Most metaverse conversations are predominantly consumer-focused and for a good reason. There has been significant buzz around brands and celebrities hosting experiences such as concerts, gaming sessions, and even theme parks in the metaverse, which builds familiarity among the public. However, we believe that there are three iterations of the metaverse – consumer, enterprise, and industrial. With the right application, each can unlock a vast world of opportunities for users.
According to a first-of-its-kind study – The Metaverse at Work – which we conducted with EY on 850 companies around the world, enterprises believe the metaverse can positively impact training, cross-team collaboration, operational optimization, and predictive analysis. In fact, early metaverse adopters are already reaping benefits in capital expenditure, sustainability, and safety – including from industrial applications of the metaverse.
The industrial metaverse and digital twins
Various industries have been on the path to digitalization since the advent of Industry 4.0 solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G technology. In many ways, the industrial metaverse is a natural convergence of these technologies and an expansion of their collective capabilities. While an industrial metaverse can have many definitions, we see it as human augmentation and a physical-digital fusion for industrial applications – most commonly involving digital twins.
Digital twins are not new to global industries. In an industrial context, digital twins can be virtual representations of physical industrial environments, systems, and more. Manufacturers have found digital twins especially valuable as it allows them to recreate their production facilities in a 3D environment, simulate testing and problem-solving, and then apply those learnings in real life to save time and costs. BMW, for instance, built a digital twin of an electric vehicle facility and is using that to inform the ongoing construction of the real building in Hungary.
The metaverse can further amplify the usefulness of digital twins. In mining, for example, the metaverse can leverage virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to recreate the entire experience of being on-site at a mining operation instead of simply observing a virtual site model. Being able to see the scale of the operations and the environmental conditions could help off-site employees better understand the context of the work they do and gain more insight into on-ground employee needs, which could yield improved collaboration and problem-solving.
The transformative value of the industrial metaverse
Our study discovered that virtual research and development (R&D), prototyping, and testing was the most deployed use case for the industrial metaverse out of all use cases tested. Metaverse technologies enable more seamless collaboration on higher-fidelity design and testing processes, which significantly improves efficiency and safety as companies can continue to refine products more effectively before real-world production.
However, views differ between industries on the transformative impact of industrial metaverse use cases, hinting at their broad scope for positive disruption. For instance, respondents of our study from the transportation, supply chain, and logistics industries expected extended reality (XR)-enhanced user experience (UX) research, autonomous delivery robotics, visualized predictive maintenance, and virtual supply chain optimization to deliver transformative value over virtual R&D.
Technical applications aside, companies are also exploring the use of the metaverse for hands-on training to onboard and upskill employees. The high-fidelity training experiences made possible by XR technology enable employees to gain first-person experience in handling real-world scenarios without incurring any risk or requiring equipment. No travel or machine downtime is needed for training and new hires can experiment without fear of injury, leading to cost savings and improved outcomes.
Enabling the industrial metaverse
While the potential of the industrial metaverse is vast, enterprises need to have the right tools to leverage its capabilities. Despite overall optimism around the positive impact of the metaverse, some 50% of respondents in our study indicated that the availability and maturity of technical infrastructure were blockers preventing them from deploying metaverse use cases. Thus, enterprises must ensure that they are equipped with the necessary technical enablers to capitalize on this emerging technology.
5G networks enable a seamless virtual experience by delivering stable, ultra low-latency connectivity, which is a prerequisite for viable metaverse adoption. It is also necessary to utilize metaverse-adjacent technologies such as IoT sensors, AI, machine learning (ML) and VR/AR. Additionally, both cloud and edge computing are vital to any serious metaverse play; cloud computing enables massive quantities of data to be stored and processed, while edge computing ensures the data flow and processing can be completed at speed for a robust yet frictionless metaverse experience.
Many enterprises still lack internal proficiency on these Industry 4.0 technologies, much less the metaverse itself. As such, it is important for companies to select the right technology partners to build and integrate technical enablers so that they can effectively deploy and scale industrial metaverse use cases. A variety of partners are needed to meet different technical needs, but these can also differ depending on a company’s metaverse deployment stage. In our study, network providers ranked fifth most important for initial use case deployment, but 10th in driving advancement in the metaverse.
Next steps for the industrial metaverse
While the industrial metaverse is still very much in its infancy, it has already managed to deliver tangible value for early adopters, which makes it a very exciting prospect for enterprises.
There is no doubt that significant testing and exploring is still needed to unlock the true potential of the industrial metaverse. However, the signs are clear that it is poised to become an essential competitive advantage in the future. Thus, it is in the best business interests of companies to get a head start on this intrepid endeavor – especially as the digital revolution shifts into full throttle.
Companies who are just beginning their metaverse journey can make things more manageable by focusing on the requirements for and deploying a specific use case pilot first, while more seasoned players can begin preparing to scale, experimenting with new scopes and exploring ecosystem integration.
Stuart Hendry is the Head of Enterprise & Government, Nokia Asia Pacific & Japan.
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