The industrial metaverse: not just for large corporates

Posted on 8 Apr 2024 by The Manufacturer

With this powerful concept promising to revolutionise manufacturing in the future, Brian Holliday, Managing Director of Digital Industries at Siemens UK & Ireland, explains its potential for industry and how it can be accessible for all. 

Many people associate the concept of the metaverse with a colourful, virtual world for entertainment and shopping, but its greatest potential lies in unlocking significant new value for industry.

Thinking about manufacturing, this combination of the real and digital worlds will further enable businesses to model, prototype and test multiple, potentially millions, of design iterations in an immersive, virtual environment before a brick is laid or machine commissioned. The industrial metaverse builds further on the concept of a digital twin to enhance and accelerate innovation by significantly reducing the risk associated with taking a more bold and innovative approach to engineering challenges.

It holds the promise of optimising production in a continuous feedback loop, using technology that will model every factor (including human), that impacts every process and the complex interactions between them, to unlock a greater level of insight and understanding than has ever been possible before.

Importantly, this convergence of the digital and real has the potential to revolutionise the way we work and collaborate with each other, enabling real-time, always-on interaction that will unlock a new era in solving industrial challenges. It represents a next generation leap that builds on the now established, Siemens Xcelerator – the open digital business platform that brings together industrial technologies with a wider ecosystem of partners, developers and domain experts seeking better and faster ways to benefit from digitalisation.

Brian Holliday, Managing Director of Digital Industries at Siemens UK & Ireland

Creating the building blocks

I trust this summary provides an intriguing glimpse into a possible future, where high-fidelity, physics-based models can be combined with real time data to unlock previously unachievable levels of productivity and sustainability through technology that can be used across supply chains.

However, I understand how many manufacturers, particularly the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the engine room of our industries, may view the concept as the present preserve of large companies.

But that is not the case. The reality is that all manufacturing businesses need to take a first step so they are not left behind given the productivity benefits offered by digital technology, and moreover, the sustainability imperative that should drive each of us to consider our impact on the planet.

That first step could lie in the development of a simple, virtual model, a digital twin if you like – the core building block of the industrial metaverse – that simulates real-world processes and assets to inform better decisions like the optimum factory layout, a better machine design or an improved production scheduling system.

For many smaller manufacturers, it might be a specific problem or a business priority that drives digital investment – it’s about understanding the art of the possible and exploring the necessary skills, ecosystem and open technology options. Start with something simple and commit the time to learn, remembering that getting the foundations right means using tried and tested methodologies such as lean before reaching for the digital toolbox.

Driving adoption

The UK is an interesting market, with significant IT capability and adoption, but under-deployment of operational technology such as automation, when compared to our neighbours and competitors. This key finding of the 2017 Made Smarter report remains true today and is the reason the resulting Made Smarter Adoption programme has been expanded and extended to 2030 to ensure SME manufacturers get the targeted support needed to aid their resilience, productivity and sustainability through technology.

This is about ambition, too, and there’s never been a better time to invest with full capital expensing of plant and machinery now made permanent and industry organisations like Made Smarter and the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult, ready to support and work with innovating manufacturers across the industrial spectrum.

We are evidently at the start of another revolutionary step that will build on the use, convergence and intersection of technologies we understand today. We are witnessing a growing range of businesses benefiting from more advanced and accessible simulation, particularly in emerging industries such as EV battery production.

At Siemens, technology continues to deliver change in our own operations as we build digital native factories, just as we have been able to aid a range of industries through our portfolio, ecosystem and sector expertise, from enabling operational enhancement and emission reduction, to predicting machine failures before they happen.

Technology and where to apply it for maximum impact, will be a key focus of Transform 2024 in Manchester on 17-18 July, where Siemens is bringing together its vast ecosystem with IT organisations like AWS and Accenture exhibiting alongside industrial OT partners and domain experts to once again welcome thousands of participants from across industry to its successful combined conference and exhibition format.

Looking ahead

There is much to be done – interoperability and the openness of digital solutions are lowering the barriers to entry for building and participating in the industrial metaverse, but we need to make more progress in the deployment of digital technology today if we are to be leading users and integrators in the metaverse tomorrow.

Standardisation will be a key factor in the direction that this journey takes and this is why Siemens has joined the OpenUSD (Open Universal Scene Description) Alliance alongside companies such as NVIDIA, Intel, Worley, and IKEA amongst others.

The industrial metaverse should not be the preserve of big business. Simple steps that start with simulation of products and processes using software as a service (SaaS) offer all manufacturers a route to start their journey with the right application, with help out there from industry bodies to encourage adoption and improve digital skills.

For firms that embrace industrial digital technology at scale, the size of the prize grows, too, with digital interoperability across supply chains set to become increasingly common as technology better addresses the complex system level challenges we might shy away from today.

As was arguably true in the previous three industrial revolutions, adoption of new ways of doing things will drive comparative competitive advantage. Firms that are curious, build digital competence and partner up to try things will leap ahead and be in a stronger position to participate in the future industrial metaverse, reaping the full benefits of combining the digital and real worlds.

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