Why Unified Namespace is Key to Industry’s Digital Transformation

Sept. 11, 2023
Unified Namespace provides a standardized approach to data sharing and interoperability between different systems and applications.

Recognized as a powerful solution to Industry 4.0’s need for seamless integration and connectivity across disparate systems, Unified Namespace (UNS) enables organizations to build a framework that promotes data consistency and accessibility while being scalable to suit any digital transformation.

So just what is UNS and how does it work?

Historically, industrial systems were organized into a pyramid, where data originating from low level devices or systems like sensors and actuators was sent to programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human machine interfaces (HMIs), or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. From there, data was typically sent to a manufacturing execution system (MES), enterprise resources planning (ERP) system.

Each layer of this pyramid had a specific set of communication protocols and data formatting standards. Additionally, technology suppliers also relied on proprietary communication protocols.

UNS is a concept that enables direct data exchange between various systems and applications, creating a single source of truth for data across equipment, business systems and processes. It works by creating a single, standardized naming convention for all data points in a system, allowing different systems to reference the same data points using a common name, regardless of the underlying hardware or software platforms.

In practice, UNS involves the use of a message broker and specific message exchange protocol to unify the different systems and devices in an organization.

Through this integration layer, the data points from the different systems and devices are mapped to a singular data model (namespace), making it easy for different systems to access and use the data.

Data is organized within the UNS into the hierarchical model relevant to your industry. For example, the common framework in manufacturing is the ISA-95 Standard, the international standard for the integration of enterprise and control systems. Other frameworks, such as the ISA-106 Standard, which provides guidelines for managing and optimizing procedures in the process industries, are useful when implementing UNS across different industrial environments and modeling physical automation devices.

The role of MQTT and Sparkplug B in UNS

MQTT is a communication protocol that enables devices to send and receive messages and distribute the data to other devices.

UNS sits on top of MQTT to organize the data in a unified and consistent way across different systems and applications, helping to eliminate data silos and improve data integration across different applications and systems.

Sparkplug B specification is an open standard for industrial IoT communications, developed by Cirrus Link Solutions. It dictates the message content formatting, enabling seamless communication between plant floor devices, gateways and applications within an MQTT infrastructure.

Field devices or gateways should use Sparkplug B to standardize the payload and enable connection monitoring, a capability that is not available via MQTT alone.

Designed specifically for industrial IoT and machine-to-machine communication, Sparkplug B offers significant benefits for large distributed systems and organizations with many telemetry-producing assets.

A must-have for Industry 4.0

Implementation of UNS architecture has become a pre-requisite for integration of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT and Big Data analytics into industrial processes.

Enabling improvements to data sharing between industrial automation systems and reducing the complexity of integrating different systems and devices, UNS enables an array of benefits that support Industry 4.0, but there is still room for improvement in its implementation.

Benefits of UNS include:

  • Improved data and resource management.
  • Increased consistency and reliability.
  • Enhanced security.
  • Simplified administration.
  • Improved collaboration and communication.
  • Broader operational visibility.
  • Better decision-making capabilities.
  • Challenges of UNS include:

  • Training and adoption.
  • Data security.
  • Compatibility with legacy systems.
  • Command messages acknowledgement.
  • Budget constraints.
  • Despite these challenges, the simple yet revolutionary benefit of a standardized naming convention for all data across an organization presents a compelling case for any business looking to unlock smart manufacturing capabilities to accelerate their digital transformation journey.

    Sergey Koreshkov is a senior consultant at Nukon, a SAGE Group brand. SAGE is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association(CSIA). For more information about SAGE, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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