Chad Jackson

Digital Twin vs. Digital Thread

September 29, 2020

Digital twin and digital thread are terms that are used a lot in the industry today. Why are the digital twin and digital thread so important for collaboration today? Our chief analyst defines digital twin and digital thread and the important role they play in product development

Digital Twin vs. Digital Thread

What’s a digital twin and the digital thread? And why is it so important for collaboration today? These are two terms that are used a lot in the industry today.

Defining the Digital Twin

The digital twin has a few different definitions. Some people use it to describe when you’re collecting IoT sensor data, and you’re using that to mimic the behavior of a real-world, physical product. That’s a good definition. Today, we’re going to be using a different definition.  A digital twin is the complete digital definition of a product. It is very, very important in product development. So, let’s look at exactly what’s involved with that.

The Digital Twin and Product Development

Today’s products are composed of content from a lot of different engineering domains. You have mechanical hardware. As we transition to smart connected products, you’re seeing a lot of electronic hardware, whether that’s circuit boards, or sensors, or a lot more. You also have these electrical distribution systems that are delivering signals around the product or delivering power to different electrical endpoints.

You also have a lot of software definitions. This is one area of explosive growth in smart connected products. We also have systems definitions. To mitigate the rising complexity of these smart, connected products, a lot of companies are defining definitions that are across engineering domains, so that they can make sure that they’re keeping track of everything. And, of course, not everything is on the product. Obviously, we’re seeing a lot of connectivity and a lot of data streaming to cloud solutions. This really does need to be considered part of the product. It’s part of the product configuration. So, collectively, this is the digital definition of a smart, connected product.

The Digital Twin and the Interplay of Engineering Domains

Okay so, let’s be really, really clear. Everybody is creating this digital twin of their product today. This isn’t something brand new. This isn’t something that has kind of crept up on everyone. I think the thing that is different now, why there is more awareness around this concept is because of the interplay between engineering domains, especially with systems. You make a change to the circuit board footprint that affects the enclosure that it goes into. You make a change to the aesthetic surface for the product it’s going to affect lots of different mechanical parts, but also other stuff as well. If you change the networking protocol you’re using in your electrical distribution system that affects all the electronics in there. And, of course, if you make changes to your software, that has to be compatible with the circuit board that you’re running within the product.

The reason why this is becoming so important is that there’s this interplay between engineering domains and there’s a lot of integration problems today. If everybody works in their domains and they don’t know what’s going on in other domains when you hit prototyping and testing you’re going to have failures. It’s going to induce lots of costs and delays, and that’s increasingly becoming a problem.

But what we’ve shown you so far is not the complete picture of the digital twin. A lot of what we just talked about relates to design definitions, but that’s not the only deliverables that you create as part of the development process. You have all sorts of documentation deliverables. You have all sorts of manufacturing deliverables. You have many different deliverables for quality, as well as service.

Defining the Digital Thread

A key thing to be aware of is you’re going to have initial versions that you use to create these derived deliverables that are used throughout the development process. They are not static. A change needs to propagate all the way down these derived deliverables. It is crucial because if you’re not able to propagate that, then you’re going to be working off the wrong data within different functional departments. This concept, that there is a set of derived deliverables that are interconnected, this is the digital thread. This is the idea that these things are interconnected. But, also, that you need to be able to push change and propagate change down the digital thread so that you can keep everybody up-to-date.

All right so, that is the concept of the digital thread. And what we just walked through was applicable to mechanical components. You have the same sort of digital thread that exists for all those other domains as well. It’s crucial that you be able to manage that.

This is why this concept of a digital twin is gaining awareness in the industry. You have definitions in every engineering domain and some of them are interconnected. You need to be able to manage change for that connectivity. Each design deliverable has a set of derived deliverables that are used in the rest of the development process. Those two concepts are kind of bubbling up. People are becoming more and more aware of that and the explicit need to manage that throughout the development process.

So, that’s the idea behind a digital twin, the comprehensive digital definition of your product, and the digital thread that there are interconnected deliverable for all the design things that you have in your product.

For more on the Digital Thread, check out our thought leadership series here.  

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