The increased flow of more organizational data across fewer silos via digital-transformation initiatives has created tremendous potential for enterprises. In 2020, the digitalization of business generated 64 zettabytes (ZB) of data, according to the International Data Corporation’s annual DataSphere and StorageSphere forecasts, which measure the amount of data created, consumed and stored worldwide each year. And, as more employees work remotely and more corporate functions are taken online, that number will only continue to rise.
When organizations successfully harmonize their share of all this data and put it to use for an integrated view of an entire product lifecycle, what’s created is a digital thread. As the name implies, the digital thread is a coordinated weave of disparate forms of data through enterprise operations and production that is accessible anytime and anywhere. This digital thread enables optimization of operations, improved traceability of product and IT assets and lower costs.
The value is further amplified when we leverage digital threads to create digital twins, which are virtual replicas of physical assets that are useful for continuous improvements in product design and manufacturing processes. Let’s examine how integrating digital threads and digital twins into enterprise systems can reap tangible benefits and point the way to enhanced operating models, revenue streams and competitive advantage.
Also read: The all-knowing digital twin
The power of digital threads and digital twins
Given the reams of data across any modern organization, the ability to access the right data at the right time, in the right format and with the correct context is now an enterprise “must have” rather than a “nice to have.” Through the process of digital transformation, organizations are learning to unlock value from these new streams of data, while removing historic data silos.
As this happens, data can increasingly be brought together in a single, cohesive digital thread that runs throughout the organization as a whole. It is a unified flow of data that links all processes throughout the value chain, providing an integrated view of an entire product lifecycle. Data from various organizational functions can be accessed and analyzed anywhere in the system to provide actionable intelligence that can identify potential issues and optimize operations.
Digital thread in production settings can slash downtime and increase yield with AI-enhanced process-control optimization to monitor business health and predict faults before they occur. What’s more, key elements of that data relate to replicating physical assets and processes and as such are vital for optimizing operations, profitability, time and costs.
In this way, a strong digital thread can bring to life compelling digital twins, exact virtual replicas of as-built physical assets, products, processes and systems used across a product lifecycle, mirroring an enterprise’s workflows, machinery, controls and systems. This enables continuous improvements in product design and manufacturing processes, while lowering costs and reducing waste.
Creating digital-thread and digital-twin capabilities can be an ominous challenge due to the complexity of synchronizing systems and technologies that had been traditionally disparate and siloed. However, when integrated correctly, digital thread and digital twins offer significant benefits. These include the ability to use virtualization to evaluate product concepts—design and build; carry out operational practices such validation, inspection and calibration records; and govern the entire flow of materials and process data.
As products move into production at scale, manufacturing and operations teams reap the benefits of digital-thread and digital-twin capabilities in the form of better-connected processes and data across compliance, logistics, manufacturing, production planning and quality processes. Particularly strong gains are seen in asset and machine performance, thanks to digital thread’s ability to increase uptime with machine-health monitoring and smart production scheduling.
Labor effectiveness is enhanced, as well, as digital threads can help companies optimize allocation of resources with smart shop floor planning and scheduling for labor, materials and tooling. Digital-twin capabilities can also support seamless global collaboration around design, building and shipping of products. And digital twins can help decrease operator training time and improve learning efficacy with low-risk, high-fidelity simulations that can be rendered in lifelike virtual-reality environments.
More organizations are using the combined power of digital-thread and digital-twin capabilities to power their digital transformations to new levels of efficiency, productivity, uptime and growth. As this happens, the strongest competitive advantage will come to organizations that not only adopt digital thread and digital twins, but also optimize the implementation of these capabilities in strategic applications and use cases where they can do the most good in the enterprise.
About the author
Rod Walters is principal & global practice leader of enterprise technology at Kalypso.