Why the Digital Thread is critical

The design and manufacture of new & innovative products consist of many complex processes. The evolution of a product from design and development to manufacturing is rarely a straight line—in this new world, we the customer continues to demand more personalization, meaning change is inevitable, and often at a fast pace.

Without a way to exchange information between design, development, and manufacturing teams in real-time, productivity and quality are bound to suffer.

A more strategic way of sharing actionable data across teams has emerged and is commonly referred to as a digital thread.

Last week, I opened the discussion around the Model-Based Enterprise and today I thought I’d dive into connecting up the entire Product Lifecycle…

digital continuity

The connected product/customer-centric enterprise

Digital threads empower cross-functional teams with the right information, and they are solving many challenges—including the complex orchestration that happens between product design, manufacturing design, and manufacturing processes.

Organizations need to be operationally agile yet diligent in decision-making, which means information needs to be available, comprehensive, and in context.

Today, less than a 1/3rd of organizations have access at an enterprise level to data created within their department. Look a little deeper and it’s generally below 10% with regards to accessing customer data and or feedback.

This lack of data accessibility suggests a huge gap between the perceived value of data and the ability of companies to recognize that value.

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painful isolation

The Pain Points of Siloed Teams & Systems

The speed of innovation, the complexity of products and personalization/reconfiguration means disconnected data and systems will hit quality and customer satisfaction faster than ever before.

Lack of seamless integration = duplication & triplication, multiple sources of truth, and data inaccessibility at nearly every stage of the product lifecycle.


The manual transfer of information between people and systems is time-consuming and leaves the potential for frequent errors.

These activities distract employees from their primary roles, they eat up tremendous time, and risk jeopardizing the integrity of the data being handled.

Multiple Sources of Truth:

When data is duplicated across people and disconnected systems the result is multiple sources of truth and therefore multiple opportunities for misalignment of goals and activities across departments and organizations.

Bills of material change, drawings change, customer requirements change, service procedures change, etc etc and the duplication and potential errors compound.

Inaccessible Data:

Siloed people and systems frequently slow down timely access to data that can improve and accelerate decision-making. This is often due to security protocols, thus leaving the transfer of data in siloed and manual processes. There’s no traceability or data integrity assurance.

In other cases, inaccessibility is a result of obscurity. Functions might not realize that data exists within their enterprise that could improve their decision-making. Alternatively, they might know it exists but in a form that doesn’t accommodate their unique needs.

It all leads to slowness and errors, not only immediately affecting the bottom line but long-term and worse still upset customers.

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digital thread

What is the Digital Thread

The digital thread is an integrated view of everything about an asset or product throughout its lifecycle. The digital thread unites information from all aspects of product design, manufacturing processing, and even post-sale services.

The goal of the digital thread is to reduce the time and cost of the design-to-product cycle, to improve quality and to provide better post-sale service and support.

winning with the digital thread

Benefits of the Digital Thread

The digital thread is expected to help decision-makers and stakeholders connect the relevant data with different stages of a product’s lifecycle.

Furthermore, the digital thread improves communication among designers, engineers, and others in the development process. To create optimum manufacturing processes and product designs, the product development and engineering teams must communicate clearly.

Digital thread solutions promise to bring together the 3D models, the digital twins of the product under development and to deliver Product Manufacturing information (PMI) when needed/seamlessly to the MES/MOM

The digital thread reduces time-to-market and even improves after-market activities for all stakeholders. It makes it easy for enterprises to add more capabilities to the product and offer after-sales support at much lower costs.

Companies will find that the digital thread enables:

  • Better collaboration among departments and teams
  • Reduced time to market
  • Lower cost of design
  • Higher quality products
  • Improved manufacturability
  • Decreased product cost
  • Easier and more cost-effective maintenance, service and repairs
  • Less unplanned downtime
  • Increased margins
  • Accessible platform for continuous improvement
  • More satisfied customers

The digital thread concept offers multiple benefits to businesses. Here are a few of them.

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cad engineering

Reduces product development time

By consolidating information in a holistic digital product definition and making it available across product design and manufacturing teams, the digital thread improves workforce productivity, product quality and cost-savings.

Teams get a complete picture of the product development process and can identify inefficiencies or delays. The digital thread empowers teams to make quick decisions and reduce the time they spend testing and making changes.

If a product development faces a roadblock or a certain component does not meet the required specification, the team can trace it back to the underlying issue.

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engineering change management

Change Management

Smoother change management and better collaboration enabled by the digital thread also reduce product development costs. By identifying potential manufacturing issues earlier in the development process, development teams can avoid costly rework. With faster change management, they can implement the necessary design or process improvements with less impact on the project timing.

leadership communication

The Digital thread enhances communication

Digital threads can also be viewed as a communication tool for enterprises. From product ideation to the time a product reaches the shelves, and beyond, many departments are involved. With a digital thread, every one of the stakeholders will know where the product is at and make sure that it is moving in the right direction.

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Increased Productivity

A digital thread is necessary to understand the impact of a change in the product or manufacturing process quickly and confidently. This can be critical to the success of a new product development program.

Digital thread is increasing efficiency in creating a lot of these downstream deliverables. It’s supporting unified change management that is happening in parallel between product and manufacturing engineering.

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manufacturing 4.0

It makes manufacturing more efficient

The digital thread brings greater visibility into the manufacturing process, helping engineers and analysts to understand the process better and identify any inefficiencies.

Digital threads can also reduce scraps and material losses and improve equipment efficiencies. It can prevent unscheduled downtime and improve worker productivity. With MES/MOM data, the digital thread streamlines the manufacturing process and helps prevents delays, avoid wastage, and improve overall efficiency.

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Improves after-sales processes

The digital thread involves marketing, sales, and after-sales support. The digital thread helps organizations easily resolve concerns expressed by customers. If they notice a pattern or trend among customer complaints, they can trace back the issue to the source and fix it there.

The business can completely streamline its customer support process with this strategy.

Adopting the Digital Thread

The essence of the digital thread is the effortless enablement of communication and collaboration across the entire organization, as well as with suppliers and even potential customers.

Because this communication should be readily accessible and nearly instantaneous, the digital thread is not the place to try out home-grown solutions or complex integrations that simply add overhead to your existing processes.

The best solutions are designed to work together, such as 3D CAD, PLM & MES/MOM products.