Manufacturing in the Metaverse

The emerging metaverse continuum will transform how people interact with each other and with business data. Find out how this might impact industrial and manufacturing operations.

Brian May Hi Res Photo

The metaverse is the likely future of the internet. And as it takes shape, today’s disparate collections of websites, applications, and internet-enabled services will be transformed into a series of persistent shared virtual 3D environments that exist in tandem with the physical world. This resulting spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities, and business models is what we define as the metaverse continuum.

Eventually, people will be able to enter, explore, interact with, and exit these environments as quickly and easily as they access the internet via their smartphones today. And these experiences will be supported by emerging Web3 data technologies such as distributed ledgers, cryptocurrencies, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The promise of the industrial metaverse
What are the practical implications for industrial companies? Consider some of the potential benefits. By extending digital twins of industrial and manufacturing systems into metaverse-like spaces, companies could acquire an accurate 3D virtual representation of every plant or facility they operate.

Imagine if each of those virtual plants was able to show a full range of business and operational data in real time. It would open up new ways to view, explore, and access core operational information and insights—at every level from enterprise-wide down to individual machines and components.

On one hand, leaders would have a new way to view their businesses holistically, bringing together data from a range of disparate sources to visualize how the organization is functioning in real time. On the other hand, shop floor engineers could use these virtual spaces to monitor performance, spot issues, and even fix problems at a very granular level, as if they were really there.

Rewriting remote collaboration
This would have obvious advantages for difficult to reach locations like oil rigs, mines, and remote facilities. A single engineer could work remotely from the office (or even from home) to advise field technicians in many such locations—or even perform certain tasks themselves.

But the benefits potentially extend across the full range of industrial operations. Collaboration in areas like industrial design could be transformed. Designers could meet in virtual spaces to discuss ideas while exploring an accurate 3D representation of their design. Suppliers could also be brought into these spaces to advise on the integration of their components.

And what about the impact on industries like construction? Imagine, for example, a construction supervisor working on site, who is able to join a virtual meeting with the local planning inspector. With everything they need to hand in the virtual space—architectural drawings, planning documentation, real-time site video feeds via drones, and so on—the whole meeting could be completed in a matter of minutes.

When entire extended value chains can meet in the metaverse like this, productivity could skyrocket. It’s one reason that 71% of global executives think the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations according to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022.

The metaverse today
Early forms of metaverse-like spaces are already emerging. BMW, for example, is building realtime digital twins of 31 different factories. The environment can be used for everything from training robots to experimenting with new line layouts, to running simulations virtually.

But it’s the blend of the virtual and the physical that will ultimately be the key capability for the industrial metaverse. Reflecting this, BMW’s digital twins are also connected to each factory in the physical world. That means employees can push software updates, assign tasks to robots on the floor, and even teleoperate certain machines to complete individual tasks.

Get ready for the future of the internet
Given that the metaverse is still in its infancy, what should industrial companies be doing today? A key priority is to invest in the technology foundations that will enhance their ability to adapt to future change as this new landscape evolves.

That includes expanding the use of cloud technologies— which is now a must for every industrial business. Similarly, continuing to invest in digital twins is vital, as these will be a central component of the industrial metaverse.

Companies should also keep abreast of advances in areas like virtual reality, augmented reality, distributed ledgers, and virtual marketplaces. These are the technologies that will open up new experiences and new value as the metaverse takes shape.

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