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The Extended Digital Thread (EDT) project will deliver standards, methods, protocols and tools to enable interoperability of significantly more product and related information across a wider portion of the lifecycle. The project envisions an unbroken digital thread through the product lifecycle by increased quality of product information. It will focus on increasing the range and precision of product information, as well as integrating it with analysis and spatial information. Small and medium-sized enterprises have limited resources to integrate and analyze information across the lifecycle of their products, reducing access to timely and actionable insight. Smart manufacturing research at NIST aims for fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in near real-time to changing conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer demands. This vision is increasingly achievable by small-to-medium sized enterprises due to recent advances in product information standards across the lifecycle, such as the those achieved in previous NIST projects, e.g., Digital Thread for Smart Manufacturing, Product Definitions for Smart Manufacturing, Model-Based Systems Definition and Analysis Integration for Smart Manufacturing, and Product Lifecycle Data Exploration and Visualization. This project will build on earlier results, developing additional methods, protocols, and tools to (a) formalize product definitions for more efficient and reliable integration with information from the rest of the lifecycle, (b) facilitate interaction of engineering analysis product and systems definition to increase the quality of the definitions, and (c) integrate of state-of-the-art visualization modalities into engineering workflows.


To deliver standards, methods, and tools that improve smart manufacturing efficiency, agility, and reliability, by increasing the quality of information representations across more of the product lifecycle, including design, production, and use of resulting products.

The manufacturing sector generates over 2 Exabytes of data a year, a figure expected to continue to grow (McKinsey Report 2010). To deal with the velocity, volume, and variety of these data, standards organizations and consortia have published frameworks to describe isolated stages of the product lifecycle, such as ISA-95 for manufacturing services. These efforts have been effective in addressing problems in some of those stages through activities such as automating manufacturing execution and managing material flow during production. Standards have been proposed to draw together multiple stages of the product lifecycle, such as MOSSEC. However, integration across the lifecycle requires much higher quality information representations in each stage, because people working in separate stages do not interact enough to compensate for missing and ambiguous information. Existing lifecycle integration frameworks do not fully address this challenge.

The EDT project will address interoperability problems across the product lifecycle by increasing the quality of the information representations involved (i.e., models) to ensure they can be reliably integrated. This project will increase the range of information that can be expressed in these models, transitioning from informal documents to computer-interpretable representations, as well raise their level of precision, to ensure they can be reliably interpreted by people using them, including people developing software to access and manipulate them. This will facilitate integration of models across the product lifecycle by capturing missing information and reducing ambiguity. 

This project will take advantage of the industry trend towards model-based enterprises (MBE) to disseminate results. MBE is an approach to managing the explosion of data within organizations, taking advantage of improvements in information technology (IT) to make more information accessible to people and computers at the same time.  Specific research thrusts to leverage MBE include:

  • Enhancing existing product data standards to improve the interoperability of engineering activities, such as design and inspection,
  • Facilitating interoperability of product and analysis models supported by computer-aided engineering platforms, and
  • Testing interoperability across standards deployed for manufacturing-based and location-based services.

MBE is fertile ground for this work because it encourages higher quality information representations to support a wider range of automated engineering assistance.

Project research will build on prior work in the Model-Based Enterprise’s related projects,  including leadership roles in several high-impact standards development organizations (SDOs).   Leveraging a product-centric perspective, the Extended Digital Thread (EDT) project will continue this leadership by developing, testing, and facilitating the adoption of standards and best practices that help manufacturers realize an accessible, robust, and agile digital thread.

Activities for developing standards and best practices will include:

  • Bridging gaps within and across current computable representations of (a) product and manufacturing information (PMI), (b) systems- and product-based analysis information, and (c) indoor spatial representations for manufacturing facilities (through location-based services).
  • Developing methods and protocols that identify and prevent redundancies and inconsistencies between (a) product definition standards defined by multiple working groups (b) systems/product definition and analysis tools, and (c) industrial augmented reality frameworks and toolkits.
  • Resolving interoperability problems in discipline-specific methods and tools used in manufacturing systems development, including those for (a) discrete event logistics/production simulation and optimization, (b) finite element analysis, and (c) spatial computing.

Activities for testing conformance and applicability of standards and best practices will include:

  • Developing methodologies and tools for checking product information against the corresponding standards, especially standards that share common elements (such as PMI). Expected deliverables include new releases of the STEP File Analyzer and Viewer and the QIF PMI Reporter based on user requirements, implementor forum input, and new features of the standards.
  • Developing methods and tools to check conformance of analysis tools against the corresponding standards developed for this purpose above.  This will expand conformance checking beyond product and systems information to analysis tools that operate on it.
  • Implementing interactive prototypes to test conformance to standard geospatial application programming interfaces, representations, and frameworks with smart manufacturing concepts, e.g., (a) OGC standard spatial representations coupled with MTConnect and (b) OGC SensorThings API with industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) best practices.

Activities for facilitating the adoption, implementation, and proper use of standards and best practices will include:

  • Research and standardization roadmap activities that identify and prioritize gaps in critical standards.  Specific application areas include (a) product definition harmonization, b) ambiguities in systems and product definition information, and (c) integration of product and manufacturing definitions with geospatial representations.
  • Developing innovative tools to facilitate (a) agile and model-based methods to document and deploy standards, (b) trustworthy tamper-resistant information exchange platforms for standard data representations, and (c) translation between three-dimensional (3D) model representations for deployment on various visualization modalities.
  • Supplying open test data and reference software implementations through archival channels, such as the NIST Journal of Research software articles and NIST GitHub library.
Created May 3, 2021