How a Digital Thread Can Revolutionize Your Supply Chain

Posted on 
June 2, 2020
Matthew Wright
Founder & CEO, Specright

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.

Why do I need a digital thread?

Businesses can use a digital thread to have a unified view of product data throughout its lifecycle, from initial product design and engineering to manufacturing and service. Digital threads can help you with your existing product optimization and drive innovation in your manufacturing process so you can stay ahead of the competition.

As opposed to a digital twin that collects data from a single source, a digital thread captures data from every aspect of a product’s lifecycle.

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?

Improved Production Planning and Manufacturing

Your organization relies on different technologies for each aspect of production. A digital thread combines all these technologies to streamline your planning and manufacturing process. Here’s an example.

A digital thread can connect data between engineering and manufacturing teams, enabling them to trace the product’s lifecycle efficiently, eliminating rework, cutting costs, and reducing time to market.

Streamlined Change Management

Any downstream or upstream changes in a product can add to your overall manufacturing cost and increase time to market. This is where a digital thread makes things easier and more manageable by facilitating real-time workflow between teams. By creating a collaborative change management process with the help of a digital thread, organizations can reduce reworks and improve product quality.

Accelerated Product Innovation and Automation

Since we are sitting on the brink of a digital transformation, the next innovation in smart manufacturing is always around the corner. A major benefit of digital thread is that it empowers tech teams to venture initiatives that drive product improvement and innovation based on real-world data. By combining different technologies, such as CAD, PLM, Augmented Reality and IoT, teams can have data to improve sales, drive revenue, and create new business models that defy the constraints of the physical world. 

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 is 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: 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, read the blog about how companies are using Specification Data Management to mitigate the impact of major supply chain disruptions like COVID-19.


Matthew Wright

Matthew Wright is the founder & CEO of Specright, the first cloud-based platform for Specification Management. Specright has been recognized by Fast Company’s prestigious Most Innovative Companies list, named a Gartner Cool Vendor, and as one of the Top Places to Work by the OC Register and Built in LA. Wright is also a published author and his book, “The Evolution of Products and Packaging,”was named to the Amazon Hot New Release List for Industrial Relations Business and has a five star rating. 

Prior to founding Specright, Wright spent more than 25 years in the packaging industry, holding leadership positions at International Paper, Temple Inland, and rightPAQ — a packaging company he co-founded. He has also been involved in leading multiple M&A deals in the packaging industry, currently sits on the MSU School of Packaging and Industry Advisory Board and previously served on the Packaging Advisory Board at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.

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