Driven by expectations of agility of production and the constant requirements of social distancing due to the pandemic, 2020 marked a critical turning point for the large-scale deployment of industrial digital transformation initiatives.
With more industry organizations implementing or augmenting digital technologies in their factories, manufacturers are looking for ways to further optimize their investments in Industry 4.0.
One such example is the elimination of information silos between different manufacturing systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), electronic manufacturing services (EMS), manufacturing execution systems (MES), data management, manufacturing operations (MOM) and other software systems and tools.
By interconnecting functions within their business for digital improvement (including product and machine design, production engineering, plant or supply chain operations), organizations can fully optimize their technology investments. As such, the digital thread is a strategic framework that optimizes the life cycle of a product, asset, system, or process by connecting critical business functions.
The digital thread connects an organization’s assets, systems, and processes to present a virtual, detailed perspective of the flow of information. It is a critical accelerator of the journey to the smart factory.
A comprehensive digital strategy, driven by digital threads, helps manufacturers move faster by eliminating friction and data loss between different computers and systems. By connecting data from ERP, EMS, MES and MOM systems via digital wire, information can now flow between systems to inform and optimize business management processes for manufacturers.
While digital wire is not a new concept, it is fast becoming a necessity for organizations that want to digitize more effectively and speed up the time to value them.
The digital thread allows these advantages and opportunities:
- Real-time collaboration: Manufacturers no longer need to email design files across the organization and combat version control issues. The digital thread allows real-time collaboration using CAD and PLM software. Collaborators across the value chain can easily leverage ideas generated by stakeholders up and down.
- Connected template: the industrial template changes quickly. Companies can leverage the digital thread to achieve a seamless knowledge transfer to quickly transform participants into experts. From veterans to new hires, the digital thread connects business systems to enable the creation of a historical record of all the training and on-the-job instructions needed to keep production running smoothly. Virtual reality and augmented reality can shorten training time by up to 75 percent, allowing training in low-risk, high-fidelity environments and real-time equipment instructions for new or recycled employees.
- Digital twins: The digital thread can be used to order virtually new production lines. This allows manufacturers to reduce marketing time and protect investments. Instead of waiting for the production lines to be put into operation until the machines are fixed to the ground, manufacturers can ensure that operations will run smoothly by validating the manufacturing processes and debugging the PLC code using a twin digital.
For example, Norbord adopted the digital thread to increase the visibility of upstream and downstream workflows.
This will allow the world’s largest producer of OSB (oriented boards) to make better use of operational data and improve productivity.