Most manufacturers are working on creating an effective, easily sustainable, and accurate digital thread, but they don’t always know where to start. It can be especially confusing as there are usually multiple enterprise solutions in place, and each claims it should have the lead role in the digital thread.

But if a dataset doesn’t have a place to store all the required information for a digital thread, it will require expensive customizations or product extensions. It is simpler and more cost effective to start with the platform that includes the broadest possible dataset. Only product lifecycle management (PLM) has a dataset that includes every phase of the product lifecycle—the key to smooth operations and complete insight.


It makes sense to choose PLM as the backbone of your company’s digital thread project. PLM is the digital thread. Here’s why we say that, and we’ll a look at the benefits of a PLM digital thread.

A PLM Digital Thread Connects Enterprise Business Systems

Using PLM as the platform for connecting all the other enterprise business systems makes perfect sense. Both PLM and digital threads are supposed to cover the entire product lifecycle, from design through manufacturing to after-sale service and support. While every enterprise system includes some data that is adjacent to its primary business focus, only PLM includes the full complement of required information for every phase.

PLM is the only enterprise system that covers a product’s entire lifecycle.

The breadth of coverage is what makes a PLM digital thread ideal. By connecting all the business systems to the PLM backbone, the organization now has a single source of truth. No more wasted time in meetings while people argue about whose data is right, and no more errors from relying on partial, outdated, or downright incorrect data. The PLM digital thread backbone keeps everything in sync, ensuring that people have the necessary data at their fingertips to support fact-based decisions.

Breakdown Organizational Data Silos

To take the concept of connected business systems one step further, consider a typical scenario such as a product recall. With disconnected systems or a disjointed digital thread, users must gather data from multiple sources to be able to identify the recall parameters.

First, they must identify which items or serial numbers have the problem component or configuration. That means looking into the manufacturing SFC or ERP system. Next, they identify which orders the items were shipped on, or whether some remain in production or in finished goods. That means looking in order management or a QA system for shipping history, in ERP for inventory and production records, and in a CAPA system to determine if any of the identified serial numbers have already been corrected.

Now comes checking the service management solution to see if the problem has been corrected in any systems in the field, or worst case, introduced to systems in the field after shipment. Departments bicker over whose records are more accurate. Time flies by while discrepancies are checked and rechecked. You’ve all been there.

Whatever combination of enterprise systems you have in use, you can see that this scenario prolongs the time necessary to identify items for recall. Many companies give up on trying to reconcile the disparate data and simply recall every possible unit, but this is needlessly expensive for the company, disruptive for the customer, and damaging to the company’s reputation. It’s much better to have a PLM digital thread that contains all the necessary information to manage occasional issues such as product recalls as well as day-to-day operations.

A PLM digital thread supports rapid, fact-based decisions—always better than guesswork.

Coordinate Multi-System Data to Reduce Time to Market

The value of a PLM digital thread doesn’t only manifest after the product is shipped. It can also prove invaluable during the design phase, where it can reduce time to market.

For example, managing the bill of material (BOM) in PLM eliminates the need to store and maintain duplicate information in PLM and ERP systems. Managing engineering changes is simpler and faster when the process can be completed in a single business solution, rather than processed through PLM and then again through ERP.

Customer feedback and prototyping can be managed in PLM as well, and PLM enables concurrent manufacturing—a system in which engineering and production work together. This total visibility and reduction in duplicate efforts speeds up time to market and reduces errors.

Present Data Formatted for Action and Insight

It’s clear how complex finding and reconciling data across disparate systems can be. When companies use multiple business systems with overlapping data and functionality, it can be hard to get a complete and cohesive picture of any situation. The data is likely to be presented in dueling spreadsheets that make it hard to see the big picture, make decisions, and take action.

A PLM digital thread takes all the manual labor out of the process by presenting data in a dashboard or query format that selects data from the entire product lifecycle and presents it clearly and cohesively in a way that provides insight into the correct actions to take.

The PLM digital thread can end the interdepartmental spreadsheet wars by unifying the dataset.

Whether the data is required for engineering decisions, manufacturing actions, quality assurance testing and reporting, customer order fulfillment or inquiries, or field service support, the PLM digital thread has access to all required history and data so users can make rapid, fact-based decisions.

Implement a PLM Digital Thread in Your Organization

Managing a digital thread project is complex, but we’re here to help whenever you need us. We’re experts in PTC Windchill, the world’s most popular PLM solution. Windchill has become the PLM digital thread backbone for hundreds of manufacturing companies, and we can help you learn from their experiences. To see a demo or learn more, contact us today.