Businesses need innovative solutions to develop and maintain competitive advantages in the face of increasingly complex market conditions and growing sustainability pressures. Supply chain interruptions, labour shortages and inflationary pressures are affecting every level of the value chain. At the same time, regulators and consumers alike are demanding that businesses take concrete action towards net-zero targets.
The industrial metaverse is emerging as a disruption-ready technology for businesses to navigate these challenges and create resilient, agile operations that proactively drive innovation at every level.
In a recent Microsoft and AVEVA qualitative poll of industrial business leaders, nine per cent of respondents said they are already using the technology for day-to-day operations. However, 41 per cent expect to deploy the technology within the next two years, with the number doubling over a five-year period.
What is the industrial metaverse? At AVEVA, we define this ground-breaking technology as an interconnected, immersive and persistent virtual universe where teams can interact with each other and digital objects in real time. It is a collective virtual environment that blurs the line between the physical and digital realms in an increasingly interconnected world.
Often referred to as the “digital twin on steroids”, the industrial metaverse adds photorealistic visualisation, time-travel capabilities and a rich collaborative layer to existing technology. It is already possible to digitally recreate every conceivable physical entity. Now, these digital representations will be able to interact virtually in 3D, across geographies and back and forth in time (thanks to recording functionalities). We expect them to be device-agnostic in the same way that Microsoft Teams can be accessed on different equipment today.
Industrial metaverse applications bring the power of virtual environments and augmented reality to real-world industrial processes. These applications broaden an asset’s operability beyond the limitations of its physical environment. In the process, they will help optimise efficiency, enable remote collaboration, facilitate data visualisation, enhance training and support better decision-making at every level.
Microsoft values the addressable market of the industrial metaverse at $300 billion over the next few years. However, that does not include the consumer and enterprise metaverses, as Microsoft’s chief technology officer Jose Valls revealed during a recent webinar.
Policymakers already understand and are acting on the importance of immersive digital transformation. In tandem with this, industrial metaverse technologies are attracting growing volumes of investment.
The industrial metaverse presents a diverse set of use cases. It could be used to transform the engineering and design of large industrial projects. For instance, its immersive multiplayer simulations and rehearsal capabilities will enable engineers to practice complex scenarios virtually.
In addition, the industrial metaverse could help organisations to make supply chains more closely integrated as silos are opened up. Face-to-face interactions among multiple players, albeit virtual, will foster collaboration, communication and innovative problem-solving in material management and sourcing.
Industries can also use the metaverse to improve and optimise operations by integrating IT, operational technology, and enterprise data and analysis, resulting in increased value. Leveraging real-time data streams from sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and manufacturing execution systems provides valuable insights for predictive maintenance, process optimisation and informed decision-making.
Furthermore, the industrial metaverse enables accessible virtual training, remote collaboration and knowledge-sharing among geographically dispersed teams, as well as real-time upskilling and reskilling in a 3D environment.
Similarly, enterprises will be able to use the industrial metaverse to enhance safety and reduce risks by simulating complex scenarios, rehearsing operations virtually environment, and devising effective mitigation strategies.
The industrial metaverse is being built on proven, widely deployed technologies. Its applications will be easiest to leverage for those companies that already have a significant digital investment. Technologies including extended reality and the digital twin can support functions such as maintenance and repair, industrial design and prototyping, manufacturing quality control and optimisation, and workforce collaboration and training.
The Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources in the US state of Georgia saves water, money and energy with a suite of AVEVA solutions that works as a central nervous system for the enterprise. These include AVEVA Unified Operations Center and AVEVA Insight, both powered by the Microsoft cloud. The organisation now has a unified view from half a million data points from multiple sites, including production plants, distribution networks, and collection points which means it can better forecast demand peaks and maintenance needs, while clean water delivery has increased 20 per cent, and redundancy and reliability has improved. Just a single intervention saved $35,000 per year.
Coffee retailer Starbucks uses an integrated human-machine interface and SCADA platform to view production and inventory data from the shopfloor to the top floor, improving industrial process control and enhancing operational efficiency. With mobile access to data, operators can make real-time actionable decisions.
Such organisations will be among the first to benefit from this transformative technology by way of innovative breakthroughs, new revenue streams and sustainability dividends. For them, the industrial metaverse will serve a natural layer that enhances organisations’ existing infrastructure and futureproofs their businesses.
We showcased the potential of the industrial metaverse at AVEVA World in San Francisco, California, in 2022. Delegates saw how easy it is to create and deploy an industrial metaverse, how the technology speeds up engineering and design reviews, and how it can improve on-site optimisation and streamline operational issues. At the 2023 event, which will be held on 23-26 October in San Francisco, we’ll take a closer look at these technologies and the role of digital innovation in driving sustainability and growth.
Register for AVEVA World 2023 to take a closer look at the industrial metaverse on the event website
Simon Bennett is head of research and innovation at AVEVA
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription