What is ‘digital thread’ and how can it help the aerospace manufacturing industry?

Thread is amazing stuff. Imagine your clothes without it. You’d have buttons over here, cloth over there and the lining somewhere else. That’s not something you could easily wear!

A similar situation is happening in the aerospace manufacturing industry. Leading manufacturers have their design data over here, their manufacturing data over there, and their maintenance data somewhere else. Each in its own isolated silo. As with your clothing, the best way to hold them together is with thread — in this case, digital thread.

Digital thread isn’t a product or piece of software. Rather, it’s a new approach, one that integrates the digital collateral describing a product into every aspect of the manufacturing process.

Where a common thread connects your clothing’s buttons, zippers and fabric, digital thread connects your business processes. The benefits of digital thread for aerospace manufacturers can include:

  • Lower costs: Stay on budget with greater efficiency
  • Higher-quality products: Enjoy less scrap and fewer re-do’s, further reducing costs and speeding time-to-market
  • Faster throughput: Get more product out the door, better manage your backlog, and keep up with demand and satisfy customers

Further, each of these improvements can mutually benefit the others. For example, while improving quality is important in its own, higher product quality and precision in manufacturing can also help lower materials costs due to less scrap. It can also lower workforce costs by reducing the need for re-builds.

Importantly, these benefits can lead to two additional ones that may be even more valuable, namely more revenue and higher profits.

The magic of digital thread

How does digital thread work its magic? By sewing together, if you will, data from the three elements common to all aerospace manufacturers: design, manufacture and maintenance.

Traditionally, each of these operations managed its own IT systems, often without regard for whether they were compatible with systems run by the other operations. Even though each operation generated lots of data, they had no easy or affordable way to share data with the other two. So all sorts of potential synergies — which might have helped to improve quality, lower costs and speed throughput — instead went by the wayside.

Digital thread promises to modernize this hidebound situation by connecting these formerly disparate systems to produce new insights and analysis that simply weren’t possible before. For example, if a maintenance team were to detect an increase in the number of customer calls regarding a specific quality issue, with digital thread the team could share that information with the design and manufacturing teams. In this way, the issue could be addressed much more effectively at the start of the value chain, rather than at its end.

Similarly, digital thread can help aerospace manufacturers take advantage of emerging technologies, including augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT), to automate formerly manual processes. Consider a factory machine with a temperature threshold of 185 F. Traditionally, human workers would have had to monitor the machine. But now it can be equipped with an IoT sensor that continually monitors its temperature and sends an alert when the temperature reaches a dangerous 180 F. That’s the power of digital thread.

Digital thread adoption

Is digital thread ready for prime time? Absolutely. One of our clients has used digital thread to reduce its scrap rate by 12% which resulted in over $60K savings per day. And with continual improvements coming, the company expects even more reductions soon.

Sound like the kinds of gains your organization would enjoy? Then start using digital thread. By integrating digital collateral into every aspect of your manufacturing process, your organization can sew its way to success.

Chris Lennon is DXC Technology’s chief technologist, Aerospace and Defense (A&D), Americas. He provides strategic guidance and customer oversight for existing and emerging technologies, and their use helping A&D companies improve their business performance and outcomes.

Robert Gosselin is a DXC Technology industry chief technologist supporting the A&D industry. He works collaboratively with customers and partners to create infrastructure and application solutions that support manufacturing-customer initiatives to increase operational effectiveness, customer engagement and employee satisfaction.

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