As concepts like the manufacturing digital twin become more crystalized across industry, evolutionary concepts like the digital thread have emerged. In fact, since 2015, searches for the digital thread have risen 433%. Research firms are stating that digital threads are ‘the next big thing’ for industry.
Of course, like many hyped innovations, the concept or theory behind it is often easier than the execution. In this article, we break down some of the key takeaways to understand about the digital thread in manufacturing.
What is the manufacturing digital thread?
A manufacturing digital thread is designed to expand upon a digital twin. Put simply, the Digital Thread is capturing the digital twin data as it evolves over time. As manufacturers evolve their process and their digital twins adapt, the digital thread encapsulates the link between these evolutions
For example, how did your product quality, production cost, and energy consumption evolve over time? What progress did you make? The digital thread in manufacturing is meant to measure your progress and improve your production process over time.
Whereas digital twins provide a virtual replica of physical processes, their scope is focused to include manufacturing data—How was something made at a point and time?
Digital threads expand to capture data over time and often add additional data sources such as pre-production information like the supplier, OEM data, blockchain, or point of sale information.
This then allows manufacturers to use the digital thread to use data from the entire lifecycle and later understand the impacts in quality, energy, etc.
For example, one of our automotive customers is leveraging VIN numbers to track product components of their vehicles over time. Using their digital twin data built by VIN, they have started to track the car’s life cycle. Whereas a digital twin shows paint quality at the time of production, a digital thread can add additional lifecycle information, such as paint quality correlated with customer satisfaction levels, maintenance paint orders, and other types of depreciation.
This then offers manufacturers the opportunity to understand something such as the optimal recipe for paint to meet current specs and have lasting quality. Data like this spans into carbon reduction initiatives, quality control, sustainable sourcing, and other key strategies to make the right product for their customers.
What is the value of the digital thread?
The value of a digital thread in manufacturing is nearly unfathomable. Because it is designed to capture data that leads to better resourcing and cost control, it is difficult to put a hard number or estimate a projected return on investment.
However, imagine if manufacturers were able to easily interconnect point-of-sale data, engineering specs, and production details into an intricate package of information? Having this data clearly organized and updated would bring a new layer of intelligence. It could help faster time to market, improve people organization, and even optimize maintenance planning.
Digital threads for manufacturing have historically been realized in heavily regulated industries like aerospace and defense. Though, we’re seeing a shift into other industries, namely food, and beverage.
In food and beverage production, taste, quality, and volume are key. For example, an innovative food manufacturer that we work with wanted to tie point-of-sale data back to their innovation hub. This company produces several food products with different flavors, many of which are seasonal. They want to use their point-of-sale data to trace how recipe changes affected their customer ratings. This will allow them to source the most effective raw materials and ensure the highest level of customer satisfaction.
Further, they are looking at the start of the process too. They are linking back customer satisfaction data to their supplier information of each batch. Did different supplier ingredients yield the same level of satisfaction? Did the consumer even notice? Is it worth diversifying suppliers, offering premium, basic, or some other level of product? Having data that connects innovation through sales data offers new opportunities for optimization for manufacturers around the world.
In general, digital twins reflect process optimization and, yes, get better with time as new data comes in. Yet a digital thread adds additional data points from pre-production through the end of life. Digital twins help you understand with historical data how to optimize now, and digital threads help you optimize using data over product lifecycle time.
Digital threads in manufacturing can help you uncover the precise temperature in a shipping container, the ideal store placement for the highest selection, and, even better, inform the value stream.
Digital threads in manufacturing are not limited to food and beverage producers. According to Gartner analysts, 70% of the top 20 global consumer goods companies will include consumers as part of their customer experience strategy. This type of hyper-personalization is made possible in part by digital thread technology.
Consumers more and more expecthyper-personalization. They want to select the color of their shoes, the color of the thread in their car seats, or even the flavor in their soda. When offering personalization, the consumer can have an excellent experience, but that personalization data may not make it back to the manufacturer. Digital threads are trying to close this feedback loop.
Building a digital thread is not something that happens overnight. Building and executing such a heavy lift requires a highly mature IT infrastructure and data governance framework.
Regardless of where you are on your digital transformation journey, all of these technologies become moot without the right data. Without the perfect data—meaningful and organized data—you won’t have concrete results to enhance your production process. Braincube provides the tools you need to break through Industry 4.0 with the right tools, data, and services.
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