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Why Industrial Metaverse is the Future of Manufacturing Defined as a reality to empower industries and players, the Industrial Metaverse has the potential to create a more sustainable process, cut operational costs, and improve the work environment and experience for the target sectors

By Paromita Gupta

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For the majority, Metaverse is synonymous with Roblox, Horizon Worlds, Decentraland, or The Sandbox. But virtual and augmented reality which blends physical and digital, is more than just game offerings. "The metaverse is here, and it's not only transforming how we see the world but how we participate in it – from the factory floor to the meeting room," said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft in 2022. Among the Metaverse storms which have taken over the world, one sliver is catering to the manufacturing and logistics industry, and it's called the Industrial Metaverse.

Defined as a reality to empower industries and players, the Industrial Metaverse has the potential to create a more sustainable process, cut operational costs, and improve the work environment and experience for the target sectors. According to Grand View Research, a market research and consulting company, the global market size for industrial metaverse was estimated at USD 18.36 billion in 2022 and is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33.6 percent from 2023 to 2030.

WHY INDUSTRIAL METAVERSE?

At present, the digital twin is at the core of the Metaverse where it illustrates the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training. IM's key components also include the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, blockchain, and extended reality.

As the technology matures, enterprises and public sector agencies will be able to create digital twins of infrastructures such as cities, power grids, or rail yards; use real-time data to improve operations; predict equipment failures, autonomous trucks for logistics, productivity-boosting collaborative robots; and sophisticated supply chain optimizations. According to a Nokia-EY report, the actual use case benefits include CAPEX reduction, sustainability, safety improvement, OPEX reduction, and time to market. The report also states that the US (65%), UK (64%), and Brazil (63%) are currently leading the way when it comes to companies that have plans to enter the metaverse and have deployed use cases at a higher rate. "Majority of global manufacturers share a positive sentiment about the potential of the industrial metaverse," notes Siddhartha Tipnis, Partner and Technology leader, Deloitte India.

THE ADOPTION TREND

A few noteworthy players who have adopted the practice are Nokia, Tech Mahindra, BMW, Boeing, and Siemens.

German carmaker BMW and chip giant NVIDIA partnered to plan highly complex manufacturing systems with the latter's Omniverse platform at its Regensburg factory in Bavaria. This was later expanded for a production network around the world including an electric vehicle plant in Debrecen, Hungary, that will start operations in 2025. Omniverse will enable data aggregation into massive, high-performance models, connecting domain-specific software tools and enabling multi-user live collaboration across locations. Earlier, Boeing, a global aerospace manufacturer, reported an improvement of 40 per cent in its first-time quality of the parts and systems courtesy of the use of the digital twin asset development model.

Another key in this is software-defined automation, particularly the Internet of Things and virtual Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). PLCs are defined as the 'brains' behind factories, energy grids, office buildings, and trains, which give execution to their virtual existence. Siemens AG has collaborated with Audi having its virtual PLC in one of their factories. Additionally, generative AI is enabling new ways to interact with machines and digital twins. Siemens and Microsoft product Siemens Industrial CoPilot allows machine operation and programming via natural language and shall serve as a virtual assistant in the metaverse. "Because [the industrial metaverse] lets us 'test-drive' every option, faster than ever. Not two times faster or three times faster, but a million times faster," earlier said Cedrik Neike, CEO, Siemens Digital Industries.

INDIAN SCENARIO

Being capital-intensive has not deterred Indian players from venturing into the Industrial Metaverse. Tech Mahindra launched the firstof- its-kind 'Meta Village', a digital twin of Pargaon in Maharashtra for gamifying learning on the Roblox platform. Through its Makers Lab division, Mahindra aims to promote technical education and skill development in rural areas by harnessing the power of technology.

Tipnis expects manufacturing to be one of the early adopters, with use cases across production, talent, supply chain and customer ecosystems, "Process simulation, product development, real-time monitoring (production), immersive training (talent), supply chain management and immersive customer experiences (customer) may be some of the initial use cases that will start seeing experimentation and adoption in India."

Founded in 2021 by Avi Dahiya, Twyn is a DeepTech enterprise SaaS startup which enables Large Manufacturers and OEMs for Smart Manufacturing. "The Indian manufacturing industry grapples with diverse demanding situations. One of the major hurdles is the need to enhance costefficiency. Labor-extensive operations and outdated manufacturing approaches are hampering cost-efficiency, making it tough for Indian manufacturers to compete effectively within the worldwide market. Additionally, high asset value risk and risk associated with accidents further propel the need for growth of the industrial metaverse," shares the founder and CEO of Twyn. The DeepTech player combines blockchain, AI, metaverse, IoT and 3D printing to provide its digital twin offerings across multiple factory sites - on the ground, underground or underwater as well as across geographies. Twyn has collaborated with several leading companies including HP, Samsung, Maruti Suzuki, P&G, Uno Minda and JBM Group.

Trithi Tewari and Gautam Tewari's Trezi is trying to solve the disconnect in architectural design and client understanding. "We figured that immersing clients and teams in a virtual representation of architectural projects could bridge this gap. Thus, Trezi was born, initially focusing on VR to let architects and clients 'walk' through their projects before they're built."

In February, Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis unveiled the Mumbai Metropolis Metaverse, a digital twin project of the city, showcasing ongoing infrastructure developments and intended transformation of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) by 2025. Back in August 2023, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, released the 'Digital Twin Strategy for Indian Infrastructure' report highlighting the need to reduce the cost of construction, maintain quality, prevent delays, loss of resources, material, and creation of wastage. "By enabling virtual replicas, we can identify real-time monitoring, effective maintenance and simulation of various projects. You can check the quality of material used, at what stage of the project, how long will it take to complete, and what are recurring problems, which can be easily identified through digital twins," he said.

CHALLENGES

While India has ventured into the industrial metaverse, in comparison, it still falls short of making a mark. But why? "India might seem to lag in the Metaverse race when you look at raw adoption numbers. However, it is gearing up rapidly, powered by its robust IT infrastructure and innovative spirit. The country's dynamic startup ecosystem and the government's push for digital innovation are laying the groundwork for significant strides in Metaverse applications. Given this momentum, I believe India isn't just catching up; it's on its way to becoming a leader in deploying Metaverse solutions in industrial and enterprise domains," shares Tewari.

Cost to implement and ROI are deemed to be primary concerns with regard to industrial metaverse implementation. While the country excels in producing a large number of STEM graduates, making Indian developers the leaders in skillset positioning on a global level, the right skills and knowledge are needed. "A key challenge may be the lack of employees with the right skills and knowledge. The industrial metaverse is no different here than what is generally seen with other digital investments. Integration between existing technologies and systems may be another important challenge. To create the immersive and collaborative virtual and virtual/ physical environments of the industrial metaverse, people, processes, data, and systems should work together, establishing effective connections across manufacturing environments," shares Tipnis.

IS IT ONLY FOR CORPORATIONS?

A trend can be identified that this technology adoption is prevalent in corporates rather than players of all sizes. Is it a closed community? "Startups, with their flexibility and innovative edge, are exceptionally well-placed to explore and exploit the Metaverse's potential. The trick is identifying how the Metaverse can solve specific challenges in their domain, starting small and scaling up as their capacity grows," shares Tewari.

While Dahiya seconds the feeling, he shares "It is essential for every startup founder to understand the potential of Metaverse in its existing business strategy. The implementation of the Metaverse requires meeting a few conditions. The prerequisites include availability of IoT and sensor economy, adept digital transformation strategy, SOPs and lean manufacturing methodologies as well as infrastructure investments." "However, for most of the manufacturing-related startups, fulfilling these requirements comes as a second priority at this particular stage. Hence, once the startups are ready with these necessities, they can start benefiting from the Industrial metaverse," he adds.

THE FUTURE

ABI Research forecasts the industrial metaverse market to be worth $USD 100 billion by 2030. "India is going through digital transformation and automation with more machines and robots replacing the manual workforce, and is making a step towards full adoption of the industrial metaverse," shares Dahiya. He believes that the Industrial Metaverse will be one of the biggest opportunities in the manufacturing industry in the next three to four years. "While most use cases are currently in the pilot stages, expect a significant degree of adoption within the next five years," concludes Tipnis. Among the industries which are expected to benefit the most from this technology apart from the automotive, industrial goods, and manufacturing sectors, are transportation, supply chain and logistics, and power and utilities.

Paromita Gupta

Features Writer with Entrepreneur India

Covering news and trends in AI and Metaverse segments. An avid book reader running her personal blog on the side. You may reach me at paromita@entrepreneurindia.com. 
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