How a Digital Thread Can Revolutionize Your Supply Chain

By Mike Gaffney

How a Digital Thread Can Revolutionize Your Supply Chain

  • June 2, 2020

How a Digital Thread Can Revolutionize Your Supply Chain

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The manufacturing industry is on the brink of a paradigm shift, in which companies are trading in investment in physical assets for investment in information. Efforts to accumulate information are catalyzing the shift in the way we produce goods and unveiling a new era: an era of the digital thread. 

Defining the Digital Thread

But what is the digital thread? Think about the way humans benefit from networking. By combining our individual experiences, knowledge, and relationships we create a vast resource pool that each member of the network can tap into and utilize. We have this in common with supply chains, as every member of our network specializes in something, each piece of a supply chain plays a specific role in production. 

We’ve seen the payoff of staying connected with others, why can’t our supply chains do the same? 

As defined by Deloitte, “The digital thread is a single seamless strand of data and computing power that stretches from the initial design concept to the finished part, constituting the information that enables the design, modeling, production, use, and monitoring of an individual manufactured part.” 

Put simply, the digital thread is essentially a supply chain network that allows companies to leverage information for faster production cycles, higher quality products, and innovation efforts. 

Continuing the example of human networks and supply chain networks, you’ll find the primary difference between the two is that humans already have a digital thread – our virtual representations occur on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s not as straightforward for manufacturers. 

Due to the complexity of supply chains, creating an actionable digital thread isn’t as simple, but new technology is emerging and changing the landscape of industry as we know it.

How the Digital Thread Powers Product Development and Innovation

The digital thread goes beyond an ERP or PLM system. Since each component part of a product has a digital representation, the true power of a digital thread lies in its ability to create the relationships between the inputs and outputs of a product development cycle. 

The result of these relationships is a virtual supply chain ecosystem, where all component parts are mapped to one another, the supplier, and other critical information. 

It’s difficult for companies to diagnose product imperfections before making and testing a tangible prototype. What if you could diagnose problems before they happen, via digital manufacturing, inspection, and qualification processes by looking at similar data in the digital thread? By designing and testing using analytics from the digital thread, product developers know everything about their product and can test it virtually before bringing it to life, saving time, money, and resources.

Additionally, with cradle to grave product development, information is gathered from several important stages including: design, analysis, production, testing, validation, and delivery. With this approach, critical data – formerly siloed in different functions – is now interconnected and can create insights to improve products going forward. 

The innovation potential increases exponentially because any learnings gathered within the digital thread during the initial product cycle can be fed directly into the development of another product. Not only are tangible assets accounted for in the digital thread, but intangible assets such as knowledge and industry experience are captured.

What are the Benefits of a Digital Thread?

A digital thread creates unparalleled visibility and traceability. It’s no wonder that food and beverage and cosmetics companies are starting to take note. 

One of the biggest threats to these industries are product recalls. Not only can recalls cause irreparable damage to a company’s brand, but they can also result in fines. 

With a digital thread, companies can minimize the risk of a recall and, in the event of one, quickly pinpoint and address the root cause. 

Digital threads also create great efficiencies, enabling rapid data transfer along the supply chain without fear of version control issues. And for organizations looking to drive sustainability, being able to connect datasets from suppliers and partners can give them a holistic view of their environmental footprint. These are just a few examples of the benefits of a digital thread.

Laying the Foundation for a Digital Thread with Specright

As a concept, a digital thread through your supply chain makes perfect sense. But how can companies get started and move from theory to practice? 

Companies looking to take advantage of a digital thread need to start with the DNA-level data of supply chains: specifications. At Specright, we’re helping companies create a digital thread by digitizing, mapping and operationalizing specifications along the supply chain.  

A digital thread is only useful if it’s effectively integrated. Specright enables companies to build a digital thread by mapping specifications to facilities, external suppliers, and other critical data components. Companies can also enrich specification data with information from other systems like ERPs (pulling in sales data) and inventory management systems (pulling in live inventory feeds) to create control tower visibility. 

Today, supply chains are no longer linear product pathways, but a complex web of interconnected processes. With a digital thread, companies can build a robust, data-driven feedback loop to create a unified and simplified supply chain.  

To learn about the benefits of a digital thread, watch our webinar about how companies are using Specification Data Management to mitigate the impact of major supply chain disruptions like COVID-19.