Making Sense of Digital Threads with VP of Product Greg Heartman

Marc Simony
June 7, 2022

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This is the third in the ongoing series of blog posts detailing the work TraceGains does, what we’re thinking, and – more importantly – what you can expect from us moving forward. This week, we chat with TraceGains Vice President of Product Greg Heartman.

TraceGains: What’s a digital thread? Or a digital twin?

Greg Heartman: A digital thread, in our case, would be the flow of information for a component you’re using in your manufacturing process to produce a finished good. Meaning: the digital thread is all the necessary pieces of information I – as a manufacturer – need to bring in and then supplement (and/or augment) so that the digital thread flows and grows as the component moves and touches the workflow processes.Greg_200x200

The critical component is that the digital thread is a single, connected strand back to all the various data sources. So, when something changes, whether it be a supplier’s specification, an allergen profile, or a nutrition profile, that can automatically flow back and be tracked forward to all the things touching that thread and all the things used in it.

It allows for a high degree of visibility, and it allows for automation. As a result, you’re no longe doing any dual-key entry, which has the prospect of human error, and you no longer have a lack of understanding of what has changed and what is affected downstream from that change. In addition, having the digital thread throughout your processes allows customers to set up their notifications for what is essential in any step of the process.

TG: What about the “twin?”

GH: TraceGains provides a lot of value about the component ingredients you’re using in the manufacturing processes to produce a finished good. What happens in that transformation, as you bring in the digital information for an ingredient—allergens, nutrition profile, suitability, certifications—you need to have all that information for each physical ingredient to understand what the finished good needs to become, and what digital data needs to follow that.

Unlike a digital twin for an airplane – where what matters is the safety and complexity of all the parts as they come together – in the food industry, it’s less about a digital representation of the physical object and more about the manifestation of the qualities in addition to the physical box.

It’s about the qualities of what’s inside the box that you’ll ingest. Are you going to cause food allergies? Are you going to poison people? You can have a digital representation of the box, what that allergen warning says, and what your facts panel needs to say as it sits on the shelf. Then a consumer picks it up, looks at the back, and reads “this many calories, that much sugar,” and here’s the ingredients statement to let consumers know what’s in your product.

That’s how I see the digital thread of these component ingredients being transformed into a digital twin that gives you product qualities. Not only can this be used for compliance — for example, when you’re audited: “Here’s how we’ve tracked and kept track of this finished good back to our suppliers, its components, countries of origin, and the country of manufacture, along with ingredient statements an all the necessary certifications”— but then also being able to go one step downstream to supply all that information to your distributors, retailers, and ultimately, the consumers themselves.

And as more food commerce is beginning to take place digitally, ecommerce, having a digital twin of that product, lets it also easily sit on the digital shelf where the consumer can click on it and see the imagery, read the product description, and the ingredient statement, all powered by the metadata of the digital twin. That significantly enhances the consumer’s experience as they search for products online or via search engines because brands can index all those data points.

So, in the food and dietary supplements industries, I see the digital twin powering the ecommerce experience while offering compliance to the physical experience.