The digitalization of industrial production has been driven forward for years with ever-increasing investment. However, comprehensive factory-wide or even company-wide digitalization is still the exception. According to McKinsey, there is a value creation potential of USD 3.7 trillion, but more than 70% of companies are unable to exploit this potential (source). Even on factory tours through so-called lighthouse factories, the production lines presented are often lighthouses themselves. So what is stopping the industry from making the breakthrough and can the application of the Unified Namespace (UNS) concept help?
The data problem in the manufacturing industry
To answer the question of the decisive obstacle, we need to understand where the potential of USD 3.7 trillion actually comes from. The simple answer: data. Industry 4.0 strives to use all available data to gain comprehensive insights into the past, current and future business situation. This includes:
- analyzing past business processes to create transparency for key performance indicators such as OEE
- Monitoring and analyzing current processes (e.g. through the implementation of condition monitoring)
- as well as the prediction of future business processes (e.g. by predicting machine failures with the help of predictive maintenance).
It does not matter whether the resulting decisions are made by company managers or by automated decision-making processes. If data is now unlocking potential, what is holding the industry back?
Although the effective use of data is crucial to remaining competitive, the industry has not yet managed to achieve a breakthrough. In addition to general challenges such as data silos, data quality and data security, the following two specific problems exist within the manufacturing industry.
1. Extreme system heterogeneity in OT and IT
2. Application-centric architecture
The Unified Namespace (UNS) – Overview
In contrast to an application-centric architecture, a data-centric architecture focuses on the data. The idea is that systems and applications should be built around the data and be interchangeable. This is precisely where the concept of the Unified Namespace (UNS) comes in. A Unified Namespace (UNS) represents a non-hierarchical system architecture in which all data is accessible via a standardized naming convention and data structure in a central message broker. Systems that are connected to the US act as both data producers and consumers. You publish and subscribe to data via the central message broker and adhere to plant or company-wide data standards.
This enables simple organization and access to data as well as the shared use and linking of resources across different systems and locations. In the manufacturing industry, MQTT and/or Kafka are often used successfully as Unified Namespace (UNS) brokers.
OT/IT integration and standardization in the UNS
To integrate heterogeneous OT and IT systems (e.g. PLC, SAP) into the broker, an additional component in the data infrastructure is recommended. This provides the corresponding OT/IT connectors and structures all data according to the defined naming conventions and data structures. This ensures that the connected data sources publish the data to the broker in accordance with a defined standard so that every system or user can retrieve and use this data directly without any additional effort. Standardization, especially of the heterogeneous machine landscape, is the key to a scalable application of the Unified Namespace (UNS) in the manufacturing industry.
Advantages of the UNS in the manufacturing industry
A UNS ensures fast data availability, scalability and dynamic exchangeability of the systems involved. Therefore, the use of the Unified Namespace (UNS) in the manufacturing industry has the following advantages:
- A flexible architecture that can adapt to changing business requirements (e.g. scale-up or scale-down scenarios)
- A central location for sharing and managing factory data (single source of truth), regardless of source, protocol or format
- Improved data integration and interoperability across departments, processes, systems and technologies
- Improved data accessibility and transparency for all users
- Independence from OT/IT system providers
The Unified Namespace (UNS) in Manufacturing
While the concept of a UNS can be used in various industries, there are some specific questions that need to be answered in the manufacturing industry. Examples of this include the question of the appropriate architecture level for the UNS implementation (e.g. factory edge, cloud) or the question of integrating OT systems (e.g. machines) into the UNS. Often dozens or even hundreds of factories and thousands of plants, systems and technologies have to be integrated. It should also be borne in mind that although a UNS in production can bring the aforementioned benefits, the costs of implementing and maintaining such an architecture must also be taken into account.
To meet these challenges successfully, careful evaluation in advance is crucial. The following steps provide guidance.