What efforts are helping to create a digital thread in manufacturing?

The concept of a digital thread may seem abstract to many in manufacturing, but one organization is among those trying to realize its potential in practical terms.

The digital revolution is coming to manufacturing -- from CAD/CAM modeling and testing of product designs, to digital simulation of production processes and equipment, to product lifecycle management and predictive analytics that improve support and extend product life in the field.

Indeed, it is increasingly important to be able to exchange digital information between and among systems easily and reliably, and lack of standard protocols and messaging standards is an inhibitor to this free exchange of information. One organization is among those tackling that challenge. The National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST is working to define and standardize methods and protocols for exchanging and transporting information through design, manufacturing and product support processes to enable easy integration of smart manufacturing systems and accelerate the design to production timeline at reduced costs.

NIST's website says that it is uniquely positioned to address this need, with extensive experience in relevant areas, such as formal specification of geometries and tolerances, as well as formal specification and simulation of manufacturing processes, along with leadership representation in related standards bodies.

According to NIST, "There are many gaps to be filled in the digital thread of information flowing from design to manufacturing and assembly, and to inspection. The manufacturability of a product can be very dependent on particular design parameters, both functional and non-functional."

Indeed, communication issues and proper design feedback loops abound. The NIST plan is to "apply systems engineering principles and emerging information technologies to specify mechanisms for capturing and communicating requirements, intent and feedback in a well-defined formal way." NIST will identify missing information elements, model and codify the information elements, then publish the results to provide the technical underpinning for new standards.

When complete, NIST's digital thread standards will enable engineers to design effective products, processes and systems in less time, and to communicate the requirements and details to manufacturing and to engineers involved throughout the product lifecycle, including feedback to design.

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