Connected products extend the digital thread

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Digital Thread

PDSVISION supports manufacturing companies in their digital transformation by enabling the digital thread. The digital thread ensures people can connect to the data they need to be effective and make smarter decisions in real-time. The digital thread also creates a closed loop between the physical and digital worlds that spans the entire product lifecycle, from product engineering and manufacturing to its end of life in factory operation or the field.

The business values gained by the digital thread are known to all during product engineering and most during manufacturing. But too often, companies let the digital thread end at the loading bay. When the product is shipped, data flows are disconnected, and there is minimal data sharing with the product or user.

Connected products extend the digital thread throughout the value chain and enable multiple business values for the manufacturer and the product user during the products’ lifetime.

Connect products and why IoT fails. 

Connected products can transfer data collected from their control system, sensors, and other devices to where the data can be stored, analyzed, and acted upon, often using IoT technologies. These technologies have existed for several years and can show many successful projects and applications.

It is tempting to see an IoT project as a technology project as there are so many successful connected products out in the wild, and the IoT technology stack is well-known to many now.

But we strongly advise our customers not to give in to that temptation. That’s because we, like independent research firms (link to ), have seen that a common factor for IoT projects that have failed is that they were seen as technology projects, where the assumption was that a good start would be to connect the products, collect data from them, and then see what do with all the data that was captured. From a technology point of view, most of these projects succeed, but they seldom get out of the proof-of-concept phase. They need to have a business impact and be a vehicle in the digital transformation the company hoped for.

Successful IoT projects 

To ensure success, we recommend our customers identify the specific business values they aim to address or problems and frictions to solve. (We will give some examples of values to capture further down.) When the reason, the why, to start the project to connect products is described and agreed upon, it is time to explain the how and the what. That means carefully planning the IoT project, which includes having a hypothesis of what data is needed and how it should be processed and analyzed (the how). And finally, identifying the technologies suitable for the short-term and mid-term goals (the what). These initial steps might very well include technical prototypes designed to create more insight into the project’s issues.


Digital Twins

We will soon discuss some of the business values that can be achieved using connected products, but first, we would like to introduce one more concept, the digital twin. So please hang on.

Most, not to say all, industrial products are individuals as they are assembled by components from different batches, delivered, operated, handled, and maintained in different environments with different workloads and by other users. It is, therefore, necessary to create and keep a digital replica of each physical product, continuously updated with real-world operative data. This continuously updated digital product replica is referred to as a digital twin.

The digital twin’s level of detail and complexity depends on how the digital twin will be used. The complexity ranges from low-fidelity representations of the product to highly detailed, high-fidelity models. Low-fidelity digital twins may be used early in the design process to test and optimize concepts. In contrast, high-fidelity digital twins can be used for more advanced use cases, including detailed analysis.

We said earlier that product data from the engineering and manufacturing phases are included in the digital thread for most industrial companies. As the digital twin contains at least some data for individual products from these phases, and always real-world operative data, it is evident how the digital twin underpins the digital twin and secure that the digital thread spans the entire product lifecycle, from product engineering and manufacturing to its end of life in factory operation or the field.

Business values gained by connected products and digital twins

So, finally, we come to the section where we describe some of the values that can be achieved when extending the digital thread by connected products and digital twins.

When a product manufacturer connects products and extends the digital thread into the product’s operational phase, in a factory or in the field, a closed-loop lifecycle is enabled, which can be used to deliver business values for the manufacturer and the product users. The business values can be headlines as:

  • Drive operational efficiency
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Accelerated R&D innovation
  • Connected business models

Drive operational efficiency 

Access to product information and real-world operating data will drive operational efficiency over the entire life cycle. Product Service and product operation can be performed more efficiently as service personnel and operating personnel have product data available at the time and place needed.

For a service organization, it means transitioning from unplannable reactive product maintenance to plannable condition-based maintenance and optimized service visit, with support from more advanced data analytics, predictive maintenance, and further optimized service visits. An outcome of optimized service visits can mean an increase in service tasks performed on a shift and less time wasted traveling.

For the product user, access to operational product data can be turned into data-driven product performance optimization and organizational performance optimization. A result of these optimizations could mean an increase in daily production or increased production quality.

Improved customer satisfaction 

By analyzing data from digital twins, manufacturers can optimize product service and maintenance, leading to increased product availability, uptime, and customer satisfaction. This will also lead to improved service levels, as the service organization can take a proactive approach instead of a reactive one, reducing customer friction and increasing customer satisfaction.

And we all know that satisfied customers tend to continue as customers, while customers who experience recurring problems with a product tend to end the relationship with the supplier.

Accelerated R&D innovation 

When the digital thread encompasses the complete product lifecycle, it connects physical with digital and operation with engineering. The real-world operative data available to engineering will accelerate innovation and increase product quality. The following are three examples of what feedback brings.

Firstly, digital twins allow manufacturers to test and optimize designs early in the design process based on data collected from prototypes, saving time and resources.

Second, by analyzing data from digital twins, manufacturers get insight into their product’s operation, how the product behaves, and how users in all markets use it. Based on the analysis, manufacturers can make informed decisions on improving the product’s overall performance.

And third, digital twins allow manufacturers to validate simulation models created early in the design process against actual use cases. The validated model can then make product predictions for predictive maintenance scenarios.

Connected business models

The ongoing digital transformation is seen in how products are sold and bought. The increasing interest in product-as-a-service (PaaS) and outcome-based business models are two examples of how the trend is manifested. Business values driving the change are visible to the manufacturer and the product user. The manufacturer creates a recurring revenue stream over the complete product lifecycle, comes closer to the customer, and can add high-margin value-adding services to the package. The product user avoids initial product investment and pays for what creates value – product availability and uptime.

Insight into product usage, proactive maintenance, and eventually predictive maintenance, made possible by analyzing data made available by the digital twin, are prerequisites to efficiently delivering these connected business models.

A milestone for manufacturers on the way to product-as-a-service (PaaS) and outcome-based business models is to set up the organization for increased aftermarket sales. Here, data made available by the digital twins will drive operational efficiency for service offerings, as discussed above. The digital twin will also play an important role when designing service lifecycle management solutions for easy-to-use or automated ordering spare parts and consumables.

Connected business models

Our two core technologies and software solutions when connecting products and creating digital twins are the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system PTC Windchill, managing product data for the entire lifecycle of a product, and the Industrial IoT platform PTC Thingworx, connecting products and managing and analyzing real-world operating data. Read more about them on the included links.  

References / Customer case  

To learn more about the benefits of digital twins in the manufacturing industry, check out the following resources from PDSVISION and PTC:

In the PDSVISION customer story Predictive Maintenance & New IoT Business Models, we describe how the combination of DIOSNA and PTC ThingWorx enables end customers to generate additional revenue through increased uptime and save costs on unplanned downtime. A typical industrial customer can expect ~€50,000 in savings and ~€280,000 in additional revenue.

In this 3 minutes video clip on YouTube, PTC showcases how PTC ThingWorx condition-based monitoring application proactively schedules a manifold repair during machine downtime. Field Technicians use Vuforia AR tools to complete the complex service procedure and validate the repair, ensuring an efficient First Time Fix.


We have discussed how Industrial IoT, connected products, and the digital twin underpin the digital thread and create a closed loop between the physical and digital worlds, spanning the entire product lifecycle, from product engineering and manufacturing to the product’s end of life in the factory operation or the field.

We have pointed out the importance of starting from identified business values and using technology to reach the objectives.

Finally, we have described some of the business values that drive manufacturers to establish digital twins and extend the digital thread throughout the entire product lifecycle.

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