Many are still trying to make practical sense of the “Digital Thread” concept, while others have already been talking about multi-threads and looking into the ”Digital Tapestry”. Clearly, the idea that one and only “thread” or interface could satisfy data continuity needs across the enterprise does not stand, as there are indeed many bridges and interface types required; hence referring to multiple Digital Thread(s). The aerospace defence industry has been / is very active in spawning such concept and associated philosophy—especially with Lockheed Martin pioneering the motto of Digital Threads.
As Paul Embry from Lockheed Martin put it:
In order to achieve the full vision, a multitude of threads must be woven across each domain [virtual builds, MBSE, Digital Twins, quality inspection, enterprise planning, supply chain connectivity, integrated testing, work instruction, AR, IOT, big data, robotics, analytics, etc.]; the Digital Tapestry must be managed as a system. As such, the [enterprise] architecture requires up-front, top-down design to ensure functional is allocated in the most efficient manner possible.Paul Embry (2016)
Interestingly, Mark O’Brien from Lockheed Martin defined the Digital Thread as “single strand, bi-directional but linear, data sharing information between engineering and manufacturing, 2D and limited through process”. Moving towards more agile, flexible, scalable and responsive solutions, Lockheed Martin grew this vision and concept to embrace the Digital Tapestry, a network of Digital Threads.
The Digital Thread is the communication that connects elements of the engineering and manufacturing process that have traditionally been separated (…). The Digital Tapestry is a framework of people, process, tool, and data which integrate the entire product lifecycle and all disciplines.Mark O’Brien (2017)
Mark O’Biren expanded on the Digital Tapestry being “multiple strands with many interdependencies, still single dimensional (2D), software sharing information between multiple applications / machines, it does not address the notion of a Digital Twin or multiple Digital Twins, only addressing the digital aspect, not the physical aspect”.
Furthermore, Don Kinard, also from Lockheed Martin, expanded on the idea of a “connected enterprise” embracing Industry 4.0 principles, from descriptive to predictive analytics and machine learning to adapt to future changes and minimise disruption.
The future of the Digital Thread is to apply systems engineering philosophy to integrate tools and seamlessly connect enterprise systems (PLM, MES, ERP and other sustainment platforms); with the BOM being the “golden thread” that connects them all.Don Kinard (2017)
Don Kinard and Lockheed Martin brought it to the next level as a digital environment, referring to it as a “digital transformation evolution” or byproduct, a.k.a. the product “Digiverse”. As such, the Digiverse mirrors the physical world”; the “complete Digital Twin of everything”. He expands on the “Digital DNA” or backbone to connect a number of ecosystem hubs: from the engineering hub to the manufacturing hub, test and check-out hub, and sustainment hub.
The product Digiverse is a framework integrating people, tools, materials, environment, and data linking both the physical and digital domains across the entire product lifecycle and all disciplines.Don Kinard (2017)
Nowadays, everyone refers to the Digital Thread in (very) broad terms such as a “global value chain”, a “communication framework”, an “enterprise integration architecture”, the “convergence of IT and OT”, even as a new or complementary definition for PLM. This can perhaps be explained by the ongoing rise of “digital”: from Digital X to Smart X, Industry X, Connected X, X-Hub, X-Lifecycle… where X = everything.
The initial Digital Thread definition was clearly articulated by Lockheed Martin; crafted as a long-term vision with boundaries and potential evolution steps. It even had interesting perspectives of what it was not. Let’s hope the Digital Thread remains a clear framework and does not become the caricature of something just because it sounds good to marketers and business analysts; at some point, people will lose interest in something describing everything and nothing specific at the same time.
What are your thoughts?
- Don Kinard (2017) Lockheed Martin: Digital Thread to Industry 4.0
- Mark O’Brien (2017) Lockheed Martin: the Product Digiverse, Looking at the Future of Digital Environment, Manufacturing Leadership Council
- Paul Embry (2016) Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company: Digital Tapestry
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