Weaving is one of the oldest industries known to man. By taking hundreds of individual threads in one direction and combining them in a unique pattern that interlaces each thread with other threads running in the opposite direction, you can weave intricate fabric that ranges from functional to artistic. With the right combination of threads in the correct interwoven pattern, fabric can be produced from the most practical and plain (think denim for jeans) to the most ornate tapestries that tell a story in themselves.You may wonder what one of the world’s oldest manufacturing processes has to do with data. But as Industry 4.0 pushes forward and the Industrial Internet of Things is adopted by more and more industries, there are more similarities to the analogy than you may think.
One buzzword rocking the manufacturing world these days is the "digital thread." But what is the digital thread? The digital thread is the framework of communication that allows for a connected data flow allowing you to view your data throughout its entire lifecycle across functional areas that have traditionally existed in silos.
These gaps exist in every industry, despite having a multitude of data within the silos. The digital thread involves capturing that data across those systems, through its lifecycles, and facilitates its recording for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) analytics and back for closed-loop optimization. Simply put, it’s a seamless digital connection.
Spinning the Thread
Every fabric has a starting place and spinning the thread that connects it all is the logical place to start. You can start by connecting your industrial assets and operations and auditing your current environment. Knowing where you stand with data collection will help guide you in overcoming gaps.
In most cases, you won’t be building a connected organization from a greenfield project. Instead, you will be creating a more complete digital thread across all legacy systems and outdated pieces of equipment within the operation. These equipment assets are typically standalone, with limited connection capabilities. And not only that, the volume of data, the quality of data and the metrics used to analyze the data within the silos varies between functional areas adding to the confusion.
To find out where you stand, what to connect and how to connect, there are a few steps that will prove invaluable in spinning the thread that weaves your operation together:
Weaving the Operational Fabric
With an idea of the value of the digital thread, there are some suggestions to help make that value a reality. These suggestions can help bring the thread through from concept to application within the factory.
Best Practices for Digital Thread Management
Once the thread is created and the tapestry begins to take form, there are still best practices that need to be deployed to maintain its integrity. The practices include:
Realizing the Possibilities
The digital thread represents a major shift in how operations are visualized and how data can drive decision-making at the planning and strategic level rather than the remedial level. Instead of disparate and a piecemeal approach to systems, the digital thread conceives all product data from design through prototyping through manufacturing and throughout the lifecycle of the product in the field. The entire system has as its foundation the BOMs that drive the company’s product offerings and all data and analysis revolves around optimizing the production of those BOMS.
By incorporating these attributes into a single system that allows for their consumption digitally to drive an operation, value such as consistency, traceability and reusability are realized by the company. The best way to accomplish this is to capture the data through an integrated IoT system where devices capture the data and maintain it and then it is driven back to the organization through advanced analytics, machine learning and autonomous or semi-autonomous operation to optimize process improvements, quality improvements and to help point the way to new business opportunities.
As the digital thread is formed, those systems that were formerly siloed and separated from one another can now be woven into a tapestry that defines the operation as a single entity, viewable and recognizable, rather than a collection of pieces.