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Unified Namespace

Seamlessly connect and communicate across shopfloor equipment, IT/OT systems, and microservices.

The Unified Namespace is a centralized, standardized, event-driven data architecture that enables for seamless integration and communication across various devices and systems in an industrial environment. It operates on the principle that all data, regardless of whether there is an immediate consumer, should be published and made available for consumption. This means that any node in the network can work as either a producer or a consumer, depending on the needs of the system at any given time.

This architecture is the foundation of the United Manufacturing Hub, and you can read more about it in the Learning Hub article.

When should I use it?

In our opinion, the Unified Namespace provides the best tradeoff for connecting systems in manufacturing / shopfloor scenarios. It effectively eliminates the complexity of spaghetti diagrams and enables real-time data processing.

While data can be shared through databases, REST APIs, or message brokers, we believe that a message broker approach is most suitable for most manufacturing applications. Consequently, every piece of information within the United Manufacturing Hub is transmitted via a message broker.

Both MQTT and Kafka are used in the United Manufacturing Hub. MQTT is designed for the safe message delivery between devices and simplifies gathering data on the shopfloor. However, it is not designed for reliable stream processing. Although Kafka does not provide a simple way to collect data, it is suitable for contextualizing and processing data. Therefore, we are combining both the strengths of MQTT and Kafka. You can get more information from this article.

What can I do with it?

The Unified Namespace in the United Manufacturing Hub provides you the following functionalities and applications:

  • Seamless Integration with MQTT: Facilitates straightforward connection with modern industrial equipment using the MQTT protocol.
  • Legacy Equipment Compatibility: Provides easy integration with older systems using tools like Node-RED or Benthos UMH, supporting various protocols like Siemens S7, OPC-UA, and Modbus.
  • Real-time Notifications: Enables instant alerting and data transmission through MQTT, crucial for time-sensitive operations.
  • Historical Data Access: Offers the ability to view and analyze past messages stored in Kafka logs, which is essential for troubleshooting and understanding historical trends.
  • Scalable Message Processing: Designed to handle a large amount of data from a lot of devices efficiently, ensuring reliable message delivery even over unstable network connections. By using IT standard tools, we can theoretically process data in the measure of GB/second instead of messages/second.
  • Data Transformation and Transfer: Utilizes the Data Bridge to adapt and transmit data between different formats and systems, maintaining data consistency and reliability.

Each feature opens up possibilities for enhanced data management, real-time monitoring, and system optimization in industrial settings.

You can view the Unified Namespace by using the Management Console like in the picture below. The picture shows data under the topic umh/v1/demo-pharma-enterprise/Cologne/_historian/rainfall/isRaining, where

  • umh/v1 is a versioning prefix.
  • demo-pharma-enterprise is a sample enterprise tag.
  • Cologne is a sample site tag.
  • _historian is a schema tag. Data with this tag will be stored in the UMH’s database.
  • rainfall/isRaining is a sample schema dependent context, where rainfall is a tag group and isRaining is a tag belonging to it.

The full tag name uniquely identifies a single tag, it can be found in the Publisher & Subscriber Info table.

Tag Browser
Tag Browser

The above image showcases the Tag Browser, our main tool for navigating the Unified Namespace. It includes the following features:

  • Data Aggregation: Automatically consolidates data from all connected instances / brokers.
  • Topic Structure: Displays the hierarchical structure of topics and which data belongs to which namespace.
  • Tag Folder Structure: Facilitates browsing through tag folders or groups within a single asset.
  • Schema validation: Introduces validation for known schemas such as _historian. In case of validation failure, the corresponding errors are displayed.
  • Tag Error Tracing: Enables error tracing within the Unified Namespace tree. When errors are detected in tags or schemas, all affected nodes are highlighted with warnings, making it easier to track down the troubled source tags or schemas.
  • Publisher & Subscriber Info: Provides various details, such as the origins and destinations of the data, the instance it was published from, the messages per minute to get an overview on how much data is flowing, and the full tag name to uniquely identify the selected tag.
  • Payload Visualization: Displays payloads under validated schemas in a formatted/structured manner, enhancing readability. For unknown schemas without strict validation, the raw payload is displayed instead.
  • Tag Value History: Shows the last 100 received values for the selected tag, allowing you to track the changes in the data over time. Keep in mind that this feature is only available for tags that are part of the _historian schema.
  • Example SQL Query: Generates example SQL queries based on the selected tag, which can be used to query the data in the UMH’s database or in Grafana for visualization purposes.
  • Kafka Origin: Provides information about the Kafka key, topic and the actual payload that was sent via Kafka.

It’s important to note that data displayed in the Tag Browser represent snapshots; hence, data sent at intervals shorter than 10 seconds may not be accurately reflected.

You can find more detailed information about the topic structure here.

You can also use tools like MQTT Explorer (not included in the UMH) or Redpanda Console (enabled by defualt, accessible via port 8090) to view data from a single instance (but single instance only).

How can I use it?

To effectively use the Unified Namespace in the United Manufacturing Hub, start by configuring your IoT devices to communicate with the UMH’s MQTT broker, considering the necessary security protocols. While MQTT is recommended for gathering data on the shopfloor, you can send messages to Kafka as well.

Once the devices are set up, handle the incoming data messages using tools like Node-RED or Benthos UMH. This step involves adjusting payloads and topics as needed. It’s also important to understand and follow the ISA95 standard model for data organization, using JSON as the primary format.

Additionally, the Data Bridge microservice plays a crucial role in transferring and transforming data between MQTT and Kafka, ensuring that it adheres to the UMH data model. You can configure a merge point to consolidate messages from multiple MQTT topics into a single Kafka topic. For instance, if you set a merge point of 3, the Data Bridge will consolidate messages from more detailed topics like umh/v1/plant1/machineA/temperature into a broader topic like umh/v1/plant1. This process helps in organizing and managing data efficiently, ensuring that messages are grouped logically while retaining key information for each topic in the Kafka message key.

Recommendation: Send messages from IoT devices via MQTT and then work in Kafka only.

What are the limitations?

While JSON is the only supported payload format due to its accessibility, it’s important to note that it can be more resource-intensive compared to formats like Protobuf or Avro.

Where to get more information?