Part 1: Revolutionizing supply chains Following the digital thread

As digital technologies grow more sophisticated and data proliferates, manufacturers have an opportunity to transform how they make things through an emerging technology strategy called the digital thread.


In the opening video of this 8-part series explaining the potentially revolutionary concept called the digital thread, Deloitte’s Mark Cotteleer meets the team of ONE Aviation as they prep for the inaugural flight of its November-6-1-Hotel-Foxtrot (N61HF) airplane. What seems to make this initial voyage different is that the N61HF was digitally designed, tested, and even retested—all virtually—before it ever left the ground, using technologies associated with the digital thread.

The digital thread is a single seamless strand of data and computing power that stretches from the initial design concept to the finished part, constituting the information that enables the design, modeling, production, use, and monitoring of an individual manufactured part.

For ONE Aviation, the physical assembly of parts is just part of the story. Just as important is what happens in the digital realm, where manufacturing processes including design, fabrication, validation, and delivery are all captured in the digital thread (see text box).

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Episode 2: How the digital thread weaves its way through the business

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The real power of the digital thread, as we discuss, appears to lie not just in a “cradle to grave” virtual rendering of the manufacturing process, but also in possibly taking the learnings from how the product performs in a practical everyday sense, and in applying them to future generations of the manufacturing process and product design.

The digital thread—and its ability to manage potentially terabytes worth of distributed data—is expected by many to substitute information for inventory, or for capital in general. In doing so, it can compress the supply chain from weeks or months to perhaps days. At the same time, the digital thread can connect the supply chain and all of its stakeholders and processes in a way that would transform it from a traditional linear model to an interconnected, digital supply network – bringing together the previously-disconnected so they can communicate and adjust. Further, the impacts of the digital thread can be profound and broad -- as relevant to consumer manufacturers as they might be to very complex federal agencies.

The digital thread is not a panacea. It faces real challenges. Two of those relate to the ever-increasing need for high computing power and skilled workers. But as we discover in the next segment, the digital thread appears to offer benefits that are visible even at the earliest steps of the process.

Further references:

West, T. D. and Pyster, A. (2015), “Untangling the Digital Thread: The Challenge and Promise of Model-Based Engineering in Defense Acquisition”, INSIGHT, 18: 45–55. doi:10.1002/inst.12022

Mark Cotteleer, Stuart Trouton, Ed Dobner, “3D opportunity and the digital thread”, Deloitte Insights, March 3, 2016, accessed January 9, 2018.

Aaron Parrott, Lane Warshaw, “Industry 4.0 and the digital twin”, Deloitte Insights, May 12, 2017, accessed January 9, 2018