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The Digital Thread

The digital thread might be the latest buzz phrase in content management. But what does it mean? How is it used? And what can it do for you?

What is a Digital Thread?

The Digital Thread represents a comprehensive, integrated data backbone that facilitates the seamless flow and accessibility of information across the entire lifecycle of a product, from initial concept through design, manufacturing, and service phases.

By connecting disparate systems and enabling real-time data sharing among stakeholders, the Digital Thread enhances decision-making, improves efficiency, and fosters innovation. It serves as the foundation for digital transformation in industries, enabling organizations to fully leverage advancements in technology such as IoT, AI, and machine learning to optimize operations, reduce costs, and accelerate product development.

How does a Digital Thread work?

Let’s say you’re a technician working on a system that was recently updated with a new panel. That system experiences a fault with the panel and you get out the documentation to troubleshoot it. The illustrations and the troubleshooting steps do not account for the new panel at all. Suddenly, you are unable to do your job or get the system back online.

While the system has been updated recently, to include this new panel, the documentation is updated on a separate process, which requires someone manually associating the service content for the new panel with the existing product. If the product was leveraging the digital thread, the panel and its associated content would have been incorporated at the same time.

Put simply, the digital thread establishes associativity between all artifacts along a product’s lifecycle. In most cases, this involves running that thread from the initial engineering bill of material (EBOM) to the service bill of materials (SBOM) to the service and training content delivered with the product.

What are the benefits of a Digital Thread?

The digital thread ensures that all groups working on a project are on the same page.

No more design changes that were never communicated downstream. Participants no longer need to rely on manual processes or human memory. All artifacts are associated within the software, and workflows are enforced by the system. When an engineering change occurs, it triggers a workflow that notifies the responsible groups downstream.

The digital thread is digital accountability. You can always find out where a change is in the lifecycle, who has completed their tasks, and who has not. This also supports auditing and reporting.

If we take our undocumented new panel as an example, had the project been using the digital thread through supported software, the engineering design would have been revised with the new panel. That change in design and associated parts would have impacted the EBOM. The EBOM change would have caused the associated SBOM to fall out of sync. When the SBOM was updated to account for the change, the content associated with the affected parts would have been flagged. In parallel to engineering changing the actual product, the content owners could have updated the documentation and got it out into the field with the new panel.

Find out more about the Digital Thread