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Digital twins, metaverse to play key roles in sustainability: Siemens

The company will showcase the emerging technologies at the Collision conference in Toronto

Siemens Canada president and CEO Faisal Kazi. (Courtesy Siemens Canada)

Siemens Canada president and CEO Faisal Kazi says innovation is the company’s main strategy to fight climate change, highlighting two emerging fields it is spearheading as part of the commitment: digital twins and the industrial metaverse.

The Oakville-headquartered subsidiary of German multinational industrial and technology firm Siemens is exploring electrification, smart grids, microgrids, electric vehicle integration and the renewable energy transition, as well as industrial automation, digitalization and building technology.

Ahead of the Collision conference June 26-29 in Toronto, Kazi spoke to SustainableBiz about the two technologies Siemens Canada plans to showcase at the event. They represent the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and a sustainable future, and Canada must be ready to adapt, he said.

“The technology is there. It’s about applying it, and it’s about the readiness to apply it.”

Digital twins for sustainability

A digital twin is a virtual model of a physical asset or system that draws on real-time data from sensors installed in the physical asset, such as a building, to simulate or monitor its behaviour.

With more of Canada’s buildings being equipped with Internet of Things sensors and automation tools over the past decade, more "smart buildings" are being positioned to allow for digital twinning.

Digital twins can integrate physical, virtual and digital systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and costs by up to 30 per cent, Kazi said. Buildings globally account for 40 per cent of energy use and are responsible for 27 per cent of energy sector greenhouse gas emissions.

Siemens’ digital twin platform, named Building X, fuses these disparate systems onto one cloud-based platform to access data from multiple sources. Building X’s Energy Manager application tracks energy consumption, costs and carbon dioxide emissions. It can also crosscheck occupancy, weather and lighting to make corrections like switching off the air conditioning if there are no people in a room, or reducing lighting based on exterior brightness.

Geoff Newman, general manager of Siemens Canada’s Toronto branch, told SustainableBiz the company’s platform provides greater transparency for energy and facility managers. Problems can be quickly diagnosed to fix equipment faults, delivering cost and carbon savings.

“With a digital twin, it’s really fascinating how that’s now creating what’s known as a common data environment. You’re bringing all the systems into one place, where before they were completely isolated and it’s an operational nightmare for many organizations to manage complex buildings or multiple buildings across their estates,” Newman said.

Kazi said complex buildings used in higher education, the industrial sector and healthcare are beginning to adopt digital twins. He expects the technology to expand to large buildings in other commercial sectors of the real estate market.

Delving into the industrial metaverse

The much-discussed metaverse is also a rising technology that has piqued the interest of Siemens Canada. Kazi said the industrial metaverse – the application of the metaverse for industry – is the next level of digital twinning. He described the difference between current digital twins and the industrial metaverse as moving from 2D to 3D.

It involves mapping and simulating real-world machines, buildings, factories and complex systems to create an interactive and immersive experience through virtual reality.

“It will be the convergence of technologies such as digital twins, artificial intelligence, machine learning, extended reality, cloud, edge computing, all in one. It’s about combining the real and the digital worlds even more closely and seamlessly in order to generate more value,” he said.

If a factory has a breakdown on a line, technicians must travel to fix the problem. But with the industrial metaverse, a technician can troubleshoot in real-time through virtual reality, reducing transportation emissions, costs and downtime.

Digital prototypes can be created hundreds of times before a company commits physical and human resources to a project, allowing for sustainable design and building.

“I think it will revolutionize the way we work,” Kazi said, who conceded it is still early and real applications are being piloted.

A Deloitte report released in May and commissioned by Meta says the metaverse could contribute between $45.3 billion and $85.5 billion to Canada's annual GDP by 2035, with tech hubs in cities like Toronto, Quebec City and Vancouver.

It says adoption remains the biggest obstacle to the metaverse in Canada.

Canada’s readiness for the two technologies

How prepared is Canada for digital twins and the industrial metaverse? Kazi believes the industrial metaverse can be easily adopted by the country and its large industries striving to accept the two technologies. But there is room for improvement.

For one, there has to be more help for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are not prepared because of their comparatively small investments into IT systems; more investment flows into physical systems like hardware than to IT.

Kazi’s diagnosis is Canada is lagging on the fourth industrial revolution, based on reports he has read.

To rectify this gap, Siemens Canada will launch an accelerator program at Collision to bring solutions from more than 80 interoperable partners into one, open platform. This is especially helpful for SMEs, he said.

Editor's note: Siemens Canada was mistakenly said to be headquartered in Montreal, when it is headquartered in Oakville. SustainableBiz regrets the error.

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