By Bobby Carlton
In the past year we have seen a lot of movement with brands and industries shifting towards a mission statement that embraces virtual tools and XR enterprise solutions. One company making that shift is the tech giant Microsoft. To help them stay focused on making strategic steps towards that goal, they have created an internal group called the Industrial Metaverse Core, which will explore immersive tech for workers in the industrial sector.
After all, the use of a digital twin is more sustainable, allows companies to explore scenarios without putting employees in danger or using actual products, has a proven ROI, and it can give you supercharged KPIs and data.
Through the use of XR solutions, Microsoft aims to enhance the core capabilities of industrial work by developing software interfaces that can be used in various functions such as industrial robotics, automated warehouses, and control systems for electrical plants. The company also claims that a virtual world that's focused on factory environments could be used to monitor machines, automated warehouse environments, and help with overall workplace safety.
In addition, Microsoft's industrial offerings will also cover transportation networks. In 2018, the company acquired AI startup company Bonsai, which it said would be integrated into the company's Azure public cloud. Gurdeep Pall, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's autonomous systems division, noted that the service would be used on the company's platform.
Through the company's services, industrial engineers are able to combine AI and XR with their existing processes and equipment, and it can be done regardless of the engineer's experience in software development.
One company looking to take advantage of XR technology is Mercedes-Benz. The automobile company has partnered with Microsoft and is reportedly working on developing a new XR data platform that will allow the German carmaker to improve its vehicle production efficiency by connecting Microsoft’s Cloud with Mercedes-Benz’s newly-introduced MO360 Data Platform.
The platform will be able to connect with the company's existing data infrastructure, which would help Mercedes-Benz improve in three ways; vehicle-production efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.
“This new partnership between Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz will make our global production network more intelligent, sustainable and resilient in an era of increased geopolitical and macroeconomic challenges,” said Joerg Burzer, a member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Production & Supply Chain Management. Burzer continues, “the ability to predict and prevent problems in production and logistics will become a key competitive advantage as we go all electric.”
Mercedes-Benz’s Chief Information Officer, Jan Brecht, provided additional advantages of MO360’s operability saying, “With the MO360 data platform, we democratize technology and data in manufacturing. As we are moving toward a 100% digital enterprise, data is becoming everyone’s business at Mercedes-Benz. Our colleagues on the shop floor have access to production and management-related real-time data. They are able to work with drill-down dashboards and make data-based decisions.”
Brecht says this will allow everyone in the organization to access and use real-time data and noted that the platform would allow employees to make better decisions and improve their efficiency.
Of course we are only talking about the automobile industry. Microsoft looks to use their Industrial Metaverse Core and explore how immersive technology and XR enterprise solutions can have a positive impact on all types of work.
According to Althoff, organizations can use machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze and improve the data they collect in an enriched state. These capabilities can then be used to create digital twins of their operations.
He said that creating digital twins can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of industrial processes by allowing workers to access and manage different parts of the operation.
Through the use of digital twins, employees can also connect with their digital feedback loop. He said that by feeding the twins into experiences that are on handheld devices, they can easily create their own app tool chains that will allow them to interact with their lives in a digital manner.
“You can think of this as the model teaching the people and the people teaching the model for real time digital feedback and enhanced learning."
Despite the various changes that have occurred in the metaverse, Althoff noted that the industrial metaverse is still in its infancy. He said that hundreds of organizations are already using these capabilities in their operations.
Althoff indicated that sustainability could be one of the biggest benefits presented by the industrial metaverse.
“If you make anything or you move anything, you create a carbon footprint,” he said. “If we can simulate that infinitely in the cloud before you make it or before you move it, we can help you build better products more effectively, more efficiently, with lower carbon footprint, lower water utilization, more sustainably than ever before.”
Through its industrial metaverse capabilities, Microsoft has been able to help companies like Hellenic, which is one of the largest producers of Coca-Cola products in Europe. With over 55 facilities across the continent, Hellenic is able to produce over 90,000 bottles of Coca-Cola per hour on a single production line.
According to Althoff, the company was able to reduce its energy consumption by over 9% in just 12 weeks by implementing a sensor fabric and creating digital twins.
That is a pretty huge benefit.