Remember Your Digital Twins When You Enter the Metaverse
The Metaverse is the next chapter of digitalization and offers enormous possibilities.
But what is the Metaverse? As of today, there is no universal definition.
Siemens Technology provides this perspective: "The Industrial Metaverse (IM) is a space to experience Digital Twins, enabling faster, more efficient and less resource intensive problem solving. Real-time data and predictive information made available to people collaborating in a virtual, immersive environment, facilitates smart and even autonomous decision-making across the entire product lifecycle."
A second view presented by Gartner is that the Metaverse is “A collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. A Metaverse is persistent, providing enhanced immersive experiences.”
Meanwhile, the author of an IOT World article stated: "The Industrial Metaverse is an ecosystem for industrial innovation, integrating new technologies with the real economy. In this way, the digital world is free of physical space constraints, forming a highly dynamic digital world with abundant resources. The Industrial Internet infrastructure is the core of the Industrial Metaverse, but not its only part. Despite its similarities to the Internet, it’s crucial to understand how this new ecosystem can transform the industrial world.”
Adding to the complexity about defining the Metaverse, ABI Research notes three Metaverse “worlds”:
- Consumer Metaverse: Providing digital services and media (gaming, social media)
- Enterprise Metaverse: Using benefits of increased collaboration and immersion in the context of enterprise application (education)
- Industrial Metaverse (IM): Providing benefits to industries core processes, specifically tapping improvement potentials with Digital Twins and simulations (manufacturing).
Today, many associate the Metaverse with the world of games, online retail, and social media. But one could argue that the most significant and biggest potential of the Metaverse lies with industries that make up the backbones of our economies – manufacturing, buildings, grid and infrastructure operators, or the transportation sector.
In fact, according to Michael Inouye, principal analyst at ABI Research, the Industrial Metaverse will grow faster than both the Consumer and Enterprise Metaverses.
- The IM is ahead on 3D simulations and Digital Twins.
- The IM is ahead on standards like Nvidia’s Omniverse platform.
- The consumer space is fragmented, with multiple companies claiming to have established “Metaverses,” most of which are not interconnected or interoperable. Digital assets are typically locked to a particular ecosystem, servicer or game.
- The IM are also better grounded in ROI, meaning more trials and initial deployments have a higher potential to succeed or lead to more adoption compared to consumer efforts.
Whether you see the Metaverse as a consumer, enterprise, or industrial game-changer, the truth is that the market is growing. According to Statista, “the Metaverse market will be worth $678.8 billion by 2030.”
Digital Twins: The origin of the Industrial Metaverse
The Industrial Metaverse is the next evolution of Digital Twins. Digital Twins are representations of real-world processes and assets in the digital world. The IM differentiates itself from a pure Digital Twin by fulfilling three essential key characteristics (2):
- Immersion: Being “pulled into” a persistent environment by (photorealistic) 3D visualization on screen and/or virtual/augmented reality (XR) devices
- Interaction: Receiving instant feedback from real-world assets and their Digital Twins, as well as between different types of Digital Twins and simulations
- Collaboration: Working simultaneously on the “single source of truth” with multiple contributors, disciplines, and stakeholders.
Once the Digital Twin is established, there are several other technologies that need to be explored and integrated into a company’s digital toolbox and leveraged for IM. These tools and technologies driving the IM include:
- IIOT: Sensors, controllers, and other devices that collect data and allow for remote monitoring and control of industrial processes and assets, as well as high-speed, low-latency networks will be crucial for seamless communication between the virtual and physical systems.
- AI: AI technologies, such as machine learning and natural language processing, can automate and optimize industrial processes and decision-making.
- Augmented and virtual reality: AR and VR tools provide an immersive experience of industrial processes, allowing users to interact with and visualize data in 3D.
- Cloud computing/Edge Computing: The challenge is to find the optimal mix of cloud and edge computing. Cloud computing provides a way to store, process, and analyze large amounts of data, making it easier to manage and access information from different locations. While edge computing supports the IM by enabling much leaner, lighter headgear by offloading a large part of the computer from the device to an edge infrastructure—while also providing superior speed and low latency capabilities. Without edge computing, there will simply be no Metaverse.
- Cybersecurity/Blockchain: Cybersecurity tools secure and protect the IM. Blockchain technology secures and manages data in the IM ensuring that it is tamper-proof and easily accessible to authorized parties.
- 3D modelling/Scanning: Realistic, eventually photorealistic replicas of the real-world support management, operational leaders, and project teams in decision making as they can intuitively feel the change in an environment before it happens in real life. Improvements in scanning technology are needed to quickly generate a realistic 3D model of an environment on the move. This is important to achieve the “Immersive” element of IM.
Five steps to embracing your Industrial Metaverse
While the IM may not be a reality just yet, waiting for it to arrive before starting to embrace it could be a costly mistake for organizations. The evolution of the Digital Twin has already begun, and the next logical step is to build an immersive and collaborative digital world that interacts with the physical world through the IM. Solution architecture is a crucial element of this transformation and data management is the backbone of it all.
Here is a five-step roadmap to embrace the IM:
- Assess current digital capabilities: Evaluate data infrastructure, analytics capabilities, and scalability of digital solutions to identify gaps.
- Develop a strategy for the IM: Identify the use cases that the IM will enable, defining the scope of the initiative, and setting goals and objectives – most importantly understand which IM use cases are relevant to the business and bring a value add – no digitalization for digitalization's sake.
- Upskill the workforce: Generate the necessary expertise to operate in the IM including investing in training programs to develop skills in advanced analytics, AI, and Digital Twin technologies. Ensure that you have the right talent to drive the initiative forward.
- Build partnerships with key technology vendors: Partnerships with key technology vendors and service providers ensure access to the latest tools and expertise required to operate in the IM.
- Invest in technology and infrastructure: Upgrading data infrastructure, adopting new technologies such as 5G and edge computing, and investing in advanced analytics and AI capabilities are essential.
Companies benefitting from the Industrial Metaverse
The industrial metaverse will be an interface between the real and digital worlds and will transform how we work, live, and interact. Let’s look at three early adopters of the IM and what could be on the horizon as they continue the digitalization journey.
Coca-Cola HBC, a partner of the beverage giant, used the IM to enhance the sustainability and resilience of its supply chain. By working with Microsoft, Coca-Cola HBC created an immersive digital replica of its bottling facility in Edelstal, Austria, ultimately minimizing waste and increasing sustainability while boosting operational efficiency. To reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation, Coca-Cola HBC implemented automated yard management and vision picking which improved resources and availability checks, as well as guiding trucks into loading docks, and minimizing errors. Ultimately, Coca-Cola HBC aims to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040.
In this example of supply chains enhanced by the IM, Coca-Cola HBC achieved greater operational efficiency, sustainability, and profitability while meeting the evolving demands and expectations of its clients and stakeholders. According to our research, Coca-Cola HBC could expand its IM capabilities in three ways:
- Establishing an integrated set of Digital Twins for real-time, collaborative communication among suppliers, distributors, and retailers to analyze sales projections, production schedules, and potential supplier restrictions to optimize supply chain management. Additionally, they could monitor inventory, capacity, and shipment information on a 3D supply chain network map (immersive) to identify potential shipping delays and model workarounds to ensure efficient delivery.
- Introducing a smart packaging system that enables real-time tracking of a can‘s or bottle's position and inventory status (interactive). By using edge computing and data analytics, Coca-Cola HBC could optimize replenishment and routing decisions, shape demand by dynamically altering prices based on customer preferences, and improve overall profitability by reducing waste and maximizing resources.
- Leveraging AI-generated synthetic data to create more precise and responsive forecasting models to balance supply and demand. The use of synthetic data allows for adaptation to unforeseen occurrences like pandemics, natural disasters, and geopolitical shifts. By selecting the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation and routes, Coca-Cola HBC may improve production scheduling, transportation costs, and decrease carbon impact.
As a second example, General Motors (GM) has been using Process Simulate from Siemens to create an ergonomically efficient production line in a short period of time. GM must update its production line on a regular basis to accommodate for design changes of existing vehicles and production of new cars. For efficiency, engineers work remotely with a virtual reality device to immerse themselves in the designs. It helps understand manual assembly, hand clearances, operator movements, and operator’s line of sight. With this information, engineers can identify a problem at an early stage and solve it before the issue occurs in real life.
The team at GM is leveraging the motion capture possibility with Process Simulate where a line design engineer wears a suit and performs the activity that an operator will do in real life. The captured motions help the engineer understand what the awkward positions are and for how long an operator needs to be in that position. Engineers can ergonomically optimize the production line and reduce work related health problems.
Can GM advance in other areas with IM? According to our research, yes there are additional improvements to consider.
- All the motions captured will be combined with biomechanics (study of how the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together and have an impact on the fatigue of the operator). Future software will simulate the biomechanics of a specific operator performing tasks over a long period of time. Based on the simulation health issues can be identified accurately and solutions like customized Exosuits or tailored Personal Protective Equipment can be created for the operator.
- All these 3D models of operators can be converted into a Digital Twin and used to simulate realistic factories. GM has a large production workforce and a high number of robots in the line, making it important to check that operator movements would not be hindered by the robots. GM can make sure that operators and robots work in perfect synergy before commissioning the production line.
- Simulate and track the operator tasks in real-time. By tracking biomechanics live, precautionary measures can be taken before any work-related disease or accidents occur. The IM will help companies secure the health and happiness of their most important resource: HUMANS.
A third example of using the IM is at automotive OEMs. This industry has been using virtual reality and other digital technologies to optimize manufacturing and improve designs for some time. But now, these companies are faced with taking transformation to another level. Here is where the Digital Twin of Planning comes into play because it can simulate an entire production line accurately. Ultimately, it will help virtually plan entire factories before a single brick has been laid.
One OEM set its sights on creating an environment where the Digital Twin of Planning is neither based on trial and error nor on manual calculation or human experience but rather based on real life, real time, and accurate measurements from the factory shopfloor. The data from virtual simulations and the real production data run in parallel with all nonconformities being captured and assessed.
To support this, an IM architecture was developed ensuring that all authoring tools (as data sources) were connected to layers that allow for joint and connected simulation and visualization. The heart of these connections is a data layer and the management thereof in between authoring tools, simulation and visualization layers.
With the capability of simulating entire productions prior to any real undertakings, the OEM reduces the risk of new technology introductions, has stricter adherence to ramp-up curves, earlier concept validations, and overall, a more stable production process and better understanding of the behavioral model of a full factory. The Digital Twin of Planning and IM architecture also support lower levels of energy consumption, thus supporting sustainability, and to drive a more flexible, modular production where it becomes feasible to automatically, at the click of a button, select the optimal plant to produce a certain part or model.
Our research shows that this automotive OEM can further grow and create the Digital Twin of Operations which has the potential to improve simulations, including predictive maintenance and real-life digital control functionalities.
Don´t delay on the future of digitalization
While the Industrial Metaverse in its fully evolved state is still some way off, the time to start preparing is now. By embracing the evolution of the Digital Twin and taking proactive steps to prepare for the IM, organizations can position themselves to succeed in a future that will undoubtedly be shaped by these emerging technologies.
The IM is set to enhance the way companies operate. Improvements targeting the design and planning processes will drastically shorten product life cycle times, accelerate and simplify new product introductions, and increase productivity in planning processes. Not only will the Industrial Metaverse disrupt the planning of future business processes and production environments, but it will also optimize existing ones by reducing process times, improving product quality, freeing up cash by reducing inventory and completely changing the way we train and empower employees.
Those who don’t prepare for these changes, risk being left behind in the VUCA world.