Industry 4.0 – The concepts of Digital Twin and Digital Thread

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Published on February 03, 2020 – Carolin Paul,  Consultant at Westernacher

As Industry 4.0 has focused on the concept of the digital twin for the last years, we also want to focus on the topic of the digital thread, which is less well known but at least as important as the digital twin. Digital twins and digital threads have been around for many years, and many discussions about the digital twin include elements of the digital thread, but ultimately, they are different concepts. To understand each other better, it is important to understand the difference.

Digital Twin.

A Digital Twin is a virtual representation of your physical assets. It is created by connecting and linking many digital assets that are created at different stages of the lifecycle. The digital twin gives you the ability to retrieve any data or content about your physical assets.
The digital twin can benefit from all areas of design, manufacturing, operation and maintenance. The goal of creating a digital twin is not only to reduce the cost of prototyping or design in engineering, but also to predict failures more easily and accurately and more effectively while the equipment is in production, thereby reducing both maintenance costs and downtime. The cost of setting up a digital twin is worthwhile, as the value of a data stream from a product or equipment is enormous when used in combination with other data sources. For example, if you build a digital twin for an aircraft turbine, which is very expensive and durable, you can ideally predict very accurately when a material or operational failure will occur, even taking into account the environmental conditions that have an impact on it. From this, the ideal maintenance time window can be derived. This of course saves a lot of money, because there is nothing more expensive than an aircraft that cannot fly.
To maximize the potential of the digital twin it needs more than data, algorithms and sensors. It needs a framework that controls access to that data. It needs a digital thread. This digital thread runs through a labyrinth of data and makes connections throughout the whole product lifecycle from engineering bill of material and 3D CAD visualization to manufacturing bill of material up to the operation and decommissioning of that product/equipment.
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A Digital Thread provides a record of the data and its evolution throughout its lifecycle. So it is the meaning behind “why” your item exists. To do this, a digital thread must trace information through various lifecycles to provide you with the information you need to determine its intent.
It contains specifications or data associated with hundreds of systems, suppliers and files. The digital thread is the framework that supports the connections and helps to communicate through the different steps of an object’s lifecycle.
The components of an object can include construction, maintenance, decommissioning, etc. It contains specifications or data connected to hundreds of systems, suppliers and files.

The development of a digital thread enables product engineers to collaborate with manufacturing engineers to create a 3D model that is linked to visual representations for manufacturing process instructions.

In this way, manufacturers gain a holistic view of the properties and behavior of their products. It also means that data received from an equipment breaking down in a production can be related back to the manufacturing data and even engineering data. With that the digital twins serving as a digital representation in those individual domains are linked and with the help of the digital thread valuable information flows from operation or logistics back to the manufacturing and engineering teams.

Both the digital twin and the digital thread are available for the entire life cycle of your plant. Both require the digital information that is created and consumed at almost every stage of the lifecycle. Almost all of today’s discussions about business transformation solutions include both the concept of the digital twin and the digital thread.

In summary, the digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset whereas the digital thread ensures that those digital twins for each step of a product lifecycle are connected.

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