Change tests many things. How does it test and prove the Digital Thread of information related to your product's development, manufacture, and service? As buzzwords go, when every enterprise software company suddenly claims to enable “a Digital Thread”, your radar should ping. So we’ll spend a little time in this blog exploring what makes a Digital Thread, why changes matter, and how Aras does it.
A demonstration of the Aras Digital Thread in Action was presented during the Aras Virtual digital event, Engineering Change in a Connected World, found here. Below is a quick video overview of this session, which shoes how customers’ operating conditions impacted product performance, requiring changes across the Digital Thread to improve the product in response, and how that is achieved, quickly and efficiently, in Aras Innovator:
1) Is it agile: how quickly can my products change?
Product development is about nothing if not change. What needs to change, who needs to know about it, and what they need to do in response: repeat ad infinitum. Receiving an engineering change order and exploring the digital thread in context of that request—from the part downstream to its manufacturing processes, to its performance in the field, to its usage conditions; and back upstream to its requirements, the system models used to design it, and the simulations used to digitally evaluate its performance—are all key to introducing the right product improvements. And the speed at which you can get ahold of all this data, in the correct versions, is key to making the right change, quickly.
In Aras, users can easily navigate from a change, and the items it impacts, to all related information about them. Anything across a product’s digital thread can be related to anything else, creating a visible and navigable web of information that users can explore in several ways: via a “tree” view of these relationships (Tree Grid View); via a graphical representation of the digital web of related data (Graph Navigation); or via a CAD-centric view of part / BOM relationships and their associated PLM data in context (Dynamic Product Navigation). It’s the user’s choice. And while each of these views is easily configurable by your administrator so that the information it contains best suits your team’s needs, these relationships are created automatically by the platform, with standard views included. My favorite is “Where Used”, an action which lets you find and instantly navigate to every item in your system that the item you’re currently working on is connected to.
2) Is it actionable: how can I use what I find in the Digital Thread?
Is the data you find in the Digital Thread static—like a dashboard or a fancy report you can just look at—or is it actionable: can you use that information to initiate new processes and create new data in response to what you find? Your data and processes are living things, created and creating every day as your teams accomplish their work. And your Digital Thread should be one more tool helping them accomplish the work of product development.
The term “product development backbone” for the Digital Thread has always bothered me, because it sounds so thin, and brittle, and static. Maybe “product development spinal cord” would be a better analogy. The digital thread should transmit information, like a neural pathway, connecting one node of your product’s lifecycle where change is happening to another node, where change needs to happen in response. It can coordinate the two, but it relies on responsiveness and action at both ends—really, at more than one end, at all the connections it manages where response is warranted—to keep everything working in concert.
In Aras, data from one part of the thread can be used in another part of the thread in new ways. In our example above, unexpected operating conditions were used to re-run previous simulations that originated in the part’s design phase. In the same way, new customer use cases can drive requirements development and variant management; requirements can be associated with the engineering parts that fulfill them; and manufacturing process plans can be changed easily when engineering parts change—all because of the Digital Thread connections maintained by the Aras Innovator platform.
3) Is it aware: what external information can I manage and track?
If product development is happening outside of your product development system, it’s no longer part of the Digital Thread. And that goes for people. Communicating changes throughout the product lifecycle can take many forms: formal change notices, email notifications, text messages, discussion threads, and more. Unless these can become a traceable record in your product’s Digital Thread, you are starving your teams of information for future decision-making. Ask yourself: would new teams make the same decision again, given the information you have on hand, or is your company in danger of repeating the mistakes of the past because you don’t have information about critical product changes recorded and available to you in the Digital Thread?
Sources outside PLM that relate to the product’s information also need this change record represented in the digital thread: including CAD models, simulation inputs and variables, build files and configuration data for embedded software onboard your product, system architecture models, and even that tribal knowledge that exists among experienced engineers and other technical experts with a role in your product’s lifecycle. Mechanisms to manage and coordinate these changes across software, hardware, and electrical / electronic elements of products today are more vital than they’ve ever been due to the highly connected nature of high-tech products.
Aras is fully open, with a host of available connectors to manage data across all of these external systems in concert with data authored on the platform. It offers compliant CMII processes to manage change across this wide range of multidisciplinary data types. And, it even manages informal, tribal knowledge as a record in the digital thread associated with every item you store or author in the system. Visual Collaboration is a simple, intuitive, and user-friendly discussion thread-style tool that includes 2D and 3D markup capabilities to make the experience fully visual while remaining fully traceable.
Do you have a Digital Thread?
If you’re still wondering, ask yourself, how quickly can you adapt your products to new information that signals they need to change? What can you do with that information, to respond in actionable ways, once you do find out about it? And how much of your product’s information is available to you across its many and varied components and contributors?
To learn more about how Aras Innovator connects this knowledge to the field, check out the previous blog in this series: The Aras Approach to the Digital Twin: What Makes It Different? And for more detail on managing requirements, system architecture, simulation data, and product variants in Aras Innovator, stay tuned for the next blog in this series, which overviews the Aras Virtual event, Systems Thinking and Digital Transformation.