The Role of the Digital Thread and Digital Twin in Digital Transformation

Manufacturing organizations across the globe are sinking significant investments into digital transformation to improve development of products and manufacturing plants. Companies that take a holistic view of the digital twin will find increased success as they pursue these initiatives at every step of the product lifecycle.

An Enhanced Definition of Digital Twin and the Digital Thread: The concept of a digital thread is newer than that of the digital twin, and because of its novelty, its definition is still evolving somewhat. The definition approaching consensus is that the digital thread is the digital form of individual business processes—activities, tasks, and decisions—that enhance and expand the digital twin. These processes also support automation, traceability, and standardization efforts.

Some organizations are converting manual, paper-based, or email-based processes to digital, automated ones that can then take their place in the digital thread. This makes the digital thread more robust. Processes that could be converted include supporting digital activities in some sort of system of record or automating or routing tasks based on defined logic and constraints. In these examples, one tangible benefit is that project stakeholders can be automatically notified of key decisions or any activities that may be off-schedule.

 

Digital Thread

 

The Role of the Digital Twin in Digital Transformation: A few years ago, if you had asked a member of the manufacturing community to define the term “digital twin,” you might have gotten a variety of different answers. Since then, the definition of the digital twin has solidified across the industry.

The digital twin is a virtual representation of a product or plant that exists before anything is physically built. Organizations collaborate around this unambiguous definition of the product or plant. Members of all functional departments can work from the same digital blueprint. This virtual “single source of truth” makes it easier for manufacturers to develop an optimized design and predict the design’s performance, long before they put any parts together.

The Role of the Digital Thread in Digital Transformation: The concept of a digital thread is newer than that of the digital twin, and because of its novelty, its definition is still evolving somewhat. The definition approaching consensus is that the digital thread is the digital form of individual business processes—activities, tasks, and decisions—that enhance and expand the digital twin. These processes also support automation, traceability, and standardization efforts.

Some organizations are converting manual, paper-based, or email-based processes to digital, automated ones that can then take their place in the digital thread. This makes the digital thread more robust. Processes that could be converted include supporting digital activities in some sort of system of record or automating or routing tasks based on defined logic and constraints. In these examples, one tangible benefit is that project stakeholders can be automatically notified of key decisions or any activities that may be off-schedule.

Starting and Expanding at Your Own Pace: As you consider how to harness such technologies in your own improvement efforts, the key is to pursue achievable goals with appropriately scaled efforts. Digital transformation isn’t an overnight process. Once you identify a place to begin, it pays to start small and build upon those wins. With each improvement success, you will learn how to better expand your digital transformation efforts into other areas, leveraging that past work so you can improve the digital twin or digital thread in other steps or phases of the product development lifecycle. Digital transformation, truly, is a cumulative effort.

Thinking Bigger: Manufacturing organizations aiming to produce more complex products on shorter timelines are harnessing digital transformation initiatives. While there is no single correct approach to supporting those improvements, a digital twin and digital threads can help.

Companies that are thinking more broadly about how to define and create these sorts of digital assets will increasingly reap the benefits, decreasing potential errors and issues and improving design and operations as they work to build tomorrow’s products and plants.

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