The metaverse is nothing new. We’ve all spent the past few years collaborating with colleagues remotely. Even commissioning machinery can be done in a virtual environment.
Companies such as Epic Games, maker of Unreal Engine, which runs the online video game Fortnite, are bringing their proven platforms to manufacturing, too.
“They’ve set up a lab in Detroit to work with automotive manufacturers,” explained Jerry Foster, CTO and founder of Plex Systems, who delivered a dynamic presentation at ROKLive in Orlando, Florida.
Plex was acquired by Rockwell Automation less than a year ago, but it joined another relatively recent acquisition, Emulate3D, which became a Rockwell company in 2019. “With Emulate3D, you can design the machine, configure the floor and train employees before building the physical line,” said Foster. It allows users to vet what-if scenarios in an industrial-metaverse environment.
The ability to simulate machinery for testing can be highly beneficial. “It’s a great thing if you want to test a machine, but they’re not ready for you,” explained Michael Harris, senior project engineer, Rockwell Automation, who presented at ROKLive with colleague Jeff Theisen, principal application engineer. The two demonstrated drive simulation using three software packages—Emulate3D, FactoryTalk Logix Echo and Studio 5000 Logix Designer.
“The most exciting thing about this functionality is that I can build my PLC program as if it would be connected to physical hardware and then test it without the devices being present and without having to make any modifications to the project itself,” explained Harris. “This will save countless hours of commissioning time and delays waiting for the machine to become available.”
Nathan Pieri, Plex’s chief product officer and vice president, applications, another ROKLive presenter, identified applied analytics and artificial intelligence/machine learning as key drivers for digital threads of data that weave together the virtual world.
“The digital thread connects your workers to your business system,” explained Pieri. It blurs the lines of what a traditional manufacturing execution system is. “We can solve problems that go beyond those traditional boundaries,” he said, noting the inclusion of tools such as Mach2 and SmartEDI with new OEM support, which Plex added by acquiring Kors Engineering in early 2021.
The virtual world has become a bona-fide environment for testing, commissioning and modifying. The metaverse is open for business.