A digital thread is the framework that enables connection with traditionally siloed elements in the manufacturing process to provide a holistic view of assets across the entire manufacturing lifecycle.
The concept of information models that records and describes the evolution of information across a project, has existed in the construction industry for decades. It has helped establish traceability, accountability and asset management. However, the concept of observing and managing the flow of data across a product life cycle has been relatively new in regards to product development.
A 2016 presentation by the Airforce Research Laboratory (US) shows one of the earliest successes in use of a digital thread to ensure visibility to the information value stream across the development and life of a military aircraft. The objective was to allow different participants of the public private partnership to learn from the preceding and successive stages of the product life cycle and increase the value in their respective stages. Today digital threads have started demonstrating value in manufacturing across industries.
Digital thread is still a new technology in the field of manufacturing. It has only been in various stages of implementation for less than a decade. There are less than a handful of end-to-end digital thread-based manufacturing establishments. All current examples are of a limited scope of implementation for a particular product or a line.
Emerging technologies in parametric modelling combined with the ability to add relational layers of attributes like material properties, cost, time and effort have made digital thread implementations more of a reality now than ever before. The increasing speed of data handling and internet bandwidths have aided the adoption too.
Digital thread is now becoming a key prerequisite for a successful digital twin.
A digital thread focuses on the value stream describing the journey of the product from the concept to the salvage yard. A digital twin focuses on the actual subject like a product or a plant.
The digital thread can compare the correlation between the original design intent and the as-built product as it can potentially have component level traceability of the path between the two. The digital twin on the other hand helps take the current state and simulate it for different inputs and arrive at scenarios for possible outputs.
Both technologies have common aspects like modelling, data handling, visualization and other components that make them deliver what they do. But a digital twin is different from a digital thread as it also has the ability to simulate scenarios. Digital thread is different in that it can establish the genealogy of information across the lifecycle.
Although the two have their different purposes, a digital thread is a key component to building an accurate and precise digital twin.