What is the Digital Thread?

The Digital Thread is a system of interconnected data, processes and applications that create a closed loop between the digital and physical worlds. It enables a flow of data between these two worlds, creating a critical capability in model-based systems engineering (MBSE).
The Digital Thread is part of an overall MBSE approach that helps organizations:

  • Design better products faster by using models as the basis for decisions rather than documents
  • Reduce costs by eliminating rework caused by changes made after initial design stages
  • Avoid errors by ensuring all stakeholders always have access to up-to-date information about product status

Why Use the Digital Thread

The Digital Thread utilizes a communication framework that links previously disconnected elements within the manufacturing process, providing a unified view of an asset throughout its entire lifecycle. It is a fundamental aspect of model-based systems engineering and forms the foundation for a Digital Twin. Business processes, including daily tasks, activities, and decisions, are digitized and integrated into the Digital Twin through the Digital Thread. The Digital Thread also supports standardization, traceability, and automation initiatives.

This enterprise connective solution optimizes products by bringing people, processes and places together to provide traceability of the Digital Twin back to requirements and parts. The Digital Thread also provides an end-to-end view of control systems that make up physical assets across their lifecycle. This benefits a company by transforming how products are engineered, manufactured and serviced.

Enterprise Application

The Digital Thread is a powerful tool that is used to improve business processes and enhance customer satisfaction. The applications of this technology are numerous, including:


The Digital Thread in Action

The Digital Thread is a concept that’s been around for a while, but it has only recently started to gain traction. It isn’t something that you can just jump into and expect to understand immediately. Instead, it’s best to look at the ways in which companies have utilized this idea in order to get a picture of what they’ve done with it and how they’ve used it successfully. Here are some examples of companies who have made use of their own Digital Threads:

  • A retail company uses its Digital Thread to improve customer service by connecting customers directly with product experts via chatbot technology. This allows them access information on products before making purchases so they can make informed decisions about what they buy and why they buy it. It also gives them an opportunity to ask questions if anything comes up later on down the line (i.e., when they’re actually using products).

  • Another retailer uses its own version of this concept as part of its online store where shoppers can find information about any given item without having access beforehand. Instead, everything from sizing charts down through reviews from other buyers will pop up automatically once someone clicks “add” on any given product listing page (and even before then!).


Creating a Digital Thread

The Digital Thread is a new way of thinking about your business. It’s more than just data connection or enterprise collaboration, it’s an integrated approach to connecting with the product lifecycle, employees and customers in real time.

The first step in creating a Digital Thread is understanding the production journey – how your employees or customers interact with your product at each stage of the production process. You need to know what information they should be consuming and how you can provide it through all stages of the product lifecycle. Once you have this information, it’s time to put together a plan for how the data will be distributed across all departments. This could be through IoT initiatives and product lifecycle management software.

The Future of the Digital Thread

The Digital Thread is the idea that every product interaction you have, whether it’s before, during or after the creation of the product should be connected through shared data. This means when a product is designed, built and put on the field with the customer, all the information is connected together. This sort of enterprise connection minimizes process disruptions and creates a cohesive product lifecycle.

The concept has been around for years but it’s only recently started to gain traction among businesses as more of them embrace breaking down data silos and integrating technology into every aspect of the product lifecycle.

It’s easy enough to see how this could benefit both consumers and businesses: Consumers get better service because service technicians are alerted early and accurately about the performance of their products and when they need to be serviced. Customer service improves greatly when a company can minimize downtime for customers with real-time monitoring and preventative maintenance.


The Impact

The impact of the Digital Thread is not only changing the way we design and manufacture products, but also how we service them. This shift has significant implications for businesses.

The ability to track a product through its life cycle has huge potential for companies looking to improve operations and customer experience. It’s no longer enough to simply make sure that your product works when it leaves the factory; now you need to ensure that it will continue working throughout its entire life cycle and be able to respond quickly if something goes wrong along the way.

The Challenges

There are challenges to the Digital Thread, however. Data security, privacy and integrity are all important considerations when it comes to data sharing. These issues are addressed by industry best practices such as encryption and authentication protocols that protect information from unauthorized access or tampering.

The Benefits of the Digital Thread

The benefits of the Digital Thread include:

  • Cost savings. The Digital Thread allows you to reduce costs by eliminating excess inventory and reducing waste. For example, if a product is out of stock at one store, it’s not available for purchase in any other stores or online either. This means that customers won’t be able to buy it unless they go directly to the manufacturer’s website–and many will simply give up and look elsewhere instead.

  • Improved efficiency. With the Digital Thread in place, manufacturers quickly identify where there are problems with production or distribution so they can fix them immediately rather than waiting until after an entire batch is produced before finding out about any issues (and having already paid for those products). By being able to identify problems before they occur, companies save money on wasted materials while also ensuring better customer satisfaction because their products will always be available when needed most!

The Digital Thread is beneficial to manufacturers because it enables automation, traceability, and standardization efforts. It allows manufacturers to access data quickly and easily, and to make decisions based on real-time data. Additionally, it helps to reduce costs associated with product development and production, and to ensure that products are manufactured to the highest quality standards.

The Digital Thread also helps to improve the customer experience by providing them with access to real-time data, allowing them to make informed decisions about their purchases. It also improves the efficiency of the supply chain, as manufacturers track their products from start to finish, ensuring that they are delivered on time and to the correct specifications.

Overall, the Digital Thread for Manufacturing is a powerful tool that can help manufacturers to improve their operations, reduce costs, and provide a better customer experience.


The Digital Thread is the concept that all of your customer interactions are connected, and that your business uses this to its advantage. The Digital Thread has many applications, including:

  • Providing a better user experience for customers by connecting all of their interactions with you in one place

  • Enabling companies to provide better support through real-time communication with customers

  • Helping businesses understand their customers better by analyzing data from various channels

If you want to learn more about how the Digital Thread could impact your organization, chat with one of our experts!

To stay ahead of competition, many manufacturing organizations are beginning to track product data and processes. Ultimately, when you do this you are initiating a digital transformation in your company.

Digital transformation is when you use digital technology to create new and modify existing ways to deliver value to customers. Learn more about the impact of digital transformation and where it can take your company in our latest blog, Digital Transformation is Happening Now.

You may want to consider the same if you are currently:

  • Using multiple disconnected systems which could include CAD, PLM, MES, ERP or other homegrown resources across various geographies, teams or organizational subsidiaries
  • Relying on inefficient product or process lifecycle management due to high system complexity keeping you from securely share data across functions, partners, customers and suppliers

PTC PLM enables a digital thread that connects all phases of the product life cycle critical to any discrete manufacturers’ digital strategy. One very important place to start your digital transformation journey is with your technical documentation.

Service Content Challenges

With traditional word processors, authors are forced to manually maintain service documentation. This method proves difficult to manage content reuse and authoring practices across an authoring team.

Authors will find themselves manually typing standard content rather than reusing the same verbiage across multiple service documents. Document formatting and styling may vary depending on the author and who published the document leading to overall inconsistencies.

When documents need to be published and delivered in a variety of different formats, the overall styling of the document will have to be modified to deliver the desired look and feel. 

Format modifications can be difficult and time consuming in standard word processors. 30-50% of a traditional author’s time is spent manually laying out the pages and overall text formatting. Due to authoring inconsistencies in verbiage and formatting, technical documentation from product to product may vary and may confuse the end consumer.

A “digital thread” of dynamic data ensures end-to-end consistency.

Service Content: Create, Manage, and Deliver


  • Automatically update content in conjunction with product development changes. Stay connected to Engineering Data
  • XML authoring and ability to reuse and leverage content
  • Support for translation management
  • Reduce product information research time for content creators
  • Enable efficient and parallel content creation/editing
  • Enable content reuse
  • Enable more efficient task assignment, routing, and authoring collaboration


  • Manage technical content (Work Instructions) originating from multiple sources
  • Ability to be included in Change process when work instructions or content needs updated
  • Leverage CAD and Facility information for quicker delivery and development of content (work instructions)
  • Reduce IT/IS costs and burden of maintaining multiple custom integrated applications
  • Enable more efficient review process
  • Reduce manual workflow and non-value-added tasks
  • Reduce replication of data across multiple systems (source and delivery)


  • Cost-effectively deliver up-to-date documentation to customers and service personnel
  • Deliver through Windchill (tomorrow) and SharePoint (today) with multi-managed delivery capability
  • Reduce Service Information Delivery Operations Costs
  • Event driven automated publishing eliminates labor costs and multiple applications to manually layout, format and publish released product information
  • Enable Engineering changes to be more efficiently integrated into product information and maintain up to date publications
  • Shorten current cycle for new and updated product information distribution

Arbortext: Dynamic Authoring & Publishing Solution

PTC’s Arbortext Suite is an end-to-end, dynamic publishing solution streamlines how organizations create, manage, and deliver technical publications.

Arbortext provides the capability to define, author, illustrate, manage and deliver dynamic product information in the user’s preferred language and format.

Authors have the ability to create product-centric information which enables the delivery of contextual, up-to-date product and service information in the forms of interactive service procedures, illustrated parts lists, operator and service manuals, and product training materials.

The resulting efficiencies drive documentation quality while reducing costs and improving the ability to provide accurate, timely, accessible content that is customized to the needs of the user for improved customer satisfaction.

Arbortext offers the seamless integration that enables you to create, edit, publish and manage XML content. A content enablement system capable of facilitating the deployment of a huge range of media, translated and delivered in real time.

With Arbortext, you’ll have the confident assurance of data intelligence of one smart system. Within the complexity and demands of the global marketplace, Arbortext (powered by PTC Windchill), makes smart content management simple.

At EAC, our Product Development Information Services team helps you deliver accurate product and service information quickly and efficiently. We recognize the challenge in producing accurate technical publications on time and on schedule.