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May 15, 2017

Adopting Digital thread is critical to end-to-end integration across the value chain in connected digital enterprises.

Enterprises across industries today are going through an interesting time where the digital wave has opened up new avenues for enhancing customer experience, product development, manufacturing, and service transformation. The ecosystem is continually evolving to meet ever-changing customer demands, improve NPI metrics, and enhance operational efficiency. One way or the other, every industry has started leveraging digital technologies to ensure profitable sustenance.

Organization silos, static data within business functions, delayed responses to business and customers are now becoming a thing of the past. Tremendous opportunities are becoming available as digital technologies are enabling a truly connected world.

The concept of digital thread essentially means connecting people, processes, assets, and data throughout the value chain. It, therefore, provides avenues to reimagine the way products are designed, manufactured, and serviced for better business outcomes. With contextualized close looping of systems enabled by the digital thread, manufacturers can analyze and improve processes in real time. This is achieved through digitalization within business functions, as well as across the value chain.

Adopting the key elements in your enterprise

Though the concept of the digital thread has been inherently adopted over time, its benefits realization is far reaching. It involves enhancing business capabilities through various elements. Let us see what these elements are:

Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE): MBSE is critical right from the initial stages of product development. Here, we contextualize specifications to the requirements of the product. Subsequently, with the help of physics-based models and advanced simulation, MBSE helps in creating the product concept definition.

Model Based Definition and Model Based Enterprise: This is an important process to create a digital product definition based on the Product and Manufacturing Information (PMI). This will help enterprises realize a single source of truth for all product information across the value chain.

Model-Based Manufacturing: A seamless integration of design and manufacturing parameters to digital manufacturing will help in improving the First Time Yield from operations. This also plays a key role in bringing advanced manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing to the industrial ecosystem.

Deploying smarter factories

Smart factories are better poised to respond to changing customer demands, thus improving operational efficiency and effective asset utilization. The digital thread creates a unified enterprise-wide ecosystem of product information linking across design, PLM, MES, and ERP systems.

Leveraging this common source of information, many use cases can be enabled on the shop floor, which can aid in smarter operations. For instance, the PMI based 3D models can be used to create digital work instructions delivered to users on interactive devices. This can further be leveraged in digital quality reporting through real-time measurement of critical quality parameters. This also enables effective communication of engineering change. Similarly, the work status of the product can also be effectively depicted to ensure that the correct processes have been carried out on the product, as well as to provide information on the correct process parameters during manufacturing.

The digital thread can also enhance the end user experience in smart factories with the help of mobility devices and AR/VR (augmented and virtual reality) by embedding real-time insights into products and processes. Right from digital inspection of products to monitoring process parameters to carrying out predictive maintenance, the digital thread can improve product quality, overall operational performance, and process uptime.

Enabling the ‘digital twin

The digital twin is another important development with the advent of the Industrial IoT and Big Data analytics, which requires a common digital thread in realizing its potential benefits. The digital twin for product performance (as-performed vs. as-designed which is further extended to prognosis) and the digital twin for a plant (throughput performance vs. as planned using digital plant simulation) are complementing the digital transformation advantage.

Are you ready to weave the digital thread?

We believe that the digital thread can break organization silos, enable near real-time data flowing across the enterprise, and improve efficiency. Companies expect this end-to-end integration to yield as much as 26% in productivity improvement as per the McKinsey Industry 4.0 Global Expert Survey 2015.

Adopting new technologies along with driving a cultural change to tap into new business outcomes will enable the connected digital enterprises to stay ahead of the pack. Staying in step with the digital transformation curve is imperative for competitive success. According to a 2016 PwC global survey, 61% of global and 78% of executives in the US are concerned about the speed of technological change in their industry.

The key element of the digital thread is to build horizontal solutions cutting across the value chain. These will transform the workplace through time-sensitive, context-based information for business users to act on. We believe this next-generation user experience will improve the productivity of the value chain significantly through newer business outcomes.

Join the industrial digital revolution!

Loganathan K Manickam is the Global Head of the NextGen Design to Manufacturingg CoE within TCS Engineering and Industrial Services (EIS). His areas of expertise include digital thread and digital twin technologies for connected digital enterprises. Manickam has been with TCS for the last 16 years, and has a total industry experience of over 25 years spanning sales, design, manufacturing, and industrial automation. He is a Mechanical Engineering Graduate from the College of Engineering Guindy, Chennai, India.


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