The industrial metaverse is real. Your company will be there

industrial metaverse
Cristina De Luca -

March 31, 2023

BMW has taken the forefront of a major new manufacturing trend – prioritising digital using the virtual world to optimise layouts, robotics and logistics systems years before production begins. The company announced yesterday during Nvidia’s GTC that it will build and operate industrial metaverses across its production network worldwide, including the electric vehicle plant in Debrecen, Hungary, which will not start operations until 2025, using the Omniverse platform.

During his keynote at the GTC, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang joined BMW Group board member Milan Nedeljković to officially open the automaker’s first fully virtual factory. The demo highlights a virtual planning session for the Debrecen plant. The BMW team was able to aggregate data into massive, high-performance models, connect their domain-specific software tools and enable live multi-user collaboration between sites. By starting work on the virtual factory two years before its opening, BMW aspires to ensure its operational efficiency.

To enable the intensive use of digital twins, the Omniverse platform, initially focused on the consumer market, gained new capabilities such as AR rendering, VR, and multiple GPUs, as well as integrations for industrial and infrastructure applications with software from Bentley Systems and Esri. The intent is to enable engineers and designers to develop physically accurate digital twins, buildings and products, and true-to-life simulations to train robots or autonomous vehicles before they are used in the physical world. By merging digital twins with their real-world counterparts, companies can optimise production and processes in a continuous feedback loop.

Industrial Metaverse, a concept on the rise

Siemens and the MIT Technology Review have just released a new paper exploring the potential of this concept to revolutionise the industrial sector. According to the MIT analysts, while many people associate the term “metaverse” with a colourful virtual world for entertainment and shopping, the industrial metaverse has the potential to revolutionise the real world in a way that few other technologies can. In it, entire machines, factories, buildings, cities, vehicles and traffic systems can be mirrored and simulated, enabling resource-saving virtual testing. The industrial metaverse will help develop sustainable products, as well as more efficient and sustainable factories, buildings and cities. It will enable the democratisation of engineering, allowing everyone to innovate without fear of risk or high additional costs.

Existing and developing technologies, including digital twins, artificial intelligence and machine learning, extended reality, blockchain and cloud and edge computing, will be the building blocks of the industrial metaverse. These will converge to create a powerful interface between the real and digital worlds that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

By enabling companies to model, prototype and test tens, hundreds or millions of design iterations in real-time and in an immersive physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.

Annika Hauptvogel, director of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, real-time collaborative, open enough for different applications to interact seamlessly”.

“The industrial metaverse is simply the consequence of our next phase of digitisation,” says Kevin O’Donovan, co-chair of the VR/AR Association’s Industrial Metaverse and Digital Twins Committee. “Don’t dismiss this as just the latest hype,” he says. “You need to have a plan.” As organisations react to the challenge, some recommendations will help early adopters reap the benefits.

The biggest one being to always keep in mind that interoperability and openness of digital solutions are basic prerequisites for building and participating in the industrial metaverse. Fortunately, some entities are taking significant steps to establish universal standards and protocols for participating in the metaverse. The Metaverse Standards Forum, for example, aims to “promote interoperability standards for an open metaverse” by encouraging collaboration between standards organizations and companies.

Bringing the industrial metaverse to life will require substantial cross-sector collaborations in standards and infrastructure. Organisations can partner with suppliers, competitors or customers to assemble the complex technology stacks that underpin participation in the metaverse.