In a global turning point for business and society, the metaverse is starting to scale. Seven out of ten executives said it would positively impact their organization; four in 10 see this as a breakthrough, according to a recent Accenture survey.
Industrial and manufacturing companies are among those that are setting up large plants and have started to pay off. Take, for example, Siemens Energy, which reported that through technology applications for maintenance and inspection, Metaverse reduced downtime by 70% and saved $1.7 billion on its steam turbine business.
A natural extension of digital twins
What attracts companies to the Metaverse? It is an immersive environment that provides multiple users to interact with and easily accessible information can be layered for objects, avatars and actions.
The great opportunity for industrial and product companies lies in combining the collaborative, immersive, visual and intuitive dimensions of the metaverse with digital twins powered by integrated data pools across departments, systems, operational technology and IT.
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This could create a virtual, fully immersive and intuitive simulation of the entire enterprise. Every aspect of it can be run through a multitude of eventualities, and each predicted effect affects other scenarios.
In part, this opportunity is still being born. However, we have found that increasingly data-driven virtual replicas of objects, objects and processes play a role in four compelling Metaverse use cases for industrial and product companies:
1: Creative cooperation and product development
In the so-called industrial metaverse, employees from different departments can come together in an immersive environment that enables more efficient design, engineering, testing and validation. Workers can connect from anywhere to view interactive design simulations and operational scenarios.
For example, at Boeing’s future factory, immersive 3D engineering designs will be connected to robots that talk to each other, while mechanics around the world will be connected via HoloLens headsets.
Engineers can also virtually prototype and test products, which is cost effective and more efficient than testing real products in real scenarios. In the metaverse, prototypes can be quickly set up as digital simulations with engines like Unity. The result: more options for customers and a shorter development process.
Moreover, the Metaverse gives engineers the ability to “broadcast” important stakeholders directly into the simulated work environment. This is of particular importance for complex and large-scale development projects such as ITER. More than 30 countries have collaborated to build a large-scale fusion electricity generation facility.
Using NVIDIA Omniverse, Unreal Engine for Oculus, Bentley iTwin and Azure Remote Rendering for HoloLens2, ITER virtually teleported people to the facility’s digital twin to experience it for the first time.
2. Remote maintenance and repair
In turn, General Electric (GE) has created a digital twin of its gas turbines, using the metaverse to continuously optimize the temperature and send automatic corrections to the controls. These gas turbines require seasonal adjustment, often a manual process by an expert after a standstill that can take days.
Metaverse not only reduces time and manual labour, but also improves efficiency by monitoring temperatures and adjusting fuel gas properties – beneficial to operations and decarbonisation.
Metaverse solutions for field workers and technicians do not necessarily require additional hardware, such as AR glasses or VR headsets. In fact, companies are exploring the use of AR on smartphones and tablets.
Shell uses augmented reality in its industrial operations to bring expertise beyond the plant. Using the company’s Augmented Reality Remote Assist feature, field workers can easily connect with remote experts around the world for assistance. These experts can basically see through the eyes of field workers to take a closer look at problems and train workers on solutions.
3. Optimization of production operations
By creating a detailed, virtual visualization of the manufacturing process on the shop floor to identify potential issues, hazards and bottlenecks, companies can use the Metaverse to improve operational efficiency and optimize maintenance.
For example, Pfizer is building a $450 million sterile injectable factory with a “virtual factory” component that will help optimize the value chain as well as provide more efficient employee training. Thanks to the virtual factory floor, Pfizer will be able to monitor and optimize the entire supply chain process. And digital twin technology will allow factory workers to do their jobs without having to walk into the factory.
Meanwhile, Drone Deploy offers a 3D walk-through system that combines drone and ground-based imagery to create an accurate image of the terrain down to one inch. While leaders look at their businesses holistically, shop engineers can use these virtual replicas to monitor performance, detect issues, and troubleshoot on the shop floor. And thanks to the ability to call in external experts, they can work much more efficiently.
4. Employee training
According to Accenture research, 90% of senior management believe that employee training methods need to be more effective, even involving all human senses. Metaverse can fill this gap by increasing employee learning and development opportunities, providing greater value and a competitive advantage.
From field workers to miners and mechanics, workers can jump into immersive virtual training. At the same time, the organization lowers the risk of injuries and damage to equipment used during training, offering a deeper experience than teaching materials and tools while reducing costs.
For example, BASF Chemical uses simulation software where trainees can click on any piece of equipment in any workflow to gain insight into how each piece fits into the process. This makes training faster, more interactive and self-contained. Since the implementation, BASF has seen a significant increase in employee competence and productivity.
When it comes to training, the Metaverse challenges the status quo, especially on the most important part – retention. Studies show that employees forget 70% of traditional training content within 24 hours and almost 90% within a month.
Augmented reality uses technology to create a fully simulated environment where students can interact with the experience. As trainees can experience an accurate simulation of a situation in the virtual world, they can make mistakes without fear of harmful consequences, thus reducing the risk of rapid failure and opening new windows to innovative, future-proof learning.
The Metaverse is already democratizing how engineers, designers, and customers interact and changing processes and operations for the better. To unlock the opportunities offered by the natural extension of digital twins to the Metaverse, product and industry companies need to structure their data backbones and build insight into the fusion of operational technology and IT data in their digital twins. This will enable them to simulate different engineering design, operating environments and sustainability impact scenarios.
Sef Tuma is a global engineering and manufacturing leader for Accenture Industry X.
Marc Althoff is CTO and innovation leader for Accenture Industry X.
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