Embracing the Unified Namespace Architecture with Litmus Edge
By Dave McMorran, Director of Sales Engineering - Litmus
In the world of manufacturing, embracing digital transformation is paramount. Among the many strategies available, the Unified Namespace (UNS) stands out as a transformative approach. Crafted with the UNS architecture at its core, Litmus Edge simplifies its implementation, making the transition seamless.
This article delves into the essence of the UNS, tracing its origins, explaining its benefits, and presenting a comprehensive 8-step guide for its application in your business. Accompanied by a video demonstration, we aim to provide you with practical and actionable guidance.
So, let’s begin by understanding the foundation: What exactly is a Unified Namespace?
What is the Unified Namespace?
The UNS offers a structured approach to organizing and connecting data across all layers of a business. It is particularly noteworthy because of its values-driven nature, which is a powerful influence behind its growing popularity.
Several companies, including Starbucks (food and beverages), Richemont (luxury goods) and Stada (life sciences) are already using the UNS architecture to improve their operations. So, if you’re here because you’re considering the UNS for your business too, you’re in good company. We wrote this article to help on your path.
Often mistaken for being a technology, the UNS embodies the principles of an Event-driven Architecture (EDA). In EDA, applications interact by exchanging events without being directly connected to each other. They rely on an intermediary called an event broker, which acts like a modern-day messenger.
An event represents a transition or change. Within the framework of event-driven architecture, every occurrence or action in your enterprise – whether that’s customer requests, updates to inventory, or readings from sensors – is considered an event.
This setup ensures that applications or devices can seamlessly share real-time updates, such as when an order is made or when a sensor registers a change. One of its primary benefits is that these systems don’t need detailed knowledge about their communication partners. The event broker manages these interactions.
The UNS stands out for 4 key reasons:
- It serves as the single source of truth (SST) for all data and information in your business.
- It structures and continually updates data across the entire business.
- It acts as the central hub where all data-connected smart components communicate.
- It lays the foundation for a digital future.
One of the primary benefits of the UNS is its ability to present a live overview of the whole business. It captures the immediacy of real-time events. This is a necessary complement to time series data, since historical events also drive the decisions that businesses make.
To visualize the UNS, imagine a central framework that represents every data level in a business. It covers broad areas like entire manufacturing locations and drills down to minute details like individual machine statuses. This integrated structure ensures all software systems communicate efficiently, and everyone taps into up-to-date, unified information. It’s like having a panoramic view of a business’s operations, providing clarity and consistency in decision-making.
So, that explains what the UNS is. But where did the idea come from?
Origins of the Unified Namespace
The Unified Namespace (UNS) concept is becoming increasingly well known. Coined and popularised by Walker D. Reynolds, its roots can be traced back to 2005. That’s when Walker built his first unified namespace using Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) in a salt mine. Frustrated by the inefficiency of needing to manually check various equipment statuses in different parts of the expansive mine, Walker sought to centralize all data in one location.
Since then and throughout his career, Walker has consistently used the UNS concept in various solutions for major companies. It wasn’t until 2013, however, that he engaged in enterprise-class solutions, including the construction of the world’s largest standalone SCADA system. This project required the development of new technology and was followed by the introduction to MQTT in 2014, which further transformed the landscape.
Now Walker spends most of his time advocating for the proper implementation of UNS and educating the Industry 4.0 community on how to implement the architecture. You can learn more about Walker’s work by signing up to the Industry 4.0 Discord community here, joining thousands of other people on their UNS journey.
Ok, so that’s a brief introduction on how the Unified Namespace originated. Now, let’s get into the practicalities of setting up your own UNS.
Guide to Implementing a Unified Namespace (UNS)
Embarking on a Unified Namespace (UNS) implementation involves technical and organizational considerations. This 8-step guide offers a structured approach, from setting your digital objectives to handling stakeholder expectations. We hope you find this guide valuable for a prepared and systematic transition into the world of UNS, ensuring clarity and success throughout your journey.
Step 1: Define Your Digital Strategy
Before embarking on your UNS journey, if you haven’t already done so, you really need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do you want to become a digital company?
- How will your customers benefit?
- Why will this be good for your company?
Three to four sentences long, your digital strategy should trip off your tongue and be a ready answer to anyone who asks. And you will be asked over and over again. A robust foundation and clear objectives are vital for a successful UNS implementation.
Step 2: Determine the Data Structure
Next up, it is necessary to determine how to organize and structure your UNS data. You can use standards like ISA-95 or customize according to your organization’s needs. For practicality, the ISA-95 equipment model (Part 2) offers a standardized hierarchical data structure approach, ensuring compatibility and easy integration.
However, please note: while ISA-95 is a useful standard, adaptability remains key to mirror a business’s unique structure and needs. It must reflect the reality of your specific organizational hierarchy and requirements.
“Any digital infrastructure must reflect what you do on the plant floor, not enforce how you should do it.” – Walker D. Reynolds, President and Solutions Architect at 4.0 Solutions and board chairman at Intellic Integration
Here is the most commonly used data structure for the UNS:
Step 3: Define Minimum Technical Requirements
When you start building, you will need to set specific guidelines for constructing your digital framework. These are called Minimum Technical Requirements (MTRs). An MTR is like a digital primer and needs to be provided to all your internal stakeholders. These rules need to be given to your engineers and vendors so everyone’s on the same page.
Not only that, you will also need to educate your team on crafting MTRs, designing a digital strategy and system architecture. The MTRs should emphasize four key points:
3.1 Edge Driven notifications
The node must inform you of a change without you having to request it.
3.2 Report By Exception (RBE) for efficient data transmission
The node shares data only when changes occur, conserving network bandwidth and ensuring efficient usage of data.
3.3 Open Architecture for flexibility and interoperability
Ensures the technology in your UNS can be accessed freely, ensuring system compatibility.
3.4 Lightweight systems for efficient resource usage
The message broker you choose needs to have a small footprint, minimising consumption of operational resources.
This demo on how to implement the UNS using Litmus Edge helps put these steps in perspective.
Step 4: Select the Right Message Broker Technology
After having set your MTRs, it’s essential to choose the right broker to facilitate the data exchange within your UNS. That’s because the broker you select will have a strong impact on the efficiency, scalability, and eventual success of your UNS implementation.
An MQTT broker stands out as the most popular choice for implementing the UNS. It is known for its:
- Lightweight nature
- Publish-subscribe (pub-sub) messaging system
- Capability to efficiently manage data transfers between nodes
- Scalability, low latency, and support for expansive deployments
However, there’s a frequent area of confusion. Many people often equate the UNS directly with an MQTT broker, leading to uncertainties about the location of data within the UNS. Remember, the UNS is an architecture and is not tied to any specific technology.
Other challenges related to an MQTT-based UNS include: (i) where to store and attach persistent metadata and (ii) the lack of a “multi-publish” message type so that multiple topics can be published in a single message.
Join Our Private Beta
Here at Litmus, we recognise these problems. That’s why we have launched a private beta for the first ever enterprise-grade MQTT broker that’s actually built for industrial use cases. It addresses the drawbacks with the MQTT solutions available on the market, while retaining their undoubted benefits.
Boasting features like UNS integration, robust security, and multisite orchestration, we’ve ensured that it addresses all your needs as you scale up. Those who sign up here to “kick the tires” will get to use our Litmus MQTT for free – and forever. That’s got to be worth investigating further!
Step 5: Initiate with a Proof of Concept and Address Key Business Challenges
Ok, so now you’re ready to get the ball rolling. It’s best to begin with a small project. Engage a small team (ideally 4-5 people and no more than 10-12) who are passionate about the UNS vision. Since most people in your wider business may not be aware of the benefits of the UNS, or even what it is, you will need to show results to get on board with your vision.
To achieve this goal, maintain a controlled working environment, limiting interference, and avoid engaging in theoretical battles.
Once you have your team in place and they are protected, pick a major unresolved business problem to gain political capital. This is the best way to show value to all your stakeholders. The evidence demonstrate by your solution will earn you strong organizational credibility – and fast. Once the results of the proof of concept can be seen, you have all the evidence you need to implement the UNS architecture throughout the business.
Speed and results are of the essence. That’s what we prioritize time to value so you can get everyone in your business onside as quickly as possible.
“Time to value is one of our biggest priorities. Within the first hour, you are already connected to all of your assets on the plant floor. Within a day, you are already analyzing that data. Within a month, you are already deriving KPIs or RoI out of the platform.” Vatsal Shah, Litmus CEO
Step 6: Address Team Attitude and Manage Resistance
While understanding the technical implications of what you are doing is essential, it’s equally important to consider the human element. You may face colleagues inclined towards outdated methods, such as linear point-to-point integration. Recognizing these tendencies early can help you deal with them better.
For instance, you may encounter resistance from your IT department due to their performance metrics clashing with the introduction of a new architecture. Despite this natural pushback, it’s imperative to stay the course.
At the same time, be vigilant of people, often termed “cavemen” or “CT No” personalities, who show resistance to change or innovation in general. You will need to formulate effective strategies to ensure they do not impede your progress.
Step 7: Tread Carefully with External Expertise
As is the case when doing anything new, you will face some issues that you don’t know how to handle. In the first instance, try to empower your team to tackle these issues before seeking external support. This gives your team confidence and a deeper understanding of the UNS, plus keeps all that learning in-house, giving your team greater autonomy and strength.
The trend in manufacturing is democratisation of the plant floor – solving problems there rather than asking for external help. It is more cost effective and efficient.
However, if you still do require external assistance, contact us at Litmus and our experts would be happy to guide you through, ensuring that your UNS architecture is not compromised in any way.
Step 8: Beware Scope Creep
Possibly the biggest challenge you’ll face is “scope creep”. As the value of the UNS architecture becomes clear, you will come under increasing pressure from everyone in your company to solve every problem in your business immediately.
You must protect the sprint at all costs. Digital transformation is an iterative process and you need to protect what you are delivering. This also means managing stakeholder expectations to maintain project trajectory.
So, there you have it! A useful guide, we hope, for navigating the technical and other challenges you’ll face when implementing the UNS.
Following these steps, you can navigate the challenges of UNS implementation for a successful transformation. Remember: always emphasize the goals, start off small, and expand iteratively.
As manufacturers race to embrace the possibilities of Industry 4.0, the Unified Namespace (UNS) emerges as a game-changer. It’s a great way to address the challenges of fragmented data landscapes, siloed operations, and outdated legacy systems.
These often lead to rising technical debt, data gaps, and skyrocketing costs. Now, there’s an ever-pressing need for tools that harness the potential of UNS, ensuring a seamless flow of information and a transition to a fully data-driven enterprise.
Enter Litmus Edge, a platform tailored for the industrial data landscape. With our prowess in rapid data collection and standardization, Litmus promises real-time analytics, ready-to-use templates, and vast enterprise integrations, turning all your business’s data into actionable insights. The objective isn’t just digital transition but driving value. Harnessing the UNS, we can help you power your business’s efficiency, sustainability, and competitiveness.
*There are other components not included in the diagram above
As you can see, what sets us apart is its unique focus on time-to-value. Rather than getting lost in the intricacies of digital transformation, Litmus ensures that businesses see a clear ROI and improvements in their KPIs within just a month of integration. As Industry 4.0 unfurls its potential, having a partner like Litmus means being prepared, agile, and always 8 steps ahead in the game.
If that’s where you want to be too, contact us today to learn more!