This month's reason technology will save the world: The industrial metaverse’s real impact on business sustainability

The metaverse is a bit of a Loch Ness Monster. Everyone’s heard about it, but no one knows if it actually exists, and moreover, what it does. To get a glimpse of the metaverse at play, though, we simply need to turn to industry.

The industrial metaverse acts as the bridge between the physical and digital worlds. It’s a virtual space that creates a representation of production, mirrors companies’ real economies, and simulates new processes. Already, the industrial metaverse serves industry in three main areas: designing products, building products, and optimizing operations.

Beyond innovation and efficiency, the industrial metaverse also facilitates a more sustainable industry. Currently, industry is responsible for a staggering 20% of global CO2 emissions and more than a third of global energy consumption. Using the industrial metaverse as part of a larger sustainability strategy, companies can lower carbon emissions, use fewer resources, and reduce waste.

Here’s my take on how the industrial metaverse is having (and will have) a real effect on greener businesses.

A simulated production world with actual impact

In the industrial metaverse, companies can use AR and VR to mirror shop floor processes and workflows, detecting ways to optimize their logistics. It brings all applications together, links and scales them, and makes them more visible. The result? Companies have a central ecosystem for extended reality work processes.

By consolidating components, organizations have a bird’s eye view of production, and can identify areas for improvement. For example, Siemens uses the metaverse for predictive maintenance: its AI simulation can accurately anticipate when a machine will break and schedule repairs before it happens. That means there’s less outdated equipment using an excessive amount of energy.

The industrial metaverse additionally allows company employees to work via VR and AR in separate locations. Teams therefore don’t have to travel and contribute to carbon emissions. Meanwhile, production can be simulated with virtual goods, versus using physical materials and taking a “trial and error” approach to manufacturing which is inherently wasteful. Car companies, for instance, can visualize, test, and adapt prototypes in the metaverse, ensuring that the design can be realized with minimal resources, energy consumption, and errors.

Digital twins unlock more efficient practices

A digital twin in the metaverse lets companies replicate production lines and entire factories or shop floors. Here, they can test product flows, highlight what robots they need to do what tasks, and streamline how they manufacture. This flexibility irons out any friction before a physical plant or product is built, avoiding expensive or environmentally-damaging retrofitting. It equally means that organizations can experiment with alternative materials and implement more sustainable resources across the entire value chain without taking too great a financial risk.

And the sustainability benefits of digital twins are impressive. Research shows that if industries, governments, and societies utilize virtual twins, they could meet goals like the UN Sustainable Development Goals more easily or faster. Not to mention, the digital twin market can unlock CO2e emissions reductions of 7.5 Gt by 2030. It’s no surprise then, that corporations like Bosch, General Electric, and IBM all have a digital twin strategy.

Making room for all players in the industrial metaverse

We know that metaverse has huge potential for business success and sustainability (and often the two are connected), but we need to ensure that doors to the industrial metaverse are open to everyone. For now, the metaverse is still new(ish) territory for companies – organizations are interested in its advantages but are calculating how much to invest in it.

Yet as more players in industry commit to the metaverse, there will be a greater scope of exploration around how the metaverse can fuel sustainability. At the same time, there will be more data to feed AI solutions, and better data sharing for companies to navigate supply chain constraints without having to compromise their green efforts. And, as collaboration evolves in the metaverse, companies will more likely form partnerships and harness one another’s sustainable practices – maximizing sustainability across the board.

It’s been proven that immersive experiences yield deeper learning outcomes around sustainability. In the industrial metaverse – where companies are quite literally immersed in manifestations of their ideas – people can more deeply and emotionally engage with sustainability, and create personalized solutions that further it. As they do, the metaverse will move away from being an elusive Loch Ness Monster, into a clear vehicle for operations and sustainability in industry.

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