The term “metaverse” has been making waves in tech news in recent times, garnering both positive and negative attention from industry giants. Similar to the Internet of Things (IoT) trend in its early stages, the metaverse has faced criticism and curiosity alike. But what exactly is it, and how does it impact industrial companies?
Broadly speaking, the metaverse is best described as a movement, not a market, much like IoT or Industry 4.0. While most providers and analysts talk about metaverse using theoretical use cases for enhanced versions of existing products, the consensus is that it is an umbrella term used to describe a persistent, reactive, virtual space with bidirectional links to physical reality.
Industrial metaverse is a blending of the digital and physical world that accelerates efficiency through engineering, manufacturing, and field service. While still in its early stages, the vision is for it to enable real-time collaboration, connectivity, and spatially-aware context within industrial environments.
What makes industrial metaverse revolutionary is it recognizes and solves for certain problems that are distinctly spatial in nature. For example, to date, when factory operators look at human motion in space, this data was simplified into abstract Yamazumi charts or similar two-dimensional formats. Helpful, yes, but only to an extent. The very nature of how we’ve had to solve the problems – using a desktop computer – has limited the solutions. Industrial metaverse allows the data to be seen, consumed, and analyzed in its full 3D context—and that’s where it starts to provide real value.
The primary benefits? Decisions can be made faster, more efficiently, and solve problems that have never been solved before.
The industrial metaverse offers both simple and complex ways to leverage technology that will offer tremendous opportunities in the future. PTC envisions the possibility of reimagining collaboration in the industrial space, improving factory efficiency, and streamlining design processes.
Here’s one example: a complex piece of equipment fails in a remote location. Remote experts are engaged on video calls, but they only go so far–even with tools like Vuforia Chalk—and it's often difficult to spot the issue without inspecting the equipment in person or inspecting the data. Often, the only option would be to send the expert to the location, which is expensive, inconvenient, and increases equipment downtime. With industrial metaverse, a remote expert can have a hands-on, contextualized spatial view of the problem and much more within minutes.
By creating an easily accessible "pop-up" metaverse through a tool nearly everyone has—a smartphone—PTC's spatial technology for industrial metaverse in development allows individuals to "teleport" in to fix things, troubleshoot, and work alongside those onsite. Because it provides the data within spatial context, it is cognitively easier for the onsite worker and the expert to find common ground and communicate effectively.
Another example: a technician concerned that machinery is producing below-par products can use their smartphone camera to scan the equipment and its surroundings. Using PTC's technology, this creates a link to a "pop-up" metaverse that the technician can share with a remote expert. The expert can then join, interact, and move around the space as if they were there in person, viewing the location through their device. They can zoom in to inspect individual items visually and examine digital information in-context, such as repair history, performance data, and information about parts.
These industrial metaverse examples are not far in the future, PTC has been exploring and developing this technology for years within and has many of these capabilities already. In fact, with PTC technology today companies can solve spatial problems like nobody else in the industry.
It’s not just instant spatial collaboration that’s possible with industrial metaverse, remote experts can gather data to better understand how workers, products, and machines are moving throughout a space—a factory floor, for example. Then, using spatial analytics they can leverage that data to recommend ways to improve performance, identify efficiencies and even annotate a digital ledger in the space.
Further, in having a record of a space at a given time, by comparing a volumetric scan of the space with a previous setup, remote experts can spot any anomalies to understand what has changed in the shop floor or field where the equipment is operated.
As it has been with other nascent technologies, like IoT, companies that explore and integrate early on are well ahead of the competition as it becomes more commonplace. They’re able to move faster and expand use cases as advancements come to market.
In the future, an industrial metaverse could bring remote experts together to collaborate on designing a future factory floor or work process. Manufacturers could assess the most efficient layout and deployment with potentially less equipment and significant savings. A well-designed factory floor can minimize the distance that materials and products need to be transported and ensure workers can safely move around and perform their tasks. This also means faster design processes with more efficient feedback.
Industrial metaverse revolutionizes the way industrial organizations collaborate. By creating a digital twin of physical products and assets, users can work together on a 3D design software in real-time, even before the physical product is available.
The industrial metaverse can create an instant digital twin, enabling several individuals to work together on a piece of machinery or technology with precision, complete with data and digital history, as if they were there in person--but even better because they have all the digital information at their fingertips. This new style of collaboration can transform the way experts work, allowing them to save valuable time and energy.
Experts can teleport themselves to the problem space, understanding the space as if they are physically there. This saves time, enables faster solutions, and allows for the solving of problems that were previously impossible due to heavy manual processes or a lack of understanding of the space and its moving objects. This includes remote experts and factory operations experts, who can transcend physical barriers through 3D contextual data about the space and insight into the movement of objects within 3D space.
With industrial metaverse, the opportunity to reduce environmental impact exists on several levels.
First, as we mentioned previously, the ability to leverage remote experts more effectively from anywhere in the world will save countless service calls–and the associated carbon emissions–via truck or plane.
Second, spatial analytics, the essential component of the industrial metaverse, gives companies insight into operations and performance that was previously unavailable. With these new spatial analytics, companies have a deeper understanding of physical space and how the movements happening within that space are operating. With this data, artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics can identify ways to be more efficient with their operations, workforce, and processes. On top of environmental benefits, this has the potential to save money through energy consumption reduction.
The industrial metaverse is asset/product-centric and depends on the degree to which a metaverse is occupied by digital versions of real-world machines, sites, and processes. Its ability to replicate the infinitely complex interactions between and within these components is what makes this technology so groundbreaking. This asset-centric view also makes any conceptualization of the industrial metaverse highly focused around productive integration with other industrial software stacks, especially those better known as the digital thread.
By providing access to relevant data within spatial context, one can enable better collaboration between people near and far, with a greater understanding of the environmental and spatial context of physical problems.
While the term "metaverse" may be new, the concept of leveraging digital technology to transform how we work and interact with our products, environment, and each other is not. The goal of the industrial metaverse is to optimize the union of physical and digital, balancing their limitations and benefits.
At PTC, this idea is core to our vision: Our technology and solutions are built to help close the loop between physical and digital, empowering industrial organizations with the tools they need to succeed.
We’re just at the beginning of the possibilities for industrial metaverse and over the next few years leading companies will be embracing the technology to take their operations to the next level.
See how this massive shift in the computing paradigm will change the way we work.