Innovation at the forefront of the manufacturing Metaverse

2nd January 2023
Sheryl Miles

The Metaverse has manoeuvred from an entertainment novelty into an opportunity for innovative technological solutions in almost every industry. Gartner predicts that over 40% of large organisations worldwide will implement Metaverse-based solutions including Web3, AR, Cloud, and digital twins by 2027, with the aim of increasing revenue.

This article originally appeared in the Dec'22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

The manufacturing industry is particularly well-positioned to reap the benefits of the Metaverse ahead of other significant and technologically-advanced sectors of our economy, with many use cases already defined. The convergence of the physical and digital realms in manufacturing can already be seen in the increasing use of digital twins, which combine virtual simulations with real-life learnings from the product’s manufacture and operation, helping engineers to optimise and improve their designs, with the Metaverse being viewed as a much-lauded evolution of this.

The need comes from certain challenges that tend to hit the manufacturing industry particularly hard, such as supply chain disruptions, labour shortages and surging energy prices. These will drive this sector to double down on ‘smart’ technologies that capitalise on the potential of augmented, mixed, and virtual reality to streamline product design, predict defects before they occur, facilitate collaborative work, and enable continuous design iterations.

A major proof point for this is in Hexagon’s accelerator-like platform Sixth Sense putting the Metaverse centre stage for its latest cohort. Of the eight start-ups involved this year, many already see the Metaverse as the key to unlocking their technology’s future potential and have been handpicked for their ability to apply this innovation in very different areas.

Sixth Sense start-up, Threedy, a Germany-based digital transformation start-up, for example, use its instant3Dhub technology to translate existing 3D data entities into highly interactive experiences while minimising device and infrastructure costs. Many manufacturers’ current challenge is 3D data is stuck in the engineering process, but digitalisation means this competence can be harnessed throughout the entire value chain.

Threedy’s Stefan Domdey said: “The Metaverse will be an evolutionary step for the manufacturing industry, having already pioneered innovations such as digital twins. Hyper-connectivity is key to enable scalable solutions and solutions along the value chain. Establishing an output sensitive technology rather than an input sensitive technology is at the forefront of the Metaverse idea.”

The Metaverse is even set to help in slightly more unexpected realms, such as staff training and workforce management. Functions to be expected in the coming years from a fully integrated Metaverse include optimising productivity in the workforce, perhaps through more efficient and personalised training, onboarding, and other HR functions. Forbes predicts that innovation and development in this area will continue to grow, increasing the efficiency and efficacy of remote working.

This is exemplified by Sixth Sense cohort member, US advanced tech training provider Augmentir, who is using AI to augment user experience through the provision of tailored training within the Metaverse, by providing personalised advice and support to individuals accessing the Metaverse.

Augmentir’s Chris Kuntz said: “The connected worker will be a strategic turnkey in the manufacturing industry moving forward. As the industry’s post-pandemic labour shortage persists, and a limited workforce is required to perform increasingly diverse tasks, Metaverse-enabled ultra-immersive training will help create more generalists with greater job efficacy and satisfaction.”

The optimisation of computing inefficiencies through AI enables the data-driven insights that make the Metaverse both possible and useful, becoming an immersive experience that will soon be critical to manufacturers. Augmentir reflect that trend, providing companies with smart data-based insights to the workforce and processes from ‘hire to retire’, which can help to reduce time to productivity, enable targeted reskilling and upskilling, and provide individualised guidance and support at the point of work.

Crucially, the differentiating value of manufacturers must come from innovation ecosystems that cut through the Metaverse ‘hype’ and help address some of its biggest challenges. According to the Head of Manufacturing Insights EMEA at IDC, sustainability will play a crucial role in the next stage of Industry 4.0 in the form of hyper-realistic digital replicas of factories, products and processes but face challenges such as the immense computing power required for updating representations in the Metaverse with realistic and real-time changes.

This is where Sixth Sense companies like Threedy and Augmentir come in, with both applying digital reality services to help manufacturers become greener, with Threedy wielding complex data to help make machines more durable, and Augmentir bolstering the virtual workplace.

As is exemplified by the two companies, we can also expect to see great strides in visualising and engaging with data in an unprecedented immersive experience. Advanced visual computing technologies will accelerate the translation of the ever-growing web of 3D, business, and process data into responsive and interactive 3D applications.

So why manufacturing? As Threedy’s Stefan Domdey puts it: “The manufacturing industry has always been at the forefront of developing new ways to cope with challenges. Complex processes and machines have been the result. Now, the Digital Age will result in the next evolutionary step to enable scalable solutions in IT.”

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