People are often unaware of the differences between the terms digital thread vs digital twin, so they use the two terms interchangeably. But to those in the know, they are vastly different things. Here’s a brief primer on the differences between digital twin vs digital thread and how to choose the correct term when you are uncertain about which to use in your use case.

Digital Thread vs Digital Twin Definitions

Digital Thread

The digital thread is a framework that enables an integrated view of data across the entire product life cycle. It consolidates and cohesively presents data traditionally stored in separate information siloes, such as ERP, CRM, Field Service, or SCM solutions. It provides integrated access to analyze and transform data across these disparate systems to present actionable insight to users across the entire enterprise and eliminate traditional concerns about data variations in different systems. Effectively, the digital thread becomes that Holy Grail of information systems: the single source of truth.

The digital thread is the framework enabling an integrated view of data across the entire product life cycle.

Digital Twin

The digital twin is an exact digital replica of a particular item or serial number, including design specifications, geometry, components, and other materials, and the item’s behavior, including QA test results. This contrasts with the digital thread, which represents the manufacturing system as a whole—although it allows insight into specific units as well.

A digital twin includes:

  • As-built information, including engineering changes incorporated during the production cycle
  • Deviations from the standard process or BOM
  • Material properties like component lots and serial numbers
  • QA inspection results
  • Manufacturing operations
  • On-going maintenance data.

The digital twin is an as-built, as maintained history and current status of an item.

The digital twin is an exact digital replica of a particular item or serial number, including all components of an item’s maintenance history and current status.

Comparing Digital Thread vs. Digital Twin: It’s a Trick Comparison

While at first glance, a user might consider that a digital twin and the output of the digital thread are the same, this is not the case. In reality, there is no digital thread vs. digital twin controversy. One cannot exist effectively without the other.

Together, the digital twin and the digital thread include the as-designed, as-built, and as‑maintained records in addition to the validation, inspection, and calibration records, and the entire flow of materials and data. This includes all the data from initial product ideation through product retirement, with details relating to the overall life cycle process history and the life cycle history of individual units.

Which One Do I Need for My Manufacturing Company?

The Digital Thread

Ideally, manufacturing companies need a digital thread for insight into overall processes and product history. An effective digital thread enables a company to continuously improve product design and manufacturing processes, helping to enhance the quality of products while reducing product costs and increasing customer satisfaction. Analyzing digital thread data can improve overall maintenance and field service support by ensuring streamlined processes and minimizing service costs.

The digital thread can be instrumental in the event of a recall or a mass safety update by easily identifying the dates when process or design changes went into effect.

Manufacturing companies need a digital thread for insight into the overall process and product history.

The Digital Twin

A digital twin reduces service costs even more by ensuring the as-built, as-maintained information is readily available before a technician even leaves the depot. This ensures that techs arrive with the right parts on the truck and enables them to update and add ECNs where necessary for safety or compliance without having to make a return trip.

And in the event of a recall or an emergency safety update, digital twins provide the ability to identify the specific units in the field, in process, and in-stock that require changes. Rather than recall all items, a digital twin enables the company to identify specific items by lot and serial number, even when the recall involves a specific lot of a sub-assembly or sub-component. This detailed information reduces the cost and disruption of an event and can help salvage the company’s reputation during a difficult time. Although some ERP and SCM systems offer track and trace capabilities, the digital twin provides a faster and more precise identification of the items that require changes.

In the event of a recall or an emergency safety update, digital twins provide the ability to identify the specific units in the field, in process, and in-stock that require changes.

How to Achieve Both a Digital Thread and a Digital Twin

Working with disparate systems can make creating a digital thread and digital twin solution virtually impossible due to the expense of building multiple integration programs and keeping them synchronized with varying release schedules. As a result, many companies give up on the concept just based on the expense and technical resources required.

In addition to dealing with complex, expensive custom integrations, internal squabbles over which system will be the central repository can also derail the project because each department insists “their” system must be the right choice. But most enterprise solutions only include a subset of the data necessary for a project of this breadth.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions contain the broadest data models of all the classical enterprise systems since, by definition, their scope encompasses the entire product life cycle, from design through manufacturing, sales, post-sales maintenance, and product retirement. Therefore, it makes sense to designate the company’s PLM system as the backbone of the digital thread and integrate the other enterprise systems into it. That eliminates one degree of complexity by requiring only a single point of integration rather than attempting to integrate every solution to all the others.

PTC Windchill simplifies this integration even further through its use of industry-standard OSLC protocols that enable an application to create, request, update or delete data within the confines of system security and integrity. Using Windchill as the backbone of the digital thread eliminates a major impediment to adoption, bringing digital thread and digital twin capabilities into the realm of possibility without major system disruptions or the cost of ongoing updates to integration programs.

Find Out More About Digital Thread vs. Digital Twin

If you’re still thinking about the digital thread vs. digital twin issue, we’ll be happy to talk to you about how you can quickly and easily achieve both necessary capabilities using PTC Windchill as your enterprise backbone. To learn more, contact us today.