June 29, 2023 By Chrystal R. China 3 min read

As the pace of digital transformation accelerates in the manufacturing and engineering industries, two concepts have gained significant traction: digital twins and digital threads. Both concepts refer to digital representations of physical objects, but they serve different purposes and offer companies unique advantages. Here, we will compare digital twins and digital threads, and discuss potential use cases and benefits.

What are digital twins?

A digital twin is a digital replica of a physical object or system, complete with all the design and operational data of the physical object, including geometry, performance data and behavior models. The purpose of a digital twin is to simulate the behavior of equipment in real-time, allowing engineers and operators to monitor performance and identify system issues/anomalies.

Digital twin technology uses Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors, machine learning and simulation software to collect product data and generate accurate models. Teams can then use the models to predict maintenance needs, simulate changes to the system and optimize processes (e.g., safety protocols, reporting procedures, manufacturing processes, etc.).

For example, a digital twin of a wind turbine can simulate the impact of changing wind speed and direction on the turbine’s performance, helping operators make informed decisions about maintenance and energy production.

Explore how digital twins can optimize the performance of your assets in a sustainable way

What is a digital thread?

A digital thread is a digital representation of a product’s lifecycle, from design to manufacturing to maintenance and beyond, providing a seamless flow of data that connects all aspects of the lifecycle. The purpose of a digital thread is to provide a complete and transparent view of manufacturing systems, enabling efficient collaboration and decision-making across all stages of the process.

Digital threads use a variety of technologies, including computer-aided design (CAD) software, product lifecycle management (PLM) systems and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, to collect and share data across workflows. Digital thread technology optimizes traceability, providing a way to track asset progress and ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page throughout the production process. For example, aerospace companies can create a digital thread to help assemble aircraft with digital engineering. Production teams utilize 3D-model-based systems to guarantee that aircraft are built exactly to engineering specifications and rely on the digital thread to track progress and identify issues and inefficiencies during production.

What distinguishes digital twins from digital threads?

Both digital twins and digital threads utilize virtual representations of real-world assets and processes, but they offer distinct capabilities.


Digital twins are scalable, but only to a point. Digital twin technology collects real-time data from a single source/asset. And although a digital twin concept can connect to other twins to simulate entire digital environments, they are most useful in evaluating a specific production environment. A digital thread concept, on the other hand, is limitlessly scalable. Digital threads can connect to (almost) any other enterprise system, including digital twins.

As such, digital thread technology may be best suited for operations and/or circumstances where data must be gathered from an array of departments, devices, systems and processes. On the contrary, digital twins will better serve operations that rely primarily on repetitive machine processes within a specific production environment.

Data centralization

Both digital twins and digital threads centralize data to some extent. Both collect comprehensive sensor data and aggregate and store that data in an easily accessible data hub. However, digital threads enable teams to take data from digital twins and other sources and centralize the data flow across departments and production silos so that the entire company can access the same information. Data attached to a digital thread also tends to be more consistently accurate, because the automation features of a digital thread concept eliminate the need to manually transmit information between departments and workflows.

Benefits of digital twins vs. digital thread

Digital twins and digital threads help organizations increase system efficiency, reduce production costs, improve product design and limit system downtime. However, the impact of each technology will vary depending on manufacturer needs.

Digital twins allow manufacturers to do the following:

  • Engage in responsive monitoring in real time
  • Conduct proactive risk assessments and utilize predictive troubleshooting for organizational assets
  • Accelerate innovation using digital models and digital mirroring

Digital threads help manufacturers in the following ways:

  • Build more agile operations by facilitating a continuous, synchronized data flow
  • Increase interdepartmental collaboration across assets and systems
  • Optimize connectivity between manufacturing and engineering processes
  • Streamline product development to reduce production time and get products to market faster
  • Ensure regulatory compliance by tracking the entire product lifecycle, including design decisions, engineering changes and maintenance records

Leverage IBM Maximo Application Suite for your digital transformation

Digital twins and digital threads are essential tools for companies looking to start or accelerate a digital transformation. Using advanced technological tools like IBM Maximo can help organizations get there faster.

IBM Maximo is a comprehensive enterprise asset management system that helps organizations optimize asset performance and streamline day-to-day operations. Using an integrated AI-powered, cloud-based platform, IBM Maximo offers comprehensive CMMS capabilities that produce advanced data analytics and support manufacturers looking to make informed decisions about system performance and optimization.

Using IBM Maximo software—especially as a complement to existing enterprise resource management (ERP) systems or a manufacturing execution system (MES)—can help your facility gain a competitive edge in today’s ever-evolving manufacturing marketplace.

To find out how, book a live demo with an IBM expert
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