Driven by production agility expectations and ongoing social distancing requirements due to the pandemic, 2020 marked a critical inflection point for the wide-scale rollout of industrial digital transformation initiatives.
With more industrial organizations implementing or scaling up digital technologies within their factories, manufacturers are now looking for ways to further optimize their Industry 4.0 investments.
One such example is the removal of information silos between disparate manufacturing systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), electronic manufacturing services (EMS), manufacturing execution systems (MES), manufacturing operations management (MOM), and other software systems and tools.
By interconnecting functions within their business for digital improvement—including product and machine design, production engineering, plant operations or supply chain—organizations are able to fully optimize their tech investments. As such, the digital thread is a strategic framework that optimizes the lifecycle of a product, asset, system, or process by connecting critical business functions.
The digital thread connects assets, systems, and processes across an organization to present a detailed, virtual perspective of information flow. It is a critical accelerant of the smart factory journey.
A holistic digital strategy, powered by digital thread, helps manufacturers move faster by removing friction and data loss between disparate teams and systems. By connecting data from ERP, EMS, MES, and MOM systems via digital thread, information can now flow between systems to inform and optimize business-driving processes for manufacturers.
Although the digital thread is not a new concept, it is quickly becoming a necessity for organizations looking to digitize more effectively and accelerate time to value.
Digital thread enables these benefits and opportunities:
Real-time collaboration: Manufacturers no longer need to email design files across the organization and combat version control issues. Digital thread enables real-time collaboration through CAD and PLM software. Collaborators across the value chain can easily leverage insights generated by upstream and downstream stakeholders.
Connected workforce: The industrial workforce is changing rapidly. Enterprises can leverage digital thread to achieve seamless knowledge transfer to rapidly transform trainees into experts. From veterans to new hires, digital thread connects business systems to enable the creation of a historical record of all training and on-the-job instructions needed to keep production running smoothly. Virtual reality and augmented reality can shorten training time by as much as 75 percent by enabling low-risk, high-fidelity environment training and real-time equipment instruction for new or retrained employees.
Digital twins: Digital thread can be used to commission new production lines virtually. That lets manufacturers decrease time to market and protect investments. Rather than waiting to commission manufacturing lines until machines are bolted to the floor, manufacturers can ensure operations will run smoothly by validating manufacturing processes and debugging PLC code via a digital twin.
For example, Norbord embraced the digital thread to increase visibility of upstream and downstream workflows.
That let the world’s largest producer of OSB (oriented strand board) better utilize operational data and improve productivity.