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Digital Threads: The Digital Manufacturing Lifecycle

By Dick Weisinger

Digital Thread refers to the complete digital lifecycle of a product from design, production, evaluation, and end of life. The term was first used in 2013 by the US Air Force and has caught on, especially as a concept that is applied to manufacturing.

A digital thread represents the digital transformation of a product lifecycle and has the potential to improve design, production, and supply chains. The concept of digital threads are often paired with a companion ‘digital twin’ product. The twin is the digital product representation and the thread is the representation of the lifecycle flow — together both digitally simulate the physical product being manufactured. The digital thread + digital twin work in synchrony to help optimize product manufacturing.

The benefits of using digital threads include:

  • Shortened Manufacturing Cycles
  • Efficient use of product material with reduced scrap and number of defective units
  • Shortened or eliminated downtime
  • Improved product quality
  • Improved velocity of production of new and improved products

The concept of a digital thread transforms the process for how products are manufactured. Thomas Kurfess, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Chief Manufacturing Officer, said that “digital threads will connect products and projects across partners, platforms, and processes. The digital thread is creating a renaissance in manufacturing. It’s everywhere. And it’s driving innovation, creating tremendous opportunities not just for the big guys, but for small- and medium-sized manufacturers too.”

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