“Digital Thread” is all the talk lately. The term represents the digitization of product data—from design inception through prototyping, manufacturing and the product in service—with its foundation in the bill of materials (BOM). With Industry 4.0, what makes Digital Thread game-changing is the ability to build a comprehensive set of attributes describing the product BOM, from CAD drawings, part attributes and other engineering data. The fact that these attributes can then be digitally consumed by various manufacturing and service systems is a tremendous capability, bringing consistency and new processes to the operation.
The real value of Digital Thread is in the consistency, traceability and reusability of the digital product information through the lifecycle, extending beyond once the product is delivered to the customer. The ideal situation is to build in processes and data management solutions, whether through IoT or traditional data exchanges, to capture the product’s operational information and the as-maintained configuration. In turn, the product operational data needs to be driven back through the organization for reliability improvements, quality improvement and new service opportunities.
Consider the potential value with best practices in Digital Thread management:
- Have a single source of truth about a product housed typically within the PLM system.
- Establish a master data management strategy for product data to ensure quality, governance, standards and archiving.
- Ensure the traceability of the product data throughout the lifecycle for both security as well as audit compliance (e.g., for ITAR constraints in the defense sector).
- Define a rigorous change management and notification system to ensure that each product BOM change can be consumed by the receiving system. This would include change notifications to relevant parties (think supply chain and manufacturing) and a feedback capability to engineering to note problems with a change, whether in manufacturing or in the field.
- Build feedback processes throughout the product lifecycle to ensure that manufacturing quality issues and operational service issues can be captured, analyzed, escalated and cycled back into the engineering change management and product improvement processes.
- Develop methodologies and service agreements with customers to capture as-maintained product data at the serial number level.
An example of the challenges companies see through customer service and maintenance operations when a lack of a comprehensive product data change management process is in place is increased complaints from customers, fulfillment failures and part shortages. When new parts are introduced there has to be a formal engineering change management process to ensure that illustrated part catalogs both in technical documentation and service parts sales sites are updated as soon as the new parts are available in inventory. There has to be a defined process to ensure that all parties have the right information and inventory to meet maintenance and customer demand.
As we look toward the future on how Digital Thread will be leveraged for gain, the concept of a “Digital Twin” brings forward a new world of opportunity with the rich product data that comes from an integrated Digital Thread environment.
More on the Digital Twin concept in my next blog post here.
Capgemini is speaking at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas on the topic of predictive analytics, including the Digital Thread / Twin models in “The (R)evolution of Predictive Operations & Maintenance.” Learn more here.