Industrial metaverse & digital twins reshaping manufacturing

Ludwig von Reiche of NVIDIA reveals how industrial metaverse and advanced digital twins are revolutionising manufacturing processes and boosting efficiency

As artificial intelligence continues to dominate headlines, one could be forgiven for having forgotten about the metaverse. But the metaverse is alive and well, ushering in a new era of digital transformation in a surprising place – the manufacturing industry.

Aiming to help solve the world's hardest engineering, manufacturing and science problems, digital twins are a powerful tool capable of accelerating innovation and boosting productivity and business performance. To learn more, this month Technology Magazine speaks to Ludwig von Reiche, Managing Director at NVIDIA GmbH, on how the industrial metaverse is emerging as a powerful tool to help businesses reshape their approach to manufacturing, design and collaboration.

Decoding the metaverse and its early applications in digital twins

Simply put, a metaverse is the internet in 3D: a network of connected, persistent, virtual worlds. According to von Reiche, today manufacturers are already harnessing metaverse technology to digitise difficult physical processes, ranging from the design and engineering of physical products to planning and operating physical factories and warehouses through digital twin technology. 

“The concept of digital twins has been used in manufacturing for years, facilitating the modelling of individual machines and the component parts of production lines,” he explains. “However, the scope and capabilities of digital twins have advanced significantly. Traditionally, these twins have been limited to replicating one machine or part, but not the complete manufacturing process.”

As von Reiche describes, true-to-reality digital twins – which replicate all components of the physical world and how they interact – have so far been difficult to achieve. “The benefits are clear – these more advanced digital twins have the capacity to conduct more accurate simulations of different scenarios, which helps users make better decisions – and not just in the original design, but throughout the operational lifetime of, say, a production line,” he says. “Real-world data captured through sensors can be seamlessly incorporated into the digital version, synchronising the digital twin in real time. What’s exciting is we’re now approaching step-change in digital twin technology where this is becoming possible – and not just for large global companies.”

Harnessing the benefits of the metaverse

Several metaverse applications are currently found in sectors ranging from customer experience to industrial manufacturing and research. Almost every industry will benefit from participating and hosting virtual worlds. Creators will make more things for virtual worlds than they do in the physical world. According to von Reiche, enterprises will build countless digital twins. 

“A pivotal catalyst to the industrial metaverse's application to many industries is the Universal Scene Description standard (USD), also referred to as OpenUSD. Initially developed by Pixar Animation Studios, USD's impact has extended far beyond movie making. In industrial settings, USD serves as the foundation for creating 3D replicas of machinery and equipment, enabling seamless interoperability among various 3D tools. USD enables easier collaboration between teams of engineers, who can now edit and view the same assets simultaneously, essential in an era of hybrid working.”

Metaverse in action: real-world applications 

But while USD exists in the virtual world, the benefits are very much apparent in the physical world for manufacturers. “At NVIDIA, we work with hundreds of manufacturing organisations, and we’re witnessing a rapid uptake of industrial metaverse technology, such as our NVIDIA Omniverse platform,” von Reiche adds. 

Omniverse, the culmination of more than 25 years of NVIDIA graphics, accelerated computing, simulation and AI technologies, enables manufacturing companies to plan and optimise multibillion-dollar factory projects entirely virtually. This means they can get to production faster and operate more efficiently, improving time to market, digitalisation and sustainability.

BMW's adoption of the digital-first approach to manufacturing is a great example of the transformative power of the industrial metaverse. The group’s production network is poised to benefit from the digital transformation opportunities brought by Omniverse.

“In the past, reconfiguring production lines incurred substantial expenses and production downtime,” says von Reiche. “To solve this, BMW is using Omniverse to design an end-to-end digital twin of an entire factory. Thousands of planners, product engineers and facility managers can collaborate in a single virtual environment to design, plan, simulate and optimise extremely complex manufacturing systems before a factory is built or a new product is integrated into a production line.” 

The results here are remarkable: von Reiche highlights a 30% boost in planning efficiency, reduced planning durations, and heightened flexibility and precision.

“OpenUSD and its applications have also revolutionised the way Mercedes-Benz operates its manufacturing and assembly facilities,” he describes. “The company adopted a ‘digital first’ approach with the ambition of boosting the flexibility and resilience of its production system. As Mercedes-Benz is rolling out its next-generation vehicle portfolio into its manufacturing sites, the challenge is to adapt facilities worldwide. Starting with plants in Hungary, Germany and China, the automaker reduced coordination processes by 50%, which lays the foundation for the global rollout of the technology.”

At a tough time for businesses, with manufacturers grappling with inflation, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and sustainability commitments, it can be tempting to resist or at least slow down the deployment of new technologies in these times. “But the reality is that technologies like the industrial metaverse hold enormous potential to improve efficiency, competitiveness and ultimately, profitability,” von Reiche explains. “The market for the metaverse will grow, with more designers and creators building digital items and complex systems in virtual worlds first and only then in the physical world. Just as the web did, virtual worlds will spark many new economies that are larger than our current physical economy.”

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