Following the Digital Thread: Revolutionizing Supply Chains

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As digital technologies grow more sophisticated and data proliferates, manufacturers have an opportunity to transform how they make things through an emerging technology called the digital thread.

In the opening video of this eight-part series explaining the potentially revolutionary new technology called the digital thread, Deloitte’s Mark Cotteleer meets the team of ONE Aviation as they prep for the inaugural flight of its N61HF airplane. What seems to make this initial voyage different is that the N61HF was digitally designed, tested, and even retested — all virtually — before it ever left the ground, using technologies associated with the digital thread.

For ONE Aviation, the physical assembly of parts is just part of the story. Presumably just as important is what happens in the digital realm, where manufacturing processes including design, fabrication, validation, and delivery are all modeled and tracked through the digital thread (see “The Digital Thread Defined”).

The real power of the digital thread, as we discuss, appears to lie not just in a “cradle-to-grave” virtual rendering of the manufacturing process, but also in the possibility of taking the lessons from how the product performs in a practical, everyday sense and applying them to future generations of the manufacturing process and product design.

The digital thread — and its ability to manage potentially terabytes’ worth of distributed data — is expected by many to substitute information for inventory, or for capital in general. In doing so, it can compress the supply chain from weeks or months to perhaps days. At the same time, the digital thread can connect the supply chain and all of its stakeholders and processes in a way that would transform it from a traditional linear model to an interconnected, digital supply network — bringing together the previously disconnected contributors so they can communicate and adjust. Further, the impacts of the digital thread can be profound and broad — as relevant to consumer products manufacturers as they might be to very complex federal agencies.

The digital thread is not a panacea. It faces real challenges. Two of those relate to the ever-increasing need for high computing power and skilled workers. But as we discover in the next segment, the digital thread appears to offer benefits that are visible even at the earliest steps of the process.

Further Reading

M. Cotteleer, S. Trouton, E. Dobner, “3D Opportunity and the Digital Thread: Additive Manufacturing Ties It All Together,” Deloitte Insights, March 3, 2016, accessed Jan. 9, 2018.

A. Parrott, L. Warshaw, “Industry 4.0 and the Digital Twin: Manufacturing Meets Its Match,” Deloitte Insights, May 12, 2017, accessed Jan. 9, 2018.

T.D. West and A. Pyster, “Untangling the Digital Thread: The Challenge and Promise of Model-Based Engineering in Defense Acquisition,” INSIGHT 18, no. 2 (August 2015): 45-55.


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