Many would argue that the Digital Thread is the next major disruptive technology, but for it to really take-off, first we must look deep into how it works within the existing enterprise and understand a workable road map.
First – just what is this Digital Thread?
The concept is straight forward. Digital Thread in the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry is the idea of seamlessly integrating information through the value chain – from initial capability planning and analysis, through design, manufacturing, testing, and on to final sustainment and disposal phases – meaning that specialists throughout the process can work on the item simultaneously to inform decisions through the life of a system or product.
Managing supply chain risk
One of the greatest internal supply chain risks comes from misalignment across the chain. Within the supply chain functional stovepipe, Digital Thread has a clear role to play in bringing physical, informational and financial elements together, while also offering the opportunity to integrate it into the wider organizational enterprise.
Traditionally, an ‘omnipotent’ supply chain strategy is used which aligns with the overall organizational strategy while also having to be reactive to feedback from the subordinate supply chain network. As we can see, even at this high level, the volume and complexity of data is liable to swamp even the most dynamic supply chain director!
Fixing the Internal Supply Chain
A successful supply chain network must drive and be responsive to feedback from the processes of inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing & sales and service, each with their own driving factors and risks. Managing these risks requires an enterprise-wide picture that allows good decision making at all levels. But this cannot be built unless the base structure and connectivity is right, and this is where Digital Thread comes to the fore.
The quick wins of Digital Thread
Designs can be optimized for production ability, usability and maintainability by exploiting a common database and physics-based models during the design process. In this way tolerances are increased during design, reducing end cost in terms of less external tooling needed to position components during assembly.
I believe we will see manufacturing competitiveness rely progressively more on Digital Thread to interpret data gathered by increasingly connected sensors, machines and networks with intelligent feedback loops to adapt and incorporate manufacturing and maintenance needs right back into the initial design stage.
Big bang or iterative change?
Replacing a disconnected supply chain with a continuous, interactive, holistic and integrated process, such as Digital Thread, is not straightforward however. I believe a ‘big bang’ approach may not be possible as introducing a major disruptive technology in one fell swoop does not traditionally lead to revolutionary change.
Therefore I think iterative, evolutionary change is required, even though the challenges this brings may lead to inertia. An organization can drive forward change in a more progressively measured manner. I see this happening in two stages:
- Firstly by aligning strategic goals with supply chain plans and operations
- Then ensuring full visibility of the physical, financial and information supply chains and identifying and allocating costs throughout them
The end result will deliver a 360-degree insight that will allow the business or organization to make informed decisions.
Evolution not revolution
A bespoke whole-enterprise solution is probably what the major system vendors will suggest because it is what their bottom line would like and they would find easiest to implement, but Digital Thread is more revolution than evolution and such large programs bring more risks of failure.
A modular approach is a more realistic way forward. IFS provide such capability with a solution based on modular building blocks that can be scaled to match business needs.
Once these internal supply chain processes are right, not only will the enterprise be well on the way to engaging with and implementing Digital Thread, but it will be much more resilient and agile. You may say that this is easy to say, but difficult to do; however, it is the first step on the road to bringing a Digital Thread to the supply chain.
Are you ready to join the revolution?