Our industry is often defined by trends. Some are short lived—never making it passed the early adoption phase—while others are revolutionary and drive long lasting shifts in standards and behavior. In the past few years, it has become apparent that the Hub and Spoke model for data (typically referred to as the unified namespace (UNS)) is not only here to stay, but is becoming the default deployment option. The majority of our projects in the past several years have included partial or complete utilization of a UNS. Although there are many different reasons for deploying a UNS, we are going to examine a few of the most common driving factors and benefits.
In more traditional plant deployments of software, data historians, and databases, there is a complex hierarchal system that typically requires individual connections between each disparate platform. Think of a simple example where you have four separate software platforms. In this example, platform 1 must have an individual connection to platform 2, another for platform 3, and another for platform 4. Platform 2 must then have an individual connection to platform 3, and 4, and so on and so forth. Some would be quick to point out that not every system has functionality that requires it to be connected to every other system—which is true—but it is also not common to have just four platforms. In a multi-building manufacturing campus, there can be dozens if not hundreds of separate systems which, even if there were only a few that required separate connections, turns into a massive number of connections at a large scale.
The UNS model allows for a central location (hub) to be the source of data for your plant wide assets. This central repository then allows connections to edge devices as well as other platforms and databases (spokes) decreasing the number of separate connections that must be maintained. In the simplest example, this benefit is especially seen with data historians. Data historians often involve a complex series of drivers and connectors to roll the data up into the centralized storage whereas the UNS model allows for a single connection to the UNS to collect all the data. The reporting platform can then query the UNS which knows to query the data historian (and other databases if required) to return the desired data. This helps eliminate complexity, points of failure, and maintenance costs to keep vast amounts of connectors updated and operable. It also allows a simpler method for adding third-party platforms. An example would be adding a multivariate analysis platform that utilizes the UNS to read and write data as opposed to requiring special in rack modules or complex integration strategies to wind it into every source of data and system on the plant floor.
Simplified Equipment Additions
Another main benefit of utilizing a UNS can be seen when expanding plant equipment assets and edge devices. Constructing the UNS relies on user-defined data type (UDT) to bring equipment into the UDT in a standard manner. UDTs encapsulate the complexity of translating OEM or equipment specific tags and metadata into a standard model. A simple example would be what we see in the wind-farm industry. Turbine manufacturers are located all over the world which can lead to tags being in different languages, with different naming conventions, transmitted over different protocols. UDTs enable us to create a model for each turbine type, that when added to the UNS provide a standard tag convention allowing us to easily add turbines to the UNS which auto-populate in the data historian with a standard convention and structure regardless of where the site is located and what the manufacturer is. The tag naming convention also can incorporate multi-site process plants across different parts of the globe, allowing corporate level to be able to drill down to a specific piece of equipment if the need arises, or compare similar pieces of equipment from different manufacturers because of the naming convention.
In years past, UNS deployments were typically seen in our clients with an appetite for early adoption, but as the runtime for this methodology has increased along with the benefits, more clients are either requiring it for future deployments, initializing migration projects to move to it, or holding proof of concept projects to show management the benefits and future cost savings. As the world moves towards Industry 4.0 and IIoT, the UNS can become one of the more accessible and bottom-line changing technologies for manufacturers.
Will Aja is VP of Customer Operations at Panacea Technologies, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Panacea, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.