Demystifying the Digital Thread

The digital thread is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in industry. However, for many businesses, clarity is required on what it means and how it can truly benefit innovative organisations. Steve Puetz, business development manager at CFMS, simplifies what many believe to be a complex concept.

Over the last few years, the digital thread has been gaining traction across UK industry. Its reputation has quickly grown based on its successful use by early adopters in the aerospace and defence industries and, more recently, by digital, high-tech businesses managing rapid innovation, fast development cycles and heightened customer expectation.

If businesses want to become more responsive to customer needs, reduce their costs and increase efficiencies across the supply chain, they should start by looking at the flow of data generated during their development, manufacturing and service stages.

The digital thread enables the power of collaboration. In its simplest form, the digital thread is about connecting machines, data, processes and people across a whole business or supply chain. Another way of putting it is that it helps deliver the right data to the right place within a business at the right time. If done right it provides an environment rich with data, enabling predictive analytics and innovation opportunities without incurring time, productivity and cost oversights.

However, capturing and tracking data at all stages of a product lifecycle – from initial concept through to the design, manufacture, operation and decommissioning of a product – is not widely practiced in industry. This results in the retracing, translating and moving of data between systems and the supply chain, with regular repetition of these time-consuming processes. Removal of this ‘non-value-add’ activity has the potential to increase productivity, through the reduction of time, cost and time-to-market.

Challenges faced by end users

Large, multi-faceted end users, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), will often have different teams working on different areas of a project – their own ‘piece of the puzzle’. Working in silos can often mean communication between teams is limited and, in some cases, where solutions or efficiencies are identified by one team, there may be unknown duplication of solutions already found by another team. They might even be creating unintended inefficiencies. Other challenges include timely visibility into manufacturing performance metrics, ROI justification, and disparate systems and data sources.

This is where the digital thread can help. However, for OEMs, establishing a digital thread framework presents challenges of its own.

  • Where to start – organisations might be unsure of who the key stakeholders are, what functions or departments will be involved, which partners sit in the supply chain and what skills are needed to develop a framework.
  • Identification – companies need to identify what new, valuable data needs to be captured, over and above the data that has traditionally been collected.
  • Process – there is often a lack of clarity around the processes for capturing and tracking product lifecycle data, as well as changes and decisions made during the development, manufacturing and service stages.

CFMS and the digital thread

CFMS is an independent, neutral and not-for-profit organisation with a vision to drive a practical revolution in engineering design capability. To do this we demonstrate the value of delivering innovative concepts. CFMS works with both large and small organisations to show how a future system can operate, tracking data, design changes and predicting performance and maintenance requirements, offering impartial guidance on how to make improvements to capture, curate and connect vital information throughout the product lifecycle.

Our aim is to help industry organisations develop their digital capability, having access to the right infrastructure, the ability to understand how data is captured, collated and connected. Focusing on driving value for the customer is at the heart of CFMS. We are one of the few companies bringing the product life cycle together, where the design, manufacture, service and decommission phases have historically had very distinct and autonomous roles.

How can the digital thread benefit your organisation?

CFMS is holding an educational event for industry professionals on 3rd July 2019 at Bristol & Bath Science Park, where we will share best practice examples for developing a digital thread and the requirements needed for a framework. The event will highlight the value of digital thread to build connected systems – covering concept designs, automation of business processes and connecting products in operations – showing three demonstrators developed.

Delegates will also hear from a panel of industry end-users and academics who’ll be sharing their experiences in implementing a digital thread framework and recommendations for enabling the potential cross-collaboration and application across related high value design sectors: aerospace, automotive, energy, construction and advanced engineering.

If you are interested in finding out more about digital thread and developing your own framework, you can email CFMS at

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