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Digital Thread: 5 Ways to Drive Value in Industrial Enterprise

In the industrial market place, the prevalence of connected devices through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is expanding the possibilities of the digital thread. Streamlining and democratizing this information to specific functions drives attainable value from engineering through sales and marketing.

What is a digital thread?

A digital thread is a single source of data truth, creating consistency, collaboration, and alignment across functions. It does this by enabling real-time data synchronization of related upstream and downstream derivative information.

The scalable, common set of democratized data enables enterprise-wide accessibility and creates continuity across functions in the value chain.

Below we dissect five ways the digital thread is driving value across the industrial enterprise.

1. Designing with 360-view of product-lifecycle.

Much of the digital thread value recognized is derived from the democratization of the digital product definition and its derivative information. By bringing relevant product data downstream to manufacturing processes, business are able to develop higher-quality products and increase throughput.

On the opposite end, engineering excellence can be achieved as an input of other functional data. By creating a closed feedback loop and enabling products with IoT, engineers equipped with real-world performance and usage data can replace assumptions with facts.

Previously black-boxed data can do three things: inform engineers and product designers with design implications for future product iterations, expedite time-to-market, and introduce new products faster.

2. Differentiating product and service with increased flexibility.

Creating and enhancing business models as well as differentiating product & service offerings (25% of Forrester business decision-makers cite this as a DX driver) are sought-after outcomes of industrial digital transformation.

Using the digital thread to synchronize product lifecycle information across processes enables mass customization – an increasingly important capability for manufacturers.

For example, Volvo’s engines (full disclosure: Volvo is a customer of my employer, PTC) can have 4,500 different information variants to choose from within a single plant. When performing timely quality assurance, its definition data must be easily accessible by QA operators.

By implementing a digital thread that connects two very different parts of the business, Volvo has been able to quickly adjust to shifting customer requirements and increase new product introduction (NPI) cycle times.

3. Driving manufacturing efficiency by connecting disparate systems.

Digitized and non-digitized information resides in manufacturing facilities, and both are critical to daily production. The digital thread provides the means to both connect disparate digitized information sources (including ERP systems and IoT-enabled machines). They can deliver traditionally paper-based information (such as work instructions) to relevant personnel.

Real-time operational visibility across production lines, assets, capacity, and other systems are required to drive operational efficiencies. 451 Research cites 53% of manufacturing respondents currently use or will use digital thread for faster access to cross plant instrumentation and status.

Properly equipping this instrumentation through technologies and then streamlining it through the digital thread can drive these critical manufacturing KPIs.

For delivering the digital thread, democratizing manufacturing data to various factory roles can improve worker productivity and efficiencies by offering previously hidden insights.

4. Identifying new ways to deliver service.

Service networks and lifecycles are increasingly complex, coinciding with the rise in product complexity. Customized products may benefit top-line revenue but become a cost center downstream if the service component is improperly managed.

The digital thread alleviates this complexity by giving the service technician the deployed assets definition data traditionally solely residing in the engineering department. Augmented reality is increasingly the emerging technology to link the digital thread to the physical world and improve technician effectiveness and critical KPIs, including mean-time-to-repair and first-time-fix-rate.

PTC customer Howden [Howden.com] is driving added-value to its customers through its connected field maintenance program, Uptime. This ‘self-service’ module gives service technicians step-by-step service instructions on a deployed asset almost immediately, circumventing product complexity challenges.

5. Enriching the sales and marketing experience.

Customer-facing personnel are constantly looking for new methods of engagement and ways to provide novel opportunities for new sales and upselling. The possibilities include both knowing the customer’s current usage of products and demonstrating the potential use of future products. The digital thread provides an avenue for both.

Through IIoT, sales and marketing teams can determine the exact usage of their smart connected products, pre-formulate their potential pain points, and identify opportunities.

Through the digital thread and augmented reality, sales teams can demonstrate product configurations in real-time to drive revenue opportunities. More immersive experiences for customers to visualize and learn about the products drive engagement and enhances customer experience.

Digital Thread: Pervasive Across the Value Chain

These five outcomes occur as digital thread value, and its pervasiveness extends throughout the value chain. However, while a long-term vision is advisable, short-term digital thread wins in specific domains for industrial organizations are achievable today.

These digital threads wins will gain momentum as additional stakeholders recognize compounding value.

David Immerman

David Immerman is a Senior Research Analyst at PTC providing thought leadership on technologies, trends, markets, and other topics. Previously David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation space and automotive technology markets, including fleet telematics, connected cars, and autonomous vehicles. He also spent time researching IoT-enabling technologies and other industry verticals including industrial. Prior to 451 Research, David conducted market research at IDC.

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