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Understanding Digital Thread Technology: The Future of Product Lifecycle Management

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Carlos González De Villaumbrosia

November 07, 2023 - 7 min read

Updated: May 6, 2024 - 7 min read

The digital transformation scenario has at its forefront an innovation that's reshaping the way we approach Product Lifecycle Management (PLM): Digital Thread Technology. 

Refining your PLM process but struggling with its complexities? Are data silos hindering your PLM? Time to embrace digital thread technology. In this article, you'll learn what it is and how it can benefit your organization.

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Get ready for a holistic solution that guarantees traceability, precision, and actionable insights at every product stage. Dive deep to discover how this innovation not only streamlines but transforms PLM, setting the gold standard for future business operations.

What is digital thread technology?

Imagine a continuous thread of digital data that weaves through every stage and phase of your product's life. From its initial design sketches to the final feedback loops post-deployment, this technology binds every element. It ensures that all data is accessible, traceable, and, most importantly, actionable.

Blog image 1: Digital Thread Technology

Consider the PLM of a new smartphone. At the conceptual stage, designers sketch out innovative features, from its slim form to its high-resolution camera capabilities. With Digital Thread Technology, as the design evolves and gets refined, every modification is logged and linked. When engineers step in to bring this design to life, they can easily trace back any design element to its origin, understanding the rationale behind it.

As the phone moves into the manufacturing stage, quality control teams, even if located across the globe, have immediate access to every design update, ensuring precision in production. Post-launch, customer feedback about a specific feature can be traced back to initial design choices and manufacturing processes. 

Suppose users report shorter battery life than expected. The digital thread allows teams to trace the battery's design, materials used, and the manufacturing unit where it was produced. This level of traceability facilitates swifter problem resolution and proactive improvements for future iterations.

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This interconnected data flow, from the smartphone's conceptual phase to user feedback, showcases Digital Thread Technology's power in ensuring cohesive product development and lifecycle management.

Why is adopting digital thread technology beneficial?

Let’s explore the reasons you should consider to integrate digital thread technology into your existing PLM:

Blog image 2: Digital Thread Technology

1. Holistic perspective

The digital thread offers a complete, 360-degree view of the product. Instead of juggling between platforms or data sets, teams have a unified perspective, paving the way for informed, streamlined decision-making.

2. Enhanced collaboration and cohesion

Fragmented data sets and communication barriers become obsolete. With a continuous thread of information at their fingertips, teams work cohesively and effectively, ensuring alignment across all stages.

3. Precision and data accuracy

Having a single source of truth minimizes inconsistencies, and errors, often stemming from disjointed systems. This reliability ensures data accuracy throughout the product lifecycle.

4. End-to-end visibility for comprehensive insights and swift action in real-time

With immediate access to data, you can make decisions faster, optimize processes in real time, and address concerns promptly. This not only ensures products reach the market quicker but also upholds the highest quality standards. 

Visibility is perhaps the most significant advantage of the digital thread. It offers a bird's-eye view of the entire ecosystem. Whether it's tracking a component's journey from the supplier to the production line or understanding how design changes affect production, the digital thread's comprehensive insights ensure that you're never in the dark.

Blog image 3: Digital Thread Technology

For instance, consider a car manufacturing unit. A design change in one part might affect several other components and, eventually, the assembly line's efficiency. With the digital thread's interconnected data system, the ripple effect of such a change can be visualized, analyzed, and addressed in real time, ensuring smooth operations.

5. Maximized operational resilience and risk mitigation 

Today, the agility to quickly adjust to unexpected challenges is paramount. The digital thread is not merely a tool for efficiency—it’s a backbone for resilience. Consider a scenario where a global event disrupts your supply chain. The continuous data stream of the digital thread allows companies to immediately detect these hitches and adjust their operations, ensuring business continuity with minimal disruptions.

Moreover, the digital thread empowers companies to preemptively model various scenarios and their potential impacts. For instance, if a crucial component suddenly becomes unavailable due to a supplier issue, the insights harnessed from the digital thread enable teams to forecast this deficit. Armed with this knowledge, you can quickly identify alternative components or suppliers, averting potential production roadblocks.

Further amplifying its value, the digital thread provides a clear vantage point for early issue detection, facilitating proactive interventions. Such foresight helps you dodge expensive recalls and also acts as a shield for your brand’s reputation and counters potential manufacturing delays. This is how you ensure that your products don’t just meet standards—they consistently exceed them.

6. Boosted efficiency and automation

Digital thread technology streamlines operations, minimizing the need for manual interventions. Embrace the automated workflows it brings to the table, freeing up your team's time and energy for innovation and strategic direction.

As you move forward, empower your team with the knowledge and tools to maximize its potential. Witness firsthand as your product lifecycle management transforms from a daunting task to an insightful, streamlined process.

How to leverage the digital thread to elevate your operational excellence

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1. Uplift asset performance

Start with your assets. Incorporate the digital thread and heighten their efficiency and longevity. How? With real-time machine health monitoring, production scheduling can be tuned to perfection. Anticipate and preempt faults before they even manifest, minimizing unplanned downtimes. 

Also, strategically planned maintenance sessions ensure your assets consistently function at their peak, minimizing planned downtimes and maximizing productivity.

2. Augment labor productivity

Your workforce is undeniably one of your most invaluable assets. The digital thread offers tools to supercharge their performance. Deploying smart shop floor planning will ensure optimal resource distribution – be it labor, materials, or tooling. 

Couple this with virtual reality environments to drastically cut down on operator training durations. This move will ramp up efficacy and at the same time, it presents a low-risk training module, guaranteeing top-tier performance from your team.

3.   Amplify your production output

Integrating the digital thread directly into the heart of your operations can unlock a new realm of productivity. Harness the power of AI to bolster your process control, ensuring an uptick in production yield. Predictive supply chain models will act as your sentinel, curtailing production losses. 

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Learn more about integrating AI-driven processes into your product lifecycle with our AI-Driven Product Design & Development post.

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Blog-Thumbnail: AI-Driven Product Design & Development

On top of it,  dive deep into predictive analytics to slice down on quality incidents, significantly curbing rework and scrap production.

4. Solidify your risk management strategy

The recent past has highlighted the issues of unoptimized inventory management and fragmented supply chains. As you push products into the marketplace, let digital thread technology elevate the supply chain to refine product quality and ensure regulatory compliance.

5. Shed light on the value chain

The modern market demands transparency, and rightfully so. Using the digital thread, you can provide an unprecedented level of clarity. From ensuring customer safety to dramatically trimming down product recall expenditures, tools such as blockchain and sensors embedded within the digital thread can be game-changers.

Real-time demand detection coupled with predictive analytics ensures your supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine, always ready to adapt.

6. Cement product quality and adherence

Establish a quality loop connecting in-market products to shield your brand reputation, while also slashing quality-associated costs and non-compliance fines. The key here is not just to rectify but to continually refine.

Looping in-market feedback into the product development cycle ensures products in the pipeline are enhanced in terms of quality, safety, and efficacy.

Reap the rewards of digital thread technology

In sum, the digital thread isn't just a fancy term for tech-driven product development. It's the future of how businesses will operate, innovate, and grow. As you strive for excellence, it's imperative to consider how the digital thread can fit into your operations and bring about transformative change.

Blog image 5: Digital Thread Technology

To truly leverage this revolutionary approach, it's crucial to invest in training your teams. Equip them with the knowledge, tools, and mindset to harness the digital thread's full potential. By doing so, you're not just streamlining processes but future-proofing your organization.

Updated: May 6, 2024

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