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November 13, 2019
ShipbuildingTechnology

Digital Thread - Content vs Intent

In my previous blog posts Who Really Wants a Digital Twin? and Different Conversations Surrounding the Digital Twin  I talked about the digital twin, how it can solve business challenges and the different conversations that revolve around the digital twin. One aspect I did not mention was the concept of the digital thread and how it relates to the digital twin.

Many discussions about the digital twin incorporate elements of the digital thread, but they are ultimately different concepts. To better understand each other, it is important to understand the difference. I will keep my blog high-level and concise as I do not want to get into the specifics.


Digital Twin

Before getting into the digital thread, it is important to discuss the digital twin. At a high-level, the digital twin is a current virtual representation of your physical asset. It is created by connecting and linking together many pieces of digital data generated at different stages of the lifecycle. The digital twin gives you the ability to get any data – or content – about your physical asset.

For example, imagine you have a pump that is within your ship and you want to get some current digital data for that pump such as its operational or maintenance manual. You will be able to ’simply’ find the digital pump in the digital twin model, navigate to the linked digital manual and open it up. You are guaranteed it is the latest version for that specific pump. You would also be able to get information on how the pump is actually performing at this moment. Metrics like current power drain, flow capacity and even vibration readings via IoT data would all be available.

The key thing to take away is the information or content is always current (at this very moment).


Digital Thread

Where the digital twin is providing you the current content of an asset, the digital thread provides you a record of the data and how it evolved throughout the entire lifecycle. In other words, it stores the intent behind  ‘why’ your item exists. To do this, the digital thread will need to traverse information back through various lifecycles in order to provide you the information required to determine its intent.

Let’s use the same pump from the digital twin example above. Imagine you want to know the intent of a pump and understand why this pump exists. To find this out, you will follow the connected thread of information from the pump all the way to the requirements defined at the very beginning of the project. That allows you to understand what specific requirement it is fulfilling. Answering questions like “why do I have this specific brand of pump?” becomes possible by following the thread all the way back through the lifecycle to where it was decided which supplier and manufacturer to use for this pump, with possibly even the reasoning behind the decision.

The key takeaway is that the digital thread provides you with the answer to why. By looking through the recorded history across lifecycles, the intent of any item in your product becomes clear.


Closing Remarks

Both the digital twin and digital thread exist for the entire lifecycle of your asset. They both need connected digital information that is produced and consumed at virtually every phase in the lifecycle. Almost all discussions revolving around business transformation solutions these days includes both concepts of the digital twin and the digital thread.

The digital thread is highly tied to the digital twin, but rather than focusing on the current content which the digital twin embodies, the digital thread answers the intent or why an item exist.

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