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Digital Thread Explained: Its Integration Challenges - Part II

Category: Manufacturing Technology By: Tim Shinbara, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology Oct 4, 2021

As we discussed in Part I of this article, some manufacturing executives believe that the successful standardization and integration of data into a digital thread at most manufacturing companies will be closely linked to the company’s collaboration with major technology companies, while others believe the industry will need to develop its own solutions.

“Manufacturing companies need to work with partners, including companies that have the same or similar technologies on the commercial end as well as in R&D,” says Johan Israelsson Sr., vice-president & head of global sales at Sandvik Applied Manufacturing Technologies. “For example, two of the experts in big data right now are Amazon and Google, who have the ability to supply manufacturers with the type of knowledge and tools to tackle some of their data challenges.”

Others believe the best solutions are going to be those that originate from within the industry. “Collaborating with technology companies to solve common challenges in the industry is critical, but I think that this type of collaboration will just help cultivate creative solutions from within the manufacturing ecosystem and not necessarily make Amazon or Microsoft experts at solving manufacturing problems,” says John Murphy, CTO of True Analytics.

Manufacturing data is unique
“Amazon and Google are technology companies that created their own industry. Although their data challenges are really complex, the data they deal with was clean and well organized from day one. Manufacturers can learn from them, but the data we deal with is completely different and is certainly not clean or stored in one giant, well designed ecosystem. I feel very certain that the best solutions are going to be born from the industry,” says Murphy.

One of many challenges that manufacturers face is that some of their most valuable data is locked away in legacy systems or proprietary solutions that are nearly impossible to access quickly or easily. The other, as we discussed in Part I of this article, is the huge number of disparate – non-standardized – data items the typically manufacturing operation produces.

Integrating legacy data
True Analytics is one company that is successfully tackling the challenge of the digital thread by integrating legacy data with existing digital data in several complex industries, including aerospace, defense, and power generation. All three industries have valuable silos of legacy data in legacy systems, such as IBM AS400s, that needs to be accessed and integrated to enable systemwide process improvements. Using its Revolution Core integration platform, True Analytics integrates this legacy data with IIoT device data, tool management, CAM, ERP/MRP, and other data.

The journey to fully standardized data that can be easily integrated in the majority of manufacturing operations is just beginning for most companies, and it will be different for every manufacturer because each has different systems and processes that need to be integrated. This will be a challenge for both technology and software providers, as well as manufacturers.

A royalty-free standard helping manufacturers implement the digital thread is MTConnect. It offers a semantic vocabulary for manufacturing equipment to provide structured, contextualized data with no proprietary format. The MTConnect Institute is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit standards development organization for the MTConnect standard (ANSI/MTC1.4-2018). Its membership is made up of over 400 companies and research organizations in discrete manufacturing, including automotive, aerospace, medical, and other industries, as well as software developers, system integrators, and research organizations supporting those industries. Membership is free and open to anyone with a stake in MTConnect. Since its debut at IMTS 2008 in the AMT Emerging Technology Center, MTConnect has been widely adopted by manufacturers in North America.

Learn more about integrating legacy data by contacting experts in the Controls & CAD-CAM Pavilion at IMTS 2022.

About the Author

Tim Shinbara is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology. He is responsible for strategic technology integration, international standards, and global collaborations regarding advancing the state of manufacturing technology. Mr. Shinbara focuses on activities related to research and development, industry adoption, and technology gap analyses. Mr. Shinbara is a Board Officer of the MTConnect Institute and has served on several committees and councils advising the public sector's manufacturing strategies, organization, and investment. He has over 19 years of combined IT/OT, manufacturing R&D, and tech start-up experience.

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