Should the metaverse matter to me?

A simulated digital environment that harnesses digital twins, mixed reality and other platforms.

By Angie Sticher April 19, 2022
Platform replaying historical data using the digital twin allows the user to understand the context of data anomalies. Courtesy of: UrsaLeo

The metaverse may seem like it is something new, with avatars living in an online dimension and a consumer and social-media focus, but there are industrial applications as well. In fact, Industry 4.0 has set the industrial space up perfectly for the metaverse.

For the uninitiated, the metaverse is defined as a simulated digital environment that harnesses technologies including digital twins, mixed reality and other platforms and mimics the real world. Think of the sensors installed in your home or office transmitting data to the cloud and then to a phone application tracking energy usage or some other parameter. The metaverse works similarly, with the physical world represented in a digital format.

Digital twins, as 3D virtual representations of places or physical objects, are beginning to proliferate in industrial settings. Industry 4.0 combines digital twins with real-time and historical data from IoT streams, document management, maintenance and other enterprise systems and allows process monitoring, analysis and collaboration.

Combining digital twins with IIoT applications in a factory or on a job site garners what may be referred to as the Industrial metaverse. Although providing value of themselves, digital twins are most powerful when combined and used across multiple industries to improve processes, monitor equipment, conduct predictive maintenance and train employees.

UrsaLeo is focused on using our platform and the metaverse to bring value to industrial settings. In fact, digital twins combined with the Industrial metaverse will redefine business is conducted in the era of Web3. In what follows are some key examples of how this powerful combination can be used.

Process monitoring: Combining digital twins with live sensor data allows users to monitor equipment remotely via an IoT dashboard. Thousands of data points can be displayed on a single screen , with the drill down to additional detail.

Data from asset and maintenance records can also be displayed to help provide more context. Users use alerts to pinpoint the physical location of a problem as opposed to looking up sensor locations on factory blueprints or physically searching on a manufacturing floor.

Having a complete 3D model of a complex manufacturing or logistics facility and being able to zoom and pan into specific areas to see sensor data in greater detail provides far better visual cues as to what is going on compared to looking at a flat dashboard. Operators can deduce more information this way  — and when analyzed properly, data can help to solve potential problems.

Preventative maintenance: Studies suggest that about 21% of maintenance workers’ wasted time is due to traveling to different areas in a factory, with an additional 20% wasted waiting for instructions. ServiceMax reports that roughly 82% of companies experienced at least one instance of unplanned downtime in the last three years.

Platform replaying historical data using the digital twin allows the user to understand the context of data anomalies. Courtesy of: UrsaLeo

Platform replaying historical data using the digital twin allows the user to understand the context of data anomalies. Courtesy of: UrsaLeo

What if unplanned downtime and searching for the problems that lead to downtime were a thing of the past? At the least, digital twins make it possible to easily identify and solve challenges before they become larger issues that require lengthy and costly shutdowns. A digital twin combined with sensor data can track specific thresholds defined by the user before a failure occurs. The twin can also show users and team members where a problem has arisen so that a fix can be applied quickly and with minimum downtime.

Rich visualizations on the digital twin show internal operation for training and maintenance purposes. Courtesy of: UrsaLeo

Rich visualizations on the digital twin show internal operation for training and maintenance purposes. Courtesy of: UrsaLeo

Training and simulation: As technology continues to evolve, employees in industrial settings need training to ensure that the equipment they use daily is operated properly. Costs associated with training can be high, especially for larger organizations. In industrial settings and beyond, digital twins can be used to train many employees across multiple locations at one time. A trainer located in an office or facility in Ohio can train people scattered across the US or the.

When mixed reality (MR) is combined with a digital twin, training becomes even more immersive. As with virtual reality, MR utilizes a headset that takes up the user’s entire field of view and delivers a combination of both the real and the digital. This allows interaction with virtual environments and equipment while being directed by a trainer or expert.

What is also unique about MR and digital twins for training is that it is available at any time. Let’s say an upgrade was made to a piece of equipment or that new software was installed on the back-end. A worker already trained on the equipment can log into the digital twin, collaborate with the vendor or someone internally and teach someone on the other end how the upgrade or update works. This equates to less traveling, less time and lower cost.

Digital twins can also be simulated with ‘scenario’ data to run different future events and used to showcase operation of equipment and facilities. Simulation training provides an opportunity to apply theory and gain experience in skills or procedures, which give trainees the confidence to manage similar real-life scenarios. Confidence is then directly linked to competence.

For remote operation and inspection: Digital twins can also enable remote operation and the inspection of equipment and facilities from anywhere at any time.

Imagine a scenario where a facility has been closed down for the day and a piece of equipment overheats, leading to failure and extensive downtime for maintenance the following day. Let’s imagine the same scenario, but this time the equipment is fitted with sensors that automatically alert stakeholders when a certain temperature threshold is exceeded. An alert is sent, someone logs on to the twin, inspects the equipment from afar and uses a dashboard to lower the temperature,  avoiding failure and a costly shutdown. This is one of the many use cases for remote operation and inspection.

As a way to track moving assets: Industrial facilities contain expensive fixed equipment, but also mobile machinery moved around or being stored in a warehouse, on a factory floor, or in an equipment yard. Nearly 1,000 pieces of commercial equipment are reported stolen each month, according to The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The annual cost of equipment theft is estimated to range between $300 million and $1 billion.

Theft is only one way an asset can go missing. Employees also misplace or leave things behind. Lost pallets — an item that many would think to turn into firewood or discard — tally somewhere between $750 million and $1.5 billion of monetary waste each year, according to Packaging Revolution. Smaller pieces of equipment such as tool boxes, moveable dollies and industrial fans also disappear.

Asset tracking sensors are inexpensive, easy to install and can send location data back to a digital twin for monitoring. When something goes missing, its digital twin can tell the user exactly where it is with GPS mapping technology.

As a reporting tool: When any of the issues discussed arise it is often necessary to produce an incident report for internal purposes, insurance claims, or legal reasons. Using a digital twin, such reports can be easily created via a ‘virtual video’ that is similar to the rewind and replay feature on your DVR. Digital twin platforms give users the ability to go back in time to review data, so reporting is easier and mimics exactly what happened.

Author Bio: Angie Sticher is co-founder, chief product officer, and chief operating officer for UrsaLeo. UrsaLeo is an industrial metaverse company focused on enabling net zero initiatives through its Gemini platform. Angie is a seasoned product delivery and operations director with experience shipping multiple, significant software releases throughout her career at Palm, Apple, and now with UrsaLeo.