The Industrial Metaverse: How You Can Build a Metaverse for Manufacturing

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Every year, Gartner, one of the biggest and most well-known analyst firms, releases Hype Cycle reports of how a technology or application will evolve over time. Some technologies start as innovation triggers, while others are classified in the peak of inflated expectations or the trough of disillusionment. Some technologies are marked as obsolete before they even reach the plateau and will never make it to the adoption or production stage. 

Is all the buzz around the metaverse doomed to fail (again) and be categorized obsolete or impractical before being adopted in various industries? Manufacturing trends point in a new direction.

The Metaverse Isn’t Just Gaming

Augmented reality (AR) was invented in 1968, but it didn’t hit the global mainstream until 48 years later with Niantic’s 2016 launch of Pokémon GO, which made AR accessible and approachable with a smartphone game. Earlier, in 2003, Second Life launched with the vision to be a place for escapism—users would visit the three-dimensional virtualized world for no other reason than that it was somewhere else to be. They lived out elaborate fantasy lives with new and sometimes variable identities, some even married and raised families in this virtual world. IBM, wanting to explore the trend, purchased 12 islands within Second Life for $10 million back in 2007. But today, few companies see this kind of value yet in the metaverse. 

According to Forrester’s Media And Marketing Benchmark Recontact Survey 2022, the majority of online adults in the US (65 percent), the UK (73 percent), France (67 percent), and Germany (65 percent) prefer to have social experiences in person. In 2023, we’ll see lots of “metaverse washing,” but smart brands will bypass simple repackaging of old immersive media experiences and do new things. The metaverse is sometimes seen as a new variant of a more immersive gaming experience that is too limited in its potential. Gaming will be part of it and provide new ways to connect and share experiences with other users, but that’s just one aspect. A broader adoption will see the metaverse adapted in industrial use cases.

Manufacturing and the Metaverse

Manufacturing is an industry that can utilize and benefit from the metaverse. The shop floor made of loud machines, hundreds or thousands of workers, paperwork, and disconnected systems is in the past. With Industry 4.0, most manufacturers collect and use data to decide how to re-organize production and make the best data-driven decisions. More advanced plants have created digital twins of their production floor not only to monitor machines but also to apply AI/ML on data to predict maintenance, production, shipping, and quality. 

Companies can leverage digital twins in a way that delivers significant value today. Every asset, process, or person within and related to an enterprise can be replicated virtually—and connected. Nearly every aspect of work can be followed digitally and simulated before production is even started to detect bottlenecks early. Senior executives can rely on predictions of what’s next and prescribe the best course of action in even the most turbulent times.

The digital twin can be seen as the foundation to build an industrial metaverse that replicates and connects every aspect of an organization to optimize experiences and decision-making. A future application of the metaverse could look like creating a digital version of an end-to-end supply chain from raw materials to delivery, continuously updated in real-time:

  • The metaverse is linked to supplier information so it provides an early warning of a disruption in a vendor’s production capabilities to minimize risks.
  • In turn, managers receive real-time reports of existing inventory and eventually are offered a list of alternative suppliers and related scores to ship comparable parts. 
  • After agreeing to explore a new supplier, production managers can simulate the transition and use the supplier that minimizes the impact of the changeover. 
  • A new, fully-automated process is started to onboard the vendor, and a purchasing order is initiated. 
  • Next, the virtual factory simulates any production disruptions and feedback recommendations to grant the highest production quality by optimizing workforce and shipping schedules. 

But the metaverse doesn’t end at the production level:

  • Virtual retail stores, part of the metaverse, send store managers recommendations to update store layouts and product mixes to anticipate temporary gaps on shelves and communicate suggestions to employees, so they can answer customer questions about product changes.

The benefits could be that out-of-stock items are limited and fall from months to days, financial impacts are reduced, employees are always updated, and customer satisfaction is increased. In addition, the metaverse could connect disparate systems, applications, and processes with the goal to operate smoothly even when disruptions happen. It could, to some extent, self-heal at various stages—like predicting machine maintenance, allocating technical teams, providing status updates to machine vendors, and understanding customer behaviors and needs. The digital twin is just a first step and lays the foundation for the metaverse.

The Industrial Metaverse is Here

One of the significant areas of growth for the metaverse is its specialization in the industrial world: the Industrial Metaverse. It covers how factories, supply chains, and physical assets can be digitally replicated to allow an enhanced and efficient remote view. There are already some companies using the Industrial Metaverse to better understand problems on their factory floor without even stepping foot into it. For example, Kraft decided to use digital twins in the Industrial Metaverse to better understand how to pivot operations to meet customer demands. BMW is in the process of digitally scanning its vehicle plants all over the world to overhaul operations for increased efficiency with digital twins in the Metaverse.

The possibilities within the Industrial Metaverse are endless: collaboration across computer screens means everyone can participate from anywhere; but furthermore, new concepts may be intricately designed and tested in a virtual environment before building begins, meaning problems may be solved before budgets, time, and resources are wasted on physical materials.

How Can You Build a Metaverse?

Building a metaverse is a lot about integrating disparate data sources, managing data, analyzing data, and exchanging data. It requires a next-generation platform that can holistically integrate, unify, and analyze data in real-time; apply data science principles; run in the cloud; and scale up and down depending on load. Overall the Industrial Metaverse platform must be an ecosystem capable of acquiring, processing, and delivering data to anyone and anything. 

The recommendation is to be prepared and start laying the foundation today to build tomorrow’s metaverse. The metaverse isn’t just about reviving Second Life, enhancing Roblox, or using a pair of Oculus headsets. The adoption for the mainstream might take a bit longer than expected, but no, the metaverse isn’t doomed to fail (again). This time the maturity of software and hardware combined with mostly unexplored benefits means that the metaverse will become a reality.

Build Your Foundation with TIBCO

Staying ahead of the latest trends means your technology ecosystem must be ready for anything. Get started on your own Industrial Metaverse with the TIBCO Connected Intelligence platform. The TIBCO platform makes it possible to unlock the potential of your real-time data for making faster, smarter decisions.