The metaverse is coming, how are traditional hardware manufacturers dealing with it?
Manufacturing is a highly complex process, in addition to being the most important part of supply chain management. There are several components that affect the manufacturing production process — such as the availability of raw materials, labour costs, inventory costs and overall marketplace demand.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the effective marriage of systems and machines has allowed us to increase production times, reduce product costs and find new ways of organising work. Within the last 50 years, digital transformation has continued this trend, enabling us to better understand the physical through digital operations.
With that being said, however, the physical has still held precedence over the digital for most of modern times. The rise of the metaverse will allow us to reverse this dichotomy, giving us access to a primarily digital space. In the case of the manufacturing industry, we will be able to translate this digital space onto the physical world, rather than simply just enhancing it.
Let’s look at some of the key ways where we can expect to see the manufacturing industry change within the metaverse.
An entrance into the creator’s economy
The metaverse will provide users with easier access to digital materials — a major shift that may very well encourage more creators and consumers to pursue industrial design. This will inevitably create new industry demands and completely change how products are made.
3D content creation tools will also become more widely available in the metaverse. This will add manufacturing to the creator’s economy, providing the general public with more tools to render and simulate 3D prototypes at their own convenience.
Just like with gaming platforms, streaming services or other various forms of online content creation, we will be sure to see the same type of growth proliferate within manufacturing and supply chain management. According to analyst firm TrendForce, the industrial metaverse revenue is set to reach $540 billion by 2025.
Easier collaboration on product development
The metaverse will also provide much easier collaboration on all aspects of product development. Given that it will be capable of serving as a communal space for all stakeholders involved with a project, multiple processes will be able to be achieved more rapidly and simultaneously — such as product design, sharing with manufacturers, iterating based on feedback and much more.
NVIDIA’s VR-based collaboration tool Omniverse has experienced a successful launch in the enterprise sphere. As a multi-GPU, real-time development platform for design teamwork and 3D simulation, it has become a staple for those working in the industrial sector or for those who specialise in the creation of digital twin applications.
To date, Omniverse has been downloaded by over 50,000 creators — with a recent platform subscription having been launched by NVIDIA to allow for wider outreach. The Omniverse platform has already experienced tremendous growth, with integrations from popular design platforms (such as Blender and Adobe) being made available for developers to use from any location. These integrations have well-positioned NVIDIA as a viable leader for collaborative product development in the metaverse.
Workplace changes due to the pandemic have also led to a rise in collaborative XR solutions within the enterprise sector. SkyReal, an aerospace-focused software company, started its operations by helping companies collaboratively approach their various stages of manufacturing — from conception and industrialization, though to training and marketing. Now, SkyReal helps aerospace teams work on CAD files in real-time, offering them an immersive experience that allows for even better collaboration capabilities.
More streamlined processes through digital twins
Digital twins are virtual representations that serve as real-time replicas of a physical object. From gaming companies to automotive manufacturers, many industries have already started using digital twins to collect real-time data and predict how objects will perform before they are manufactured and sold.
The digital twin market has been projected to grow to an incredible $86 billion by 2025. This level of growth is largely being fueled by an increase in demand for things such as predictive maintenance, industrial IoT solutions and a smarter and more energy-efficient infrastructure.
Digital twins also provide real-time data for users, allowing them to gain better insights on overall production processes. For example, automotive manufacturers are already using digital twins to better pinpoint equipment failures and ensure that all parts are meeting quality standards before being delivered to customers.
BMW has already started using a simulated system to better streamline its production process. A version of the company’s Regensburg-based production line exists solely within a computer simulation, serving as a digital twin to its physical counterpart. Before any parts enter the production line, the entire manufacturing process runs in a hyper-realistic virtual iteration of the factory. By adopting this technology, managers can now plan their production process in greater detail.
Other large companies that have adopted the use of digital twins include Microsoft, Unilever, Boeing, Siemens Energy and Ericsson. With Azure Digital Twins, Microsoft has created a leading IoT platform that features a live execution environment, allowing users to create digital representations of real-life things, people, places and processes.
In all, digital twins will be an extremely integral building block of the metaverse. They will provide us with lifelike representations of things from our physical world and come equipped with live feeds of every sensor and component they contain.
Shorter lead times
The collaborative approach offered by working in the metaverse will certainly shorten the life cycle for projects. More robust virtual spaces will also allow manufacturers to quickly see how moving assets around can impact a production cycle. By simulating real physics and identifying potential errors, this approach is a great way for manufacturers to see more efficacy and faster turnaround times.
Down the road, greater interoperability initiatives will also make product designs generally easier and faster to implement. Designers and creators will no longer have to go through as many hoops to complete their designs and get them into the hands of manufacturers. This will result in shorter lead times, as well as an exponential increase in the number of product designs they can complete.
Supply chain transparency
In more recent years, demand for supply chain transparency has been on the rise. According to the MIT Sloan School of Management, consumers are reportedly willing to pay between 2% and 10% more for products that offer greater supply chain transparency.
What we can deduct from this data is that consumers find value in the treatment of workers in a supply chain, as well as in a company’s efforts to provide decent working conditions. Ethical concerns, such as slave labour or deforestation, have made consumers increasingly more averse to purchasing products that don’t meet these standards.
With this being said, the truth is that supply chains were not originally designed to be transparent. However, access to the supply chain or to digital twin management in the metaverse could resolve this issue for good.
Working in the metaverse will also provide far better project visibility, for both staff members and consumers alike. Given that multiple collaborators will be able to work within the same space, regardless of their physical location, all parties will have access to 3D design representations of how products are designed, built, sold and distributed. Customers may even grow used to tracking their orders throughout the entire cycle, from raw materials through to a finished product. With this added insight, customers will gain full transparency into the entire production process.
Greater supply chain transparency will also give customers greater visibility of lead times. This will offer them a better sense of real-time shipping costs and allow them to better prepare for potential pitfalls (such as shipping delays).
The metaverse will pave the way towards a digital-first approach to manufacturing. This will essentially be driven by both consumer preferences and different types of actions that will be necessary to operate inside a virtual world.
There are valuable steps that manufacturers can take to bring us closer to an ideal metaverse system. For starters, it is critical that they work on harvesting data from their processes — and also that they implement the best interoperability protocols for connecting said data across the entire supply chain.
Recent innovations — such as NVIDIA’s CloudXR platform (which has been configured to work with Google Cloud) — have begun enabling organizations to securely access their data through cloud-based solutions. This will allow creators to access their work and collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world, all while doing so through the lens of an immersive, high-quality user experience.
In all, these areas are all currently being worked on to forever disrupt and change the concept of supply chains. This is an extremely exciting and innovative time for manufacturing technology — and we look forward to tracking the eventual paradigm shift that’s to come.