The Metaverse: The Next Big Thing in Equipment Manufacturing?



By Danny Gavin, Association of Equipment Manufacturers

Industrial MetaverseTechnology has the power to connect our society, and to make us more reachable. We can contact friends across the globe, conduct business in virtual meetings and meet new people online. The metaverse brings all of these concepts together into one platform: a public virtual world. Using a computer, phone, tablet, or VR headset, the potential exists for an individual to one day transport themself into a virtual world to meet with friends, buy digital items, play games, or even go to work and hold meetings.  

Big tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft are investing in the technology, showing that there is huge potential for the metaverse to become a widely used platform in the near future. While development has mainly been focused on gaming, ecommerce and virtual work, industrial applications of the metaverse have the chance to be both exciting and impactful.  

The construction, agriculture and manufacturing sectors are poised to be greatly affected by this technology. In being able to create a digital twin of a facility or field in the metaverse, the potential is there to revolutionize the way that planning, research and problem solving are done. This would allow for companies to analyze data, get ahead of any problems that may occur, or even develop new opportunities within a business. Being able to bring brand awareness through tours or selling digital products could also positively impact an organization’s bottom line. And it may revolutionize not only the industries mentioned, but also the way that work is conducted in general. 

Applications in Ag and Construction

In the ag sector, the potential is there for farmers to create a digital twin of their farm to plan the most efficient harvesting. They could see how new farm equipment would boost efficiency before purchasing, revolutionizing their planning process. Farmers are already utilizing AR (augmented reality) technologies to digitize and monitor plant biology, progression and data. The platform would allow for more educational opportunities, hopefully inspiring younger generations to become more interested in and excited about farming. The metaverse could also encourage more farmers to adopt smart farming practices, leading to additional benefits and improvements on the farm.  

Meanwhile, construction firms could see how new designs would impact current infrastructure. They would be able to create virtual foot travel and see how their projects would do after years of wear and tear, leading to better planning and longevity of projects. The metaverse may also help to analyze projects that have already been completed to show what their strengths and weaknesses are, and it also presents the opportunity for the construction and AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) sectors to embrace digital work in a field that has traditionally been very physical in nature. Site visits can be conducted in 3D, saving the need to travel on-site to make decisions and see changes. 

Use Cases in Manufacturing 

Consider a future in which manufacturing companies would be able to give virtual presentations and tours of their facilities, in addition to boosting brand awareness by showing how their day-to-day operations work. This would create more interest among younger generations, as they seem to be interested in using technology like the metaverse in their future careers. Manufacturers would also be able to create a digital twin of their manufacturing buildings to solve logistics problems or plan out the best workflow for employees.

Customers in the metaverse will have improved visibility into the supply chain process with 3D representations for how products are built, distributed and sold. Increased transparency means that customers would know what exact lead times are for goods and any expected delays in shipping, as well as more visibility into real-time shipping costs for different distributors.  

Early Adopters of the Metaverse 

Lockheed Martin jumped at the opportunity to use metaverse technology to simulate and combat fires. The company has partnered with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control (DFPC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to better understand wildfires and stop their spread. Using AI and digital twin technology in partnership with Nvidia, the system will be able to suggest actions to best suppress the blaze. This technology could be used in different applications in the future to make suggestions about resource use on farms, or in controlled burning.  

BMW, meanwhile, has been one of the earliest adopters of metaverse technology in terms of manufacturing and logistics. The company has partnered with Nvidia to use their Omniverse to simulate it’s manufacturing operations, essentially pushing the envelope on smart manufacturing. Using metaverse technology, BMW is working on creating better workflows for its employees and fostering more efficient manufacturing processes. 

Improving upon product quality, reducing manufacturing costs, increasing output and ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees are all top priorities for manufacturers today. However, these goals are seldom met consistently. Being able to achieve these goals depends more than ever on the real-time data being collected in every aspect of the operation and having that data available in an easy-to-understand format. The metaverse allows that data to be captured and analyzed far more easily than ever before.  

What Lies Ahead

While all of this sounds great, there are some growing concerns about the environmental impact of the metaverse. Different studies have different claims about emissions and energy, and it’s hard to tell what will happen when the metaverse is fully developed. Overwhelmingly, the resources that are available now show that the it could use an absolutely massive amount of energy and contribute to global climate change. Blockchain and bitcoin are already integrated into the concept of the metaverse, and one Cambridge University study suggested that global bitcoin mining consumes more electricity annually than the entire country of Argentina. 

The metaverse is still in its very early stages, and is not likely to be integrated into our lives this year. However, it's most definitely a concept worth keeping an eye on. After all, the market for the metaverse is already rapidly expanding. Ultimately, It could end up being a new cost-effective way to improve planning, testing and design. And with all the potential applications for industrial use, it's clear that manufacturers and the customers they serve may want to consider utilizing this technology at some point, or maybe even being part of the first wave of early adopters. 

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AEM Blog, Technology

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