How the metaverse has changed manufacturing
This article was first published in SupplyChainBrain
Over the last few years, the metaverse has dominated the tech world, but the term itself has existed for decades. A virtual space where people can interact with one another, the metaverse is best known today for its use in multiplayer videogames, where people all over the world can gather online in real time.
In the industrial world, the metaverse has more practical applications. Companies will often use it for digital twins, virtual representations of existing business functions, such as a manufacturing line. Digital twins allow businesses to virtually assess how different scenarios might impact productivity, safety, external environments and any number of other factors, all without pausing production or putting workers’ safety at risk.
While for some companies the concept of digital twins may be new, others in the manufacturing space have been using them for years now, proving not just their effectiveness, but also their ability to drive innovation in an increasingly competitive economy. How, then, are early adopters using digital twins already and what does this mean for future applications?
Manufacturing in the Metaverse
One of the main uses for digital twins in manufacturing is to capture and analyze real-time data from plant operations and use that data to suggest improvements. This information can then be used to imagine new workflows and streamline a company’s processes. As the digital twin collects and analyzes data from the real world, it gets smarter, eventually creating its own metaverse to test new ways of doing business in a minimal-risk environment. As a result, companies maintain productivity while fostering innovation across the organization.
The metaverse is also a valuable training platform for workers in highly skilled industries. The virtual environment gives trainees, as well as experienced operators, a more realistic way to practice their skills, without the risk of potentially fatal or costly mistakes. This is especially useful for employees operating heavy machinery, which, if operated incorrectly, could put workers in serious danger.
Several companies in the automotive space have started using the metaverse to optimize factory operations. At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Hyundai Motor Company and Unity, a platform for creating real-time 3D content, announced a joint plan to design a Meta-Factory. The concept features a digital twin of a physical factory, supported by a metaverse platform, with the goal of improving operations and troubleshooting problems in a virtual space.
What to Know Before Stepping Into the Metaverse
While the metaverse presents formerly unimaginable opportunities for manufacturers to grow and innovate, there are a number of considerations to make before jumping in. Here are the top questions to ask before getting started:
- What does success look like for your organization? Not every business or situation will benefit from metaverse implementation. Manufacturing leaders need to approach this technology from a business perspective. Do you have enough people and a large enough operation to justify the investment? If so, which key performance indicators (KPIs) will you use to track the benefits and results?
- What’s your time to value? How much of an increase in productivity will you need to see to justify the investment, and how long do you expect that to take? Data capture and analysis are part of a long-term strategy, meaning there may not be immediate gains. Can your operation afford to make a significant initial investment knowing that the benefits won’t be seen for some time?
- How will you approach training? Think about how often your organization will be leading metaverse trainings, what kind of training will be required and by how many people. Make sure to weigh the costs of hiring skilled trainers against the benefits of using metaverse technology. Think about which training programs make the most sense to start with and which may require real-world, or hands-on support in addition to or instead of virtual programs.
Companies that have been using the metaverse for years now have paved the way for wider adoption across industries. Digital twins are a proven tool, and the resulting metaverses created by this technology have already reaped benefits for several sectors, including manufacturing. Companies new to the metaverse need to determine how they can best apply the technology to maximize returns on their investments and to ensure quick adoption by industry partners. While the metaverse may just now be changing how some companies manufacture their products, for early-adopters, it’s just business as usual.
CV Ramachandran is a digital transformation and operations improvement expert at PA Consulting