How the Industrial Metaverse will be different to the consumer one - and why it matters

George Lawton Profile picture for user George Lawton January 20, 2023 Audio mode
Summary:
The Industrial Metaverse is taking shape - here's the lie of the land so far...

engineering

The Industrial Metaverse is already here and will likely stay bigger than the consumer side for a while, if not in the long run. ABI predicts that the Industrial Metaverse market could grow to almost $100 billion by 2030 compared to about $50 billion for the consumer version and another $30 billion for enterprise collaboration. In this case, ABI is talking about technical plumbing like digital twins, Industrial design software, and location intelligence tools. 

The Industrial Metaverse is already helping companies transform to a more sustainable net-zero operating model in the face of economic uncertainty. Companies are using it to roll out electric cars, streamline supply chains, and design the factories of the future while balancing financial costs and carbon emissions. And infrastructure Metaverse tools are helping to design, construct and operate buildings more efficiently. The Industrial Metaverse can potentially drive trillions of dollars in savings across construction, manufacturing, automotive, and other industries that build physical products. 

Siemens Digital Industries grew revenues by 25% over the last two years by consolidating its various tools into an Industrial Metaverse platform as part of its Siemens Xcelerator program. Proponents of the consumer Metaverse are trying to sell us on the importance of virtual swords and sneakers we can take from one world to the next. Let’s see how well that pans out in what may be a recession. 

However, there is an important enterprise equivalent. Enterprises could save money and drive efficiency from efforts that make it easier to share digital twins across Industrial Metaverse platforms. It would also be nice to reuse the simulation, analytics, and industry knowledge embedded in tools on one platform on the others. 

Industrial Metaverse contenders

The platforms are the most significant difference between the consumer and Industrial Metaverse. Companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Roblox, and Decentraland are leading work on the consumer Metaverse. Of these, Microsoft is the only serious contender in the Industrial Metaverse with Azure Digital Twins. Various 3D game engines like Unity and Epic are also being extended to support the different Industrial Metaverse platforms. Other Industrial Metaverse platform contenders will include:

  • Product lifecycle management leaders that are building out more connected platforms like Siemens, PTC, and Dassault Systèmes
  • Infrastructure leaders like Bentley, Autodesk, and Trimble
  • Industrial automation leaders like GE, Schneider Electric, and Rockwell Automation. 
  • Satellite and mapping leaders like ESRI, Here Technologies, Google Maps, and Maxar/Blackshark.

Nvidia is already working on an Industrial Metaverse interoperability tier with Omniverse. The platform uses the universal scene description (USD) format developed by Pixar as a kind of glue. It’s not as sophisticated or nuanced as many of the 3D formats used by the various infrastructure and design tools. After all, it was designed to help organize movie shots, not design robots. However, it’s good enough to get the ball rolling in the same way that simple protocols like TCP and HTML helped pave the way for today’s Internet. 

Differing requirements

Part of the consumer Metaverse enthusiasm comes from the belief that the virtual reality and extended reality hardware are almost here in terms of price and performance. I remember hearing the same thing back in the mid-1990s. Even at only a few hundred dollars, low-end headsets are still not practical for long sessions, particularly for older people. In the enterprise, the high-end equipment will be reserved for expensive folks like engineers or technicians repairing multi-million dollar equipment like airplanes and critical factory machines. In the short run, most Industrial Metaverse apps will share 3D perspectives on digital twins of warehouses, equipment, and buildings through the smartphones and computers that workers already have. 

The consumer Metaverse also suggests it is essential to be able to bring your entitlements across services like your friends count, missions completed, or other accomplishments. In the Industrial Metaverse, entitlements will be about allowing engineers and managers to sign off on specific digital twin instances of building designs or a complex set of requirements. And when something changes, it will also make it easier to raise a flag until a person with the appropriate credentials or certifications signs off. Think of it as GitHub for physical designs. Infrastructure software giant Bentley recently launched new tools to help firms transition from signing off document workflows to signing off on data sets. It wrote:

By advancing these enterprise systems to become fundamentally data-centric without disrupting file-based workflows, Bentley Infrastructure Cloud provides user organizations with significant opportunities to improve collaboration, productivity, and quality.

The popularity of blockchain has also taken root in the consumer Metaverse to make it easier to monetize virtual goods and create virtual economies that 'work-ify' games with new play-to-earn business models. The main idea is that decentralized protocols built on the blockchain will support zero-trust models and make it easier to exchange data and assets across platforms. The enterprise equivalent lies in making it easier to share structured data across Industrial Metaverse platforms in a trusted, secure, and auditable way. Blockchain and decentralized may or may not be required, and some may even consider it a distraction until the industry can work out all of the performance hiccups. For example, Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee’s company Inrupt promotes Solid as a much more efficient alternative with the slogan, “The Real Web 3.0 does not rely on blockchain.”

My take

The platforms themselves will all tell us how open they are, but it may take a few years for this interoperability to actually pan out. In the short run, Industrial Metaverse platforms may constrain interoperability to consolidate market share. Companies will be able to move data and models across platforms but may lose some functionality and integration in the process. It will be like the difference between restricting apps to open standards like Kubernetes or taking advantage of proprietary cloud native services that support increased integration and automation. 

I predict Industrial Metaverse platforms will gradually improve interoperability in response to industry demands. It will be easier to share data and processes between different categories of vendors like mapping and Industrial design. However it may take a while for better sharing within any particular category of tools. Look at how tough multi-cloud is today, even after twenty years. Cloud providers tend to charge a lot more to move data out than in. The Industrial Metaverse may not be much different. 

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