reduce truck rolls
• Enhanced customer self-service capabilities reduce cost and raise satisfaction rates
• Supporting the technician in the field boosts first-time-fix rates and shortens the time to resolution.

Who else in the organization benefits from getting access to real-time usage data?

It’s the data for engineering teams to prioritize their continuous improvement and future investment decisions, it is the basis for creating new, connected business models, it can enable closed-loop quality systems and help create innovative warranty and service offerings that increase market leadership and drive new revenue.

For companies servicing long-lived assets, the aftermarket business has become a point of greater focus. For evidence, look no further than the total customer lifetime value and relatively high profit margins from well-executed service and spare parts businesses.

This connected data stream helps tighten up predictive service models. “Service teams have sometimes shied away from predictive service because they don’t have years of historical data, or because they need to have expensive data scientists on-board,” explained Michel. “But it’s perfectly reasonable and can drive tremendous value to start predicting based on what you already know.”

Understanding if an asset is operating outside of the R&D-specified range is a danger signal that is pretty easy to put in place and offers great value. For the service team, it all starts with basic condition-based monitoring. With remote service and diagnostics tools, some issues are resolved before any performance issues manifest.

A common area of discussion is around what data can and should be collected. “It should be a cooperative effort among the service team and R&D,” says Michel. “Some is based on what can be done, then jointly making plans around what should be done to determine new sensors that should be added to future product designs.”

PTC’s Creo CAD offering has tools dedicated to designing the right sensors in the right places (Smart Product Design). It is another example of the digital thread enabled by linking teams across the enterprise.

Some OEMs work with real-time location systems in addition to performance data. Answering the question, “where is my stuff,” has a lot of value for users and managers of mobile equipment.

Asset utilization data is critical to the engineering team as they look to optimize features and functions. Knowing what capabilities are actually used is critical to improving designs, an activity we call "data-driven design." Michel cited one example, “we have one customer who saved multi-millions of dollars in product costs just by seeing that a particular system component was never used and engineering it out!”

As organizations explore new business models such as product-as-a-service, connectivity is critical to provide the necessary uptime and to document that the contract terms are followed. It also provides predictable, recurring revenue that investors love, and it pulls high-profit supplies, parts, and service forward in the agreement, maximizing total lifetime customer value.

Celli Group is a fantastic success story using IoT to expand customer value.

Celli Group – Focus on Connected Data

Celli Group is a global company based in Italy that manufactures and services equipment for dispensing soft drinks, water, and beer. They have more than 400 employees in six production facilities (three in Italy and three in the United Kingdom).

Since 1974, Celli Group has been a leading innovator in their industry, encouraging evolution and technology adoption. Their R&D team is credited for 30 patents in the last 20 years as they push the pace of product design and functionality. Their customer-oriented approach and philosophy distinguish them in such a competitive industry.

“One challenge for beverage dispensers is not knowing how the equipment is performing, or whether the equipment is in need of service,” said Michel. “Fortunately, that’s something that IoT can help to resolve!”

Celli Group has implemented an IoT strategy that connects them to their end customer and enables new service delivery and revenue models. They have now increased the value of that data stream by directing it to the engineering team to increase visibility, enable building more exact digital twins and perform better simulation—all leading to more targeted product designs that better meet changing customer needs.

Celli Group implemented a model-based system using enterprise PLM as the foundation for this transformation and includes a novel "smart warranty" program that is unique in their industry. Warranty coverage is determined by how hard the equipment is used--how close to or over specifications the operation runs.

In addition to this novel program, with better service outcomes and market leadership, Celli also reduced their time to market with an actual application of an extended enterprise digital thread that reached out all the way to the customer, who ultimately benefited from fresher, colder, tastier beer!

By leveraging an ecosystem of strategic advisors, system integrators, and technology leaders, Celli Group is:

• Shortening design cycle time with better results

• Enhancing customer visibility and control at the point of sale

• Improving uptime of dispensing equipment and controlling costs

• Increasing customer sales and sell-through of existing inventory

Celli is a fantastic example of the extended digital thread in action, delivering customer value, growth in revenue and margins, differentiation, and ultimately, higher customer satisfaction.

The immense value of optimizing the service supply chain

The engineering, and manufacturing lifecycles are long and significant, and the beginning of life for most things. However, the service lifecycle is much bigger than both combined. At least ten times larger (or more)! And it isn’t just about the timeframe or volume, it’s about the profit too. A car is designed and manufactured one time and receives service for the rest of its useful life.

Leslie Paulson, the General Manager for PTC’s Servigistics Business Unit, described, “a well-designed, well-manufactured product will last many years, even decades. It’s such a competitive market, OEMs must deliver on their SLAs or risk brand equity bankruptcy. Data is crucial to ensure asset uptime and readiness, and so are business processes and tools that generate insight from that data. Enter the digital thread.”

To successfully deliver service for years or decades you must understand how it was made to work (the product design) and how it was intended to be cared for, including the service and as-maintained bills of material.

There is a lot of technology available today to improve service delivery. An organization can have up-to-date and accurate product information, access to real-time or near real-time product utilization data, and utilize augmented reality for expert on-site repair procedures. “But,” said Paulson, “there is one unmistakable aspect to service delivery, having the right service parts in the right place at the right time. Without it, all the other technology investments are for naught!”

Threads are created by taking fragments of raw material and spinning them into a thread. The thread is stronger than the fragment. Threads can twisted into a rope. And rope is stronger than an individual thread. Paulson described the digital equivalent, “an engineering fragment might be the CAD design of a component and a thread might be several digital component models coming together into an assembly. In my mind, the digital thread should be conceptualized more as a rope. Many threads coming together to meet customer expectations across long lifecycles.”

Examples of data fragments coming together to form a robust digital thread:

• The engineering information – how was this designed to work and all the associated product design data?
• The manufacturing information – how was this built?
• The technical information – how do I know if something is wrong, how do I fix it if it is?
• The warranty information – who pays for what?
• The asset information – what it is doing? how is it performing? how long has a given part been in service or how many cycles has it experienced?
• The parts information – how long was this part supposed to last? How many of these parts are serviceable? What are my life limited parts?

All these questions could be answered with data from the digital thread. If we answer the questions from disparate or fragmented sets of data, we will get disparate and fragmented answers and insight. The outcome of our actions will be sub optimized at best and incorrect at worst.

A simple example is the as-maintained BOM. Every function or fragment, along the digital thread, needs to operate from the single source of truth that is updated in as real-time as possible. Engineering needs to know how the design BOM has evolved to glean insights from how it should improve the design. Manufacturing needs to understand the as-maintained BOM to glean insights about manufacturing quality. Service parts supply chain needs to both anticipate changes in the assets BOM and to provide for potential changes by stocking the right part in the right place at the right time.

“A digital thread isn’t easy to create and requires discipline across the enterprise. The benefits are well worth working towards the vision,” said Paulson.

Responding to the ubiquitous and growing market demand for asset uptime, best-in-class OEMs turn to enabling technologies. “It is critical to recognize that managing uptime is not just about managing downtime, said Paulson. “When assets are up and running or our state of readiness is 99%, the digital thread is just as important, if not more important, than when the asset is down.”

Having a single source of truth for product, manufacturing, and service information, that is augmented with connected information, allows us to understand uptime. What conditions come together to maximize uptime and availability? Replicating and sustaining those conditions will achieve peak service outcomes – which results in high customer satisfaction, repeat purchase, and brand loyalty. That same data can be used to predict downtime and prepare to minimize it. So we need to gather data about both uptime and downtime as we build our digital threads.

Undoubtedly, the supply chain plays a huge role in engineering, manufacturing, and service. The pandemic has exposed supply chain weaknesses. As a result, the supply chain is today’s executive’s top concern. The President of the United States has declared the supply chain to be a top priority of the government as well. With peak service outcomes in mind, the service parts supply chain emerges as an important area of focus for OEMs. Service parts extend the asset’s usable life, which unlocks enormous revenue and profit potential. The service parts supply chain is another great example of how a digital thread strengthens with more and better data including, historical, current, and predictive data.

“The more signals that the algorithms have, the better the forecasts, the better the optimization, and the better the planning, which leads to maximized asset uptime and readiness,” said Paulson.

Boeing Global Services is an excellent example of this groundwork.

Boeing Global Services – Focus on service parts optimization

Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense systems. Boeing Global Services, the entity within Boeing responsible for aftermarket support, is a well-respected industry leader. They have 23,500 people in 300 facilities across 70 countries. Their assets are comprised of hundreds of thousands of parts, and they live a very long time, some projected to live for 100 years! Boeing has a very high bar for service for each and every customer. And their assets operate in highly variable conditions.

This combined with a massively complex supply chain, highly regulated parts, long lead times, and long asset life, results in a highly complex service parts supply chain. BGS recognized that standardization on one toolset would drive improvements in operational excellence, and they chose Servigistics to optimize their service supply chain. 

With Servigistics as their enterprise global standard, Boeing Global Services began gathering and organizing all relevant enterprise data to maximize the value of Servigistics and gain the most optimization. Paulson explained, “through an intense 12-week process, Boeing and Capgemini created a data planning layer to make it robust to the variety of data inputs upstream so that supply chain planning decisions can be supported with less customization downstream.”

All the service parts data is invaluable to the broader organization for Si&OP planning – what’s breaking where, how can we best meet our SLA’s. This is just one example of how BGS is building a digital thread with an integrated flow of data which improves communication and collaboration among sites across the enterprise. “Common data drives differentiated insight,” Paulson shared. “A powerful digital thread should break down silos within the enterprise and lead to maximum equipment uptime and delighted customers.”

Where to get started?

These three organizations’ intentional focus on product innovation, connected data, and service parts optimization is delivering peak service outcomes and are an inspiration for the art of the possible. The digital thread promises tremendous value. Imagine where you would focus? Regardless of where you start, with the pace of innovation and accelerated modernization, the best time to get started is now.

About the webcast speakers

Pushpinder Toor - PTC

Pushpinder Toor, the General Manager for PTC’s Arbortext Business Unit, has 22 years of experience managing product information for hundreds of customers worldwide. She has a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge on creating, managing, and delivering service information.

Iain Michel - PTC 

Iain Michel, the General Manager for PTC’s Smart Connected Products Solutions Group, has a fresh perspective on the value of IoT and Augmented Reality-enabled products. He leads a team of value-focused innovators delivering cutting-edge Solutions for PTC’s customers.

Leslie Paulson - PTC 

Leslie Paulson, the General Manager for PTC’s Servigistics Business Unit, brings 29 years of experience from her successful career at Caterpillar, with the majority of her time on executive management teams. Leslie has a strong command of disruptive technology and its impact on service operations. 

Servigistics delivers maximum value

Servigistics innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and IoT will optimize your service supply chain and unleash the full potential of your service business.

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About the Author

Bradley Rhoton

Bradley Rhoton is the Marketing Manager for the Servigistics Business Unit at PTC. He leads and organizes the Servigistics client affinity group organizations and facilitates best practice sharing and knowledge transfer between PTC, PTC clients and industry thought leaders. For 13 years he has worked closely with Servigistics clients to help capture their service program accomplishments and share their success stories.