Recent data from iBASEt’s Digital Thread Readiness Assessment provides an indication of how complex manufacturers are embracing the digital thread and how companies are prepared for the smart factory evolution. The digital thread refers to the communication framework that allows a connected data flow and integrated view of an asset’s data throughout its lifecycle across traditionally siloed functional perspectives. It weaves through the product lifecycle from design to procurement to test/evaluation to production to field operation and sustainment services. Adopting the digital thread is becoming an imperative step for complex manufacturers navigating increasingly fast-paced and heavily regulated industries.
The Digital Thread Is a Business Priority
Engineers, quality professionals, and manufacturing experts throughout the world are going digital, removing paper processes from the shop floor and experiencing huge gains through adoption of the digital thread. According to LNS Research, tapping into the digital thread means significant payoffs for manufacturers, including:
- Twenty percent more successful new product introductions (NPI)
- Sixteen percent improvement in on-time and complete shipments (OTCS)
Manufacturing enterprises are now able to flow information through a digital thread from product inception all the way through maintenance and aftermarket service, providing insights into the products made and the shop floor that makes them. These insights will not only save the manufacturing sector time and money, but also fundamentally change how enterprises work across the entire manufacturing value chain.
Yet research shows that digital thread readiness is surprisingly low. Between 20 to 30 percent of companies have made progress implementing a digital thread across the enterprise, but for many there is still a long road to travel. According to LNS, 80 percent of factories do not have manufacturing execution systems (MES) in place—a key component of the digital thread.
Other significant findings of digital thread adoption:
Only 7 percent use systems in which engineering change notices flow to downstream systems with impacted and added objects defined.
Only 26 percent leverage 3-D models in downstream applications like work instructions.
- Nearly 40 percent are still using manual drawings and spreadsheets for inspection definition.
- Only 14 percent have integrated change management controls between engineering models and inspection definition.
As-Inspected Product Unit Records Practice
- Less than 20 percent are capturing data directly from suppliers on purchased components or subassemblies.
- Only 11 percent are capturing data from suppliers beyond the immediate first tier.
- Over 70 percent are still using Word, PowerPoint, or basic databases for process definition.
- Less than 30 percent have linked work instructions and bill or resources directly to 3-D models.
As-Built and As-Service Product Unit Records Practice
- Sixty-six percent have as-built and as-maintained records in a database available for queries.
- Only 16 percent include deviations and waivers as part of their as-built records.
Service Process Definition
- Fifty percent still use service manuals in PDF format.
- Less than 10 percent use 3-D visuals for work steps based on 3-D models in PLM, with parts linked to a bill of material.
The Imperative for Adoption
While digital thread adoption may not be as far along as expected, the imperative for adopting it should accelerate its development. By adopting the digital thread manufacturers are:
- Improving product quality by avoiding mistakes in manual translations of engineering specifications along the product value chain.
- Improving the velocity of NPI and the communication of engineering changes along the product value chain.
- Increasing efficiency by digitally capturing and analyzing data related to product manufacturing.
- Facilitating delivery of new services to customers along with the physical product, leveraging the digital data now available on the product.
For an infographic that captures the state of the digital thread you can go here; to assess your company’s readiness for the digital thread in less than three minutes, you can go to the Digital Thread Adoption Readiness Assessment.
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