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Understanding The Digital Thread


04-05-2020 David Pike

It is hard to move in the industrial world today without becoming confused by the new phrases that are being used. 

From Industry 4.0 to the Digital Transformation, it seems that people are talking about data and computers more than the manufacturing of products.

There is a good reason for this new language.  The industrial world is changing very quickly, and much of this change is happening because of the way that information (data) is being used by manufacturers.

Data is now a key ingredient in the making of any product, just as important as steel, polymer or any other raw material. 

Let’s take a look at one of the reasons that this is true.

 

Traceability

For decades, traceability has been a key concern for manufacturers and customers alike.  Traceability describes the process which can be used to record everything about any component that is manufactured. 

From the original raw materials from which it was made, through the manufacturing processes it followed, to the inspection that was carried out once completed, there needs to be a record of the life of that component.

This traceability is vital to analyze the performance of components and prevent problems.  For example, if the failure of one component can be traced to a flawed manufacturing process, it is possible to identify all of the other components that used the same process. 

Records will allow the manufacturer to advise customers that they need to take action to prevent similar failures.  Anyone who has received a letter from the manufacturer of their car has seen traceability in action.

Product recalls in the automotive industry hit the headlines due to the number of vehicles that are affected – sometimes in the hundreds of thousands. 

However, the same process is used across all sectors of industry, and this generates a huge amount of information.  The use of computers has made this information easier to process, sort and analyze.

 

The Digital Thread

It is important to understand that the life of a component does not begin when it is manufactured, nor does it end once it is installed.  It is possible to trace the lifespan of any component from the very start of the design process, and this can continue to the very end of its life. 

Using digital technologies – computers – it is possible to collate this information into a single record.  This is what has become known as the Digital Thread.

The digital thread is the record of the component and is woven through every stage of its life like a thread through a fine silk garment.  This record allows an engineer to understand everything about the component and make decisions based on this information.

The ability to easily analyze the complete life of a component gives the manufacturer and the customer a number of benefits that were not available a generation ago.

 

The Power of the Digital Thread

The digital thread presents benefits to engineers at all stages of the product lifespan.  The digital thread can help the product-selection phase of the design process. 

Having access to all of the information about a component, the designer can select the best solution for any particular design, and be confident in their choice. 

The digital thread will contain data on the materials of the component, ensuring that design will comply with any environmental or performance restrictions that might apply. 

All of this information is vital for the modern product lifecycle management (PLM) software that is a key element in the digital transformation of the manufacturing sector. 

PLM software will also handle the information needed to make decisions about logistics.  It will include sources of supply and other attribute information that will allow the component to be integrated into any bill-of-materials associated with the final design. 

Another key feature of PLM software is to manage the list of approved parts that engineers may use and re-use in alternative designs.  Not only does this simplify the supply chain by minimising the number of unique parts, it allows engineers to share successful designs with other colleagues, which in turn reduces the time to market.

The digital thread is a key component of detailed 3D models that are available for designers.  By selecting a 3D model in native CAD formats, embedded with the data needed for PLM software, designers can be sure that they are embracing the digital transformation that will give them an advantage over the competition.

 

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