Virtual ExperienceDecember 16, 2021

Is the Digital Thread Becoming a Digital Web?

The Coordinated Digital Thread is Becoming a Connected Digital Web When I…
Avatar Randall Newton

The Coordinated Digital Thread is Becoming a Connected Digital Web

When I first wrote about digital threads in 2011, the concept was explained as a way to connect 3D CAD data directly to either CNC machining or composite programming systems, primarily in aerospace. “In both cases the finished product can be traced back to the original computer model; the unbroken data link is the digital thread.” Looking at the way digital transformation is moving through every aspect of manufacturing, I think it is time for a refresh.

One of the fathers of the concept, Mike Packer of Lockheed Martin Aerospace, saw the bigger picture from the beginning. “The teamwork required to create a digital thread does a number of things for our industry,” he told me. “For one thing, it means several partners have agreed to work from one common database, and everyone is working for the same goal.”

By 2017 consensus was growing that digital threads were connected to the model, AKA the digital twin. This means the use of both a digital twin and a digital thread. In practice this is a coordinated approach, where two people (departments, etc.) agree on when and how the right information is to be delivered. In this definition, timing and context are both controlled by specific human interaction.

Move ahead to 2021, and we realize being coordinated is not enough. Instead of the “right” information being sent, we realize “actual” information must be available on demand without asking someone for it. Instead of a direct connection, like a single line, today a web is a better representation of how data and people are connected. This new connectedness is for anyone in any context, given such background qualifiers as roles and security.

This new connectedness is at the heart of Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform. On a vendor-neutral level, there are three domains where the new Digital Web (replacing the Digital Thread) can immediately be used. As explained by Jos Voskuil, a systems engineering consultant and writer of the Virtual Dutchman blog, they are:

Model-Based Systems Engineering is used to define complex products and complex systems of products mixing hardware and software. The Digital Web simplifies access to data for virtual product definition and simulation and testing, before committing to a physical prototype or final product.

Model-Based Definition, providing increased digital continuity between engineering and manufacturing by using a shared parameter-driven 3D model. If anybody in your organization is still using drawings as the primary means of sharing key information, it’s way past time to use Product Managed Information from the model.

Digital Twin, managing a virtual definition related to a physical product in order to analyze maintenance and use collected data to improve the product.

Gartner analyst Marc Halpern has mapped the history of data use in manufacturing. He sees a clear trend from PDM to PLM to product innovation platforms. These three technologies have moved through four states, with a fifth just now being developed. From least effective to most effective they are:

  • Reactive: status quo, ad hoc and tribal in nature;
  • Repeatable: eliminates waste, increases efficiency, yet remains territorial;
  • Integrating: Improves quality and cost, has internal cross function, and has basic coordination;
  • Collaborating: Enables more efficient innovation, involves the value chain, uses whole data connectedness.
  • Orchestrating: Expands product diversity, engages the value chain, and is adaptive.

“It is a mission impossible to aim for a single connected environment,” Voskuil says. “Instead, information will be stored in different platforms, both domain oriented and value chain oriented.” In other words, a digital web where data is freely stored, retrieved, used, and kept relevant.


Editor: Download our e-Book, The Virtual Twin Experience for Optimized Manufacturing here.

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