Digital thread technologies are transforming manufacturing

The combination of digital thread and digital twin technologies can help manufacturers to reach their transformation goals quickly and effectively

Steve Dertien
By Steve Dertien on 18 January 2023
Digital thread technologies are transforming manufacturing

Approaching the new year, digital transformation is well underway at nearly all industrial companies. They’re investing significantly in IT and other digital tools. In fact, IDC forecasts that digital transformation spending will reach $1.8 trillion in 2022.

Businesses are increasingly depending on their digital initiatives being successful to enable them to remain competitive, differentiate themselves in their market, and meet the demands of customers, regulatory organisations and supply chains.

While digital transformation is often associated with technology, it’s the physical parts of a business – products, processes, people and places – that are impacted most.

Products and their life cycles are at the crux of everything manufacturing companies do. You simply can’t envision engineering, manufacturing or aftermarket services without picturing the products and processes that are at the heart of each function. That’s why the most effective digital transformation strategies need to be anchored in the product life cycle – and a digital thread provides the foundation to do just that.

A digital thread creates a closed loop between the digital and physical worlds and spans the entire product life cycle, ensuring accurate product and process information is available to the right person, at the right time, in the right context, across the value chain. In other words, a digital thread unlocks the type of collaboration and visibility necessary to achieve significant business value across an entire organisation.

PTC has a powerful portfolio of technologies – computer-aided design, product life cycle management, application life cycle management, internet of things (IoT), augmented reality and service life cycle management – that transform existing business processes and drive customer engagement, employee productivity and business resiliency.

For example, in engineering, we help companies improve quality, reduce rework, accelerate sustainable innovation, and expedite new product development and time-to-market. We do this by helping companies modernise product development processes and establish governance with solutions for model-based definition, product data management, configuration and change management, and bill of materials management, along with more services.

At the same time, in manufacturing, we help companies drive efficiency with solutions for asset optimisation, workforce productivity, quality improvement and speed to industrialisation.

We also work in aftermarket service to help companies improve customer satisfaction by enabling remote visibility into assets, which improves technician efficiency, reduces dispatches and their associated emissions, and allows for better service parts management.

Optimising the processes within each of these business functions has value all on its own, but when it’s part of a bigger effort to create a digital foundation for product life cycle data, there are more transformative benefits. Companies improve collaboration within and between each of the functions and their relationships with customers and supply chain partners.For example, with remote visibility into products at your customer site, you’re better able to anticipate their needs and ensure your products are operating optimally. Or, by improving your digital foundation and product engineering data, you’re better able to closely collaborate with your supply chain.

The robust data of digital thread lays the foundation for digital twins – virtual representations of a physical product, process, person or place that can mirror and measure their physical counterparts. Digital twins provide a connection between the digital definition and the physical experience, and they can unlock more opportunities for automation. For instance, performance and condition-based maintenance is triggered when the digital twin crosses a threshold for that event. Those thresholds can be triggered as an event, the use of rules, analytics or machine learning, even a simulation. Companies can then take appropriate action, which improves service quality and customer experience.

Vestas, the global leader in wind turbines, has been continually expanding its digital thread for years. Managing the complex build process for their turbines requires global collaboration and seamless orchestration of thousands of supplier materials. With PTC’s tools, Vestas’s CAD designs promptly reach the factory floor, where they’re turned into accurate and comprehensive process and work instructions for production machinery and Vestas’s workers.

Vestas’s digital thread enables a real-time data exchange between these previously siloed systems and information sources, which improves time-to-market, product quality, flexibility in adding new product features, and worker productivity.

A connected product strategy, powered by IoT data, ensures that Vestas’s digital thread is dynamic and reflects product performance and usage in the field. This valuable connection fuels continuous engineering improvements and provides necessary insights that help Vestas more effectively service customers.

With a digital thread as an authoritative source of truth, companies like Vestas are achieving transformative gains across the value chain. As you consider the trajectory of your company’s digital transformation in 2023, you should prioritise building a digital thread foundation to take business plans from incremental improvements to transformative success.

Learn more about PTC’s digital thread capabilities at: www.ptc.com/MSFTDigitalThread

Steve Dertien is executive vice president and chief technology officer at PTC 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription

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