Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation are the go-to initiatives in manufacturing today. Ever since the introduction of Industrie 4.0 in Germany in 2011 and its subsequent global expansion, Industry 4.0, as it is more widely known, has become the standard model for next-generation manufacturing. Another core concept closely aligned with Industry 4.0 is the idea of a Digital Twin. Both are ways of dealing with cyber-physical systems. The challenge with Digital Twins is that there is always more than one Digital Twin for any given plant, product, or complex system, such as an aircraft. This added complexity has created a need to manage multiple digital models in what can be referred to as a digital cloth.
Typically, there are physical or design twins representing the geometry of the product, operational twins, often using real-time IoT provided data which model current performance or a predictive maintenance twin that models the operational degradation to recommend service as well as many other types of twins. The key element of all of these is the idea of a Digital Thread which describes the framework for the data flows within a model across the product lifecycle.
The Digital Thread Ties Multiple Aspects of a Product Together
The traditional view of the Digital Thread, which originated with the military aircraft industry, is that it is the mechanism to get the right information to the right place or person at the right time, a tenet of good decision making. This approach drives better performance across the entire lifecycle, starting with ideation, then design, procurement, test and evaluation, production, release, field support, and sustainment.
Using a Digital Twin is a way to close the loop to improve product performance, accelerate corrective processes, improve quality in both design and manufacturing, and increase customer satisfaction. It then extends beyond a single silo within an organization and bridges the entire value chain.
Concurrent with the product Digital Twin and its Digital Thread there is also a Digital Twin of the manufacturing facility. This twin includes virtual models of all the equipment and resources such as water, power, and air, and the supporting infrastructure of the facility. Add to this a virtual model of the transportation systems as well as the people and their movements that are part of the manufacturing process.
It isn’t hard to see how complex all of these digital models can become – as well as how to manage and maintain all of these digital twins.
Further, each of these manufacturing digital twins is likely to have their own Digital Threads. Similarly, there likely is a Digital Twin or financial model of the business and, of course, its own Digital Thread. So, while the idea of a Digital Thread is that it provides the data framework, the reality is that multiple threads are coexisting, which sometimes resemble a tangled ball of virtual string.
Weaving a Digital Cloth Brings Order to Tangled Threads
The solution to untangling these multiple threads and providing true cross-silo and multi-enterprise data flows is to weave the digital threads into a Digital Cloth. Just as weaving in the practical sense, weaving in the digital sense implies having a predetermined pattern, selecting the right threads to use, and systematically intertwining them to provide something stronger, larger, and broader than a single thread could provide.
The determination of the desired pattern in the digital realm is designing an architecture that defines how the threads will be woven together. It requires knowledge of both the available threads and what the desired end state should be.
Just as in the weaving of traditional cloth, knowing the end-use is essential. Cloth for a boat sail is very different than the cloth used in making high-end fashion. Likewise, in manufacturing, the digital cloth one weaves in high volume consumer products is going to be different than the cloth one weaves to support complex manufacturing such as military aircraft. Differences in product complexity, production volumes, security, and the nature of the value chain from suppliers to end customers all will influence the cloth one weaves.
One company that has already tackled this and has defined its approach to weaving digital cloth is Lockheed Martin. Their Advanced Manufacturing initiatives identify a Digital Tapestry as one of four key areas they believe defines the future of work. Lockheed Martin has put the idea of Digital Tapestry to work at some facilities, but their Space Systems division has incorporated more threads than most.
The weaving of the digital cloth requires more than just the vision and plan (i.e., the architecture) and the right threads. It requires the right loom or platform to tie all the threads into a coherent pattern and to ensure the cloth is woven correctly.
Selecting the right platforms, applications, standards, and suppliers of technology are all critical. Whether you opt for a single or multi-vendor approach, be sure to consider how your digital threads will be best woven into a digital cloth. It is highly likely you will face a heterogenous digital environment that has evolved, so selecting the right foundational technologies and suppliers that can grow and adapt with you will ensure a more durable Digital Cloth.
To learn more about iBASEt’s approach to the Digital Thread go to https://www.ibaset.com/blog/what-is-the-digital-thread/
And to learn more about Lockheed Martin’s Digital Tapestry program follow the links embedded in the program. To learn how iBASEt is working with Lockheed Martin go to https://www.ibaset.com/press-releases/ibaset-assists-lockheed-martins-johnstown-plant-to-scale-production-and-meet-accelerated-demand/ and https://www.ibaset.com/press-releases/lockheed-martin-aeronautics-selects-ibaset-for-next-generation-manufacturing-execution/.
Dan Miklovic is the founder and principal analyst at Lean Manufacturing Research, LLC. He has a wealth of experience as an end-user, software vendor, consultant, and market research analyst. He led a plant applications development and implementation team at Weyerhaeuser, was a process system engineer at Scott Paper, led the network design team at a large engineering firm serving the pulp & paper and mining industries. His industry analyst experience includes roles at Gartner, Sustainable Collaborations Group, and LNS Research. He is currently a member of The Analyst Syndicate. He has authored dozens of articles, contributed to several engineering handbooks, authored a text on industrial networking, and was a co-host of World Business Review, a TV program seen on public television, CNBC, and other outlets.
You may contact Dan at [email protected].