Decoding ‘Digital Industrial:’ Sewing Up Efficiencies with Digital Thread
By Mounia Papadopoulos, Solution Architect at GE Digital
In manufacturing over the past decade, companies have implemented numerous solutions, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and Six Sigma, in order to decrease costs and drive efficiencies. Many are now looking at big data. But in today’s tough environment, even that isn’t enough. What they need to make big leaps in productivity and efficiency is what GE calls the “Digital Thread.”
By drawing on the power of the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud and connectivity, embedded sensors, big data aggregation, and powerful software, Digital Thread is connecting machines, analytics, and people to create an integrated flow of data across the entire manufacturing process.
The Digital Thread increases cross-process visibility and removes information silos along the value-creation process, creating opportunities for industrial organizations to make informed decisions that improve the way they sell, manufacture, design, service and operate.
In simple terms, the thread acts as a connector between all the different parts and people of a given process, to ensure everything is as efficient as possible. The result is continuous process improvement, product lifecycle transparency, and greater production flexibility.
Perpetually improving processes
Perhaps most exciting, the benefit to manufacturers is not just a one-time boost. It provides a continuous process of improvements to productivity, increased production, improved quality, and reduced costs.
One example of the linkage for the manufacturing process is looking from product design to supply chain to production on the shop floor to packaging, distribution and product use with customers. Digital Thread makes this possible – and always driving operational improvements.
For instance, product issues identified by customers in the field are automatically fed into the Digital Thread, allowing their designers and/or manufacturing engineers to make the necessary modifications to resolve the customer concerns.
With data at every step being collected and analyzed, Digital Thread creates a looped system that drives toward ever-higher process optimization across the entire product lifecycle.
On an implementation level, Digital Thread is the backbone of the digital transformation process for manufacturers. It integrates advanced software that captures, manages, and analyzes data from across the product value chain to reveal opportunities to continually drive down costs and improve efficiencies.
Digital Thread is built on Predix, GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet of Things, which is the first software platform specifically designed with the security, big data bandwidth, and reliability required for industrial systems.
Visibility across the system
With the visibility gained by Digital Thread, plant operators can see what’s happening on the shop floor at any moment and ensure, for example, that equipment operators have exactly the information and data they need
Digital Thread also helps identify bottlenecks, both in real time and historically. This can help decrease cycle times and speed the introduction of new products. Manufacturers also gain flexibility by creating a more agility environment.
Digital Thread provides information and insights that draw on powerful analytics based on millions of real-time and historical data points. Operators can then predict production issues before they occur or identify incidents when they do happen. Digital Thread also provides recommendations on the best actions to take, thereby helping to minimize or eliminate any negative impact on outcomes, such as product delivery deadlines or quality.
Brilliant Factories in KSA and Turkey
By implementing the Digital Thread, companies can create Brilliant Factories.
Here in this region, GE is using Digital Thread at our 26,000sqm GE Manufacturing and Technology Center (GEMTEC) in Dammam to continually drive improvements.
In Gebze, Turkey, Digital Thread is helping GE’s 50-year-old Power Transformers factory to achieve big improvements to production times and inventory management, and small, but more profound, boosts to overall production efficiencies and delivery times.
Looking ahead, as different parts of the manufacturing process increasingly talk to each other and share data, enhanced by artificial intelligence and machine learning improvements, the process improvement loop will become increasingly automated, and thereby increasingly rapid and effective.
We’re very excited by what Digital Thread represents not only for GE’s own industrial operations, but for those of our customers as well.