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Amidst a global inflection point for business and society, the metaverse is beginning to scale. Seven in 10 executives said it would positively impact their organization; four in 10 consider it a breakthrough, as recently shown in an Accenture survey.
Industrial and product companies are among those placing big bets, and they have started to pay off. Take Siemens Energy, which reported that, through technological applications for maintenance and inspection, the metaverse reduced downtime by 70% and saved its steam turbine business $1.7 billion.
A natural extension of digital twins
What attracts companies to the metaverse? It’s the immersive environment it provides, where multiple users can interact, and easily accessible information can be layered in for objects, avatars and actions.
The big opportunity for industrial and product companies lies in coupling the collaborative, immersive, visual and intuitive dimensions of the metaverse with digital twins fed by integrated data pools across departments, systems, operations 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 could be run through a plethora of eventualities, with each projected effect informing other scenarios.
In part, this opportunity is still nascent. But we found that increasingly, virtual data-based replicas of objects, facilities and processes play a role in four compelling metaverse use cases for industrial and product companies:
1: Creative collaboration and product development
In what is now being called the industrial metaverse, workers across departments can connect in an immersive environment that allows more efficient design, engineering, testing and validation. Employees can connect from anywhere to see interactive design simulations and operational scenarios.
For example, in Boeing’s factory of the future, immersive 3-D engineering designs will be twinned with robots that speak to each other, while mechanics around the world will be linked by HoloLens headsets.
Engineers can also prototype and test products virtually, which is cost-effective and more efficient than testing actual products in real-life scenarios. In the metaverse, prototypes can be set up quickly as digital simulations with engines like Unity. The result: More options for customers and a shorter creation process.
What is more, the metaverse gives engineers the opportunity to ’beam’ important stakeholders right into a simulated work environment. This is of particular value in complex and large-scale development projects, like ITER. More than 30 countries collaborated on building a large-scale electricity generation facility based on nuclear fusion.
Using NVIDIA Omniverse, Unreal Engine for Oculus, Bentley iTwin, and Azure Remote Rendering for HoloLens2, ITER virtually teleported people into the digital twin of the facility to experience it for the first time.
2. Maintenance and remote repairs
General Electric (GE), for its part, created a digital twin of its gas turbines using the metaverse to continuously optimize the temperature and send automatic adjustments to the controls. These gas turbines require seasonal adjustment, often a manual process performed by an expert after an outage that may take multiple days.
Not only does the metaverse decrease time and manual labor, but it enhances performance by monitoring temperatures and adjusting gas fuel properties — a win-win for operations and decarbonization.
Metaverse solutions for field service workers and technicians don’t necessarily require additional hardware such as AR glasses or VR headsets. In fact, companies are exploring the use of AR with smartphones and tablets.
Shell applies extended reality in its industrial operations to bring off-site expertise closer. Using the company’s Augmented Reality Remote Assist, workers in the field can easily connect with remote experts worldwide for assistance. These experts can essentially see through field workers’ eyes to get a closer look at problems and coach the workers through solutions.
3. Optimizing production operations
By creating a detailed, virtual visualization of a shop floor’s manufacturing process to identify potential issues, dangers and bottlenecks, companies can apply the metaverse to improving operations performance and optimizing maintenance.
Pfizer, for instance, is creating a $450 million sterile injectables factory with a “virtual factory” component that will help optimize the value chain as well as provide more efficient training to employees. Through the virtual factory floor, Pfizer will be able to monitor its entire supply chain process and optimize it. And the digital twin technology will allow factory workers to do their job without ever stepping into the factory.
Meanwhile, Drone Deploy offers a 3D walkthrough system, which combines drone and ground images to create an accurate picture of a site, with accuracy down to one inch. While leaders look at businesses holistically, shop engineers can use these virtual replicas to monitor performance, spot issues and fix problems on the floor. And with the ability to call in help from off-site experts, they can do so much more efficiently.
4. Workforce training
According to Accenture research, 90% of senior executives believe that employee training methods need to be more effective, going as far as to engage all human senses. The metaverse can close this gap by advancing employee learning and development opportunities, providing increased value and competitive advantage.
From field workers to miners and mechanics, employees can jump into immersive virtual training experiences. At the same time, the organization lowers the risk of injury and damage to any equipment used in training, offering more profound experiences than didactic training materials and tools while reducing costs.
BASF Chemical, for instance, uses simulation software in which trainees can click on any piece of equipment in any workflow to get insight into how each piece fits into the process. This has made training faster, more interactive and self-directed. Since its implementation, BASF has reported a marked significant increase in worker competency and productivity.
When it comes to training, the metaverse is challenging the status quo, particularly with the most important part — retention. Research shows that employees forget 70% of traditional training content within 24 hours and nearly 90% in a month.
Extended reality uses technology to create a fully simulated environment where learners can interact with the experience hands-on. As trainees can experience an exact simulation of a situation in the virtual world, they can make mistakes without fear of harmful consequences, thus lowering the risk of failing fast and opening new windows to innovative, future-forward learning.
The first step towards harnessing the metaverse opportunity
Already, the metaverse is democratizing how engineers, designers and customers interact and change processes and operations for the better. To unlock the opportunity offered by the natural extension of digital twins into the metaverse, product and industrial companies must get their data backbones in order and build insights from the fusion of operational technology and IT data into their digital twins. This will allow them to simulate different scenarios for engineering design, operational environments and sustainability implications.
Sef Tuma is global engineering and manufacturing lead at Accenture Industry X.
Marc Althoff is CTO and innovation lead at Accenture Industry X.
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