Digital Thread is a popular buzzword today, and once you learn the definition it is hard to argue against having one in any engineering organization. Agreeing that digital threads are nice, and setting about building a digital thread, are two entirely different things, however. For medium to large organizations with legacy tools and significant business constraints, there is a logical path for building a digital thread which involves identifying priorities, assets, obstacles, and the like, and charting a course through to the future with an updated/reconfigured/new PLM system.
For small to medium organizations with the flexibility to pursue new strategies (and sometimes the lack of cash needed to pursue full PLM systems), the course is less clear and fraught with pitfalls. CAD data management often happens on folders (local or cloud) with separate “systems” like a spreadsheet to manage part numbers and release levels. Workflow is typically done through email, and BOMs are another spreadsheet nightmare – none of which are tied together with a unified “thread”.
Traditional PLM tools like the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, Aras Innovator, Fusion Lifecycle, Windchill, Teamcenter, etc. are all very capable of solving this kind of problem, and the cost of entry for these tools can be very different (in real dollars as well as in time required to set them up and adopt them). Newer tools like Upchain, Propel PLM, and OpenBOM help address the startup cost issue with SaaS models, and provide some foundational elements of a solid digital thread. (Arena is another tool worth mentioning here because it is SaaS-based yet has been around for years.)
Take OpenBOM as an example for how an organization might start to build out a digital thread. OpenBOM is a cloud based BOM management tool with CAD integrations, centralized item management, and a few other basic PLM system capabilities. With a small amount of time invested in organizing and loading existing data, an organization can be up and running with a centralized part catalog linked to their MCAD and ECAD data, and subsequently structured into product BOMs. An organized BOM and item master with links to CAD data is a strong foundation for building out a digital thread. The browser-first, cloud-native nature of the product means BOM elements can easily be linked to other digital product artifacts (links to specifications or requirements managed in other online tools, for example). OpenBOM shows that you do not need full PLM system capabilities to start building out a very useful and strong digital thread (with some unique functionality that traditional PLM systems do not yet have).
If you need to start building a stronger digital thread, and want some advice on how to do it, please reach out to us or take our digital thread assessment. Whether your organization is small, medium, or large, we are experienced at helping identify and plan data management and digital thread strategies to fit your needs. Contact us today!