May 27, 2022
An opinion piece from the CPO and CTO of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.
The metaverse has become one of the hottest topics in technology – attracting interest from every sector, from gaming and broadcasting to high value design, engineering, and manufacturing.
According to the latest predictions, the global metaverse revenue opportunity could approach $800 billion in 2024. This is not surprising. With the metaverse representing the convergence of the physical and digital realms, and AI adding insight to raw data, many companies are already working on creating and leveraging these services to bring about digital transformation in their fields. Adobe recently announced partnerships with Coca Cola, NASCAR, Epic Games and NVIDIA on a range of metaverse-related projects, for example.
The manufacturing industry is no exception to this trend. It has pioneered one of the pillars of the metaverse: digital twins. Digital twins represent the convergence of digitalization technologies − such as AI, ML and IoT. With all these becoming closely entwined through the metaverse, we expect a rapid and exciting manifestation of advanced digital twin approaches that will enable that blend of the physical and virtual.
With the enhanced customer values and enablers brought about by new technologies and processes, digital transformation in manufacturing is growing. The market has been valued at $264 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $767.82 billion by 2026. Nine out of 10 manufacturers believe that data from connected machines and people will benefit decision-making and reduce costs.
Central to unlocking advancement is not just introducing better tools but also making sure teams can work with these new technologies to foster better understanding, collection, storage, and connecting of data.
Metaverse unlocks full potential
After all, the backbone technologies to digital transformation – IoT, AI and ML – have been at our fingertips for years, but I believe their full potential will only be achieved when we integrate them into the metaverse, as the projected market growth belies the uphill battle manufacturers have had in integrating these tools so far. Reported barriers include finding skilled labor, legacy IT resources and creating and wielding good (enough) data.
Digital twins are key to overcoming these challenges, and a core building block for the manufacturing metaverse. The digital twin market has been projected to grow to $86 billion by 2025, with manufacturing segments such as the automotive sector expected to register the fastest CAGR, spurred on by increasing developments in areas such as electric vehicles that demand new and faster ways of innovating.
Essentially, digital twins bring realism to the digital world, combining virtual manufacturing simulations with real-life learnings, helping for example to identify the best material and manufacturing process to optimize the cost and environmental impact of a product. Feeding systematically-collected data on a range of issues into a connected workflow – particularly one enhanced with AI insights – means learnings from production, defects or product use can be utilized to improve future parts, and help those learnings be accessible to lots of different types of teams and skillsets.
There is a revolution in the field, with engineers able to augment the physical world’s design and testing with the power of digital twin insights on a product’s ‘what if’ characteristics and behavior. Scaling this metaverse approach across teams will allow engineers with different specializations to explore together complex ‘what if’ scenarios, such as ‘If I change this car body from steel to carbon composites, how much lighter will it be, and will it still be crash-safe?’ or ‘If I change the shape of this jet engine blade, how much fuel can we save?’ While these may seem like simple input-output questions, they traditionally involved many different siloed roles, solutions and specialists, which a digital twin, embedded in the metaverse, will help bring together and answer.
Think of it as operating like a jet fighter’s dashboard, showing the pilot real-time data on the aircraft performance and alarms for when issues may arise or tolerances are being tested − or a Google Glass-type augmented reality giving predictive maintenance alerts on machines nearing their end-of-life. It will be able to inform quality issues in specific parts, and recommend the best process, most appropriate engineering department, and optimal material and robots to fix the issue.
Another example is the metaverse’s ability to become one of the supporting pillars of sustainable manufacturing and the journey to net zero. Most companies nowadays are under pressure to operate more sustainably, and manufacturing has more hurdles to overcome than most. Digital twins will allow design and testing to be carried out holistically, taking learnings from the physical product and optimizing future designs specifically for sustainability while minimizing the impact on other factors, such as profitability.
If manufacturing teams embrace and build a metaverse that works for them, they will achieve greater productivity working both alone and together because they can access more and better information easily and instinctively. To stay abreast of the latest digital developments and, more importantly, to make sure the outputs are the best they can be, manufacturers need to embrace the metaverse for all it can offer. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.