Product creation technology came into existence 30 years ago. Initially, it was the manual process where designs were created on paper and product data was managed manually. This manual process led to the inability to collaborate and people wished for a smarter way to manage data. Hence, the Product Data Management (PDM) type of technology emerged.  

PDM mainly focused on CAD and engineering designs for discrete manufacturing companies. For the Retail Industry, it was more of a data repository of Products and their information. When products became more complex, and processes were not managed within PDM the need for more holistic product data management system aroused. Here, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems emerged for the RFA industry. With PLM the entire process was carried out digitally, but the systems were disconnected. Hence, giving birth to the digital thread.  

Moving further, let’s explore what is digital thread and what is the role of PLM in digital thread creation.  

What is Digital Thread?  

A digital thread refers to a concept that creates simple universal access to data. It combines both the physical and the digital worlds. The digital world comprises multiple layers. Product manufacturers operate with different enterprise systems to generate design data, manufacturing data, product health data, IoT data, etc. to perform better decision-making. Trending technologies like CAD, PLM, IoT, VR and Augmented Reality work together to create digital processes that analyze, manage, and communicate information between different departments.  

Revitalizing PLM for Digital Thread Creation 

Digital assets contain a lot of data and they are highly visual in nature. There are multiple ways of using these assets. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the key foundational element in digital thread creation. Digital thread technologies include four phases: Explore, Design, make, and sell.  

Explore and design phases include some of the design and rendering capabilities along with the utilization of materials for user voice of consumer analytics to convert into make. In the make phase, there are many ways to integrate the development capabilities from 3D printing prototypes or components to automating techniques, tech packs, or BOM creation. Finally, the selling phase is all about knowing how to use the visual assets to sell or engage with customers in new ways. 

Each of these capabilities is represented as digital technologies that are integrated as a new transformative way to make and sell products. To make these technologies more integrated, streamlined, and scalable, it is necessary to invest in foundational elements like PLM. PLM system will help streamline business processes, upskill team members, reduce time to market and increase productivity in the organization.  

PLM is a single source of truth that manages product data, lifecycle information, and workflows. Engineers are the primary PLM users who have full training and license access to the PLM system. But the digital thread goes beyond engineering into the manufacturing and service roles. In such cases, the cloud-based PLM is providing secondary and extended PLM users with role-based applications. Additionally, the users will have on-demand system accessibility where they can access the updated content in PLM.  


A Digital Thread that uses PLM as the foundational element will be able to enhance the traceability and governance of the product. The apparel and footwear business is very dynamic and meeting consumer demands are very critical. There are countless product design and development technologies in the market today. The landscape is growing continuously. PLM will remain the single source of truth in the future as well. It helps in managing and providing visibility and transparency to cross-functional product data throughout the product lifecycle and across the supply chain. Hence, PLM provides the critical infrastructure for end-to-end digital transformation.