Image representing Accelerating Innovation in <span class='text-indigo-600'>Manufacturing with FlowFuse</span>

For a successful IIoT transformation, manufacturers must bridge the gap between IT (business data) and OT (factory equipment data). This allows them to analyze all their data and become a data-driven company.

An MES system is focused on what to build and how to build it, not measuring, understanding, or improving the processes. Industrial data integration is typically point-to-point, from shop floor equipment to SCADA to MES and ERP to cloud and back along the same chain. Point-to-point creates an architecture that is inflexible and difficult to manage because of a plethora of interfaces that need manipulation to extract data.

Say you have a predictive analytics use case where data integration may take experts months (sometimes years) to set up and create a prototype. When your next use case is energy efficiency, that prototype work now needs to be repeated to collect data from all the different systems.

Finding value in these applications is also difficult because of how long they take to be realized. The expertise is costly and the repetitive work is slow. Prototyping for experimentation with data becomes prohibitive and difficult to scale. This approach creates data silos that inhibit collaboration and prevent a holistic view of the data that can be used by AI and ML models to improve the performance of your operations.

This is the antithesis of innovation.

Companies must enter the world of smart manufacturing, where machines and sensors are fully connected, and production is optimized with automated decision-making. A data-driven technology approach is necessary where systems are integrated and can adapt quickly to changes in processes, whether from materials or schedules, in an agile environment. This connected and responsive smart manufacturing ecosystem is how manufacturers will fully benefit from the innovations in Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where data exchange, automation, and the interconnectivity of the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform manufacturing processes to be more productive and more quickly able to meet market demands. To begin this move toward innovation in manufacturing, companies need an adaptive and unifying information infrastructure that can also centralize data from disparate sources across the enterprise and make it available to teams when and where it’s needed.

The Data Dynamic Duo: UNS & MQTT

Formatting data into a common structure so that applications can use it is essential for interoperability. Enter the Unified Namespace (UNS). UNS is a framework that standardizes data with a naming structure and makes it available to applications across the organization for rapid iterative development and integration. With a UNS data infrastructure, all the systems within the manufacturing environment are nodes, and data flows into a central hub, where the data is accessible in a standard format. Data from different protocol interfaces and system configurations is contextualized and semantically organized into one unified access through a single interface.

Unified Namespace Graphic

This approach differs dramatically from the rigid point-to-point data architecture typically found in manufacturing and industrial environments.

By adopting a unified namespace, you can streamline and simplify the process of connecting and extracting data from thousands of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This unified approach provides a foundation for building valuable use cases by leveraging a centralized and organized data repository.

To make the data uniformly accessible, you would use MQTT to create a single access point. MQTT has a topic structure to organize information in a semantic hierarchy from OT and IT and makes it accessible in a unified way. You don’t need to worry about how many servers lie behind the data or how many connectivity interfaces you need to replicate, which can shift addressing data use cases from months to days or hours.

Typically, to implement a UNS, you'll adapt your data producers to talk to a typical broker using MQTT. This adaptation layer is Node-RED. MQTT and Node-RED live next to each other in the architecture and are key components in the MING technology stack for IoT solutions: M - Mosquitto/MQTT, I-InfluxDB, N-Node-RED, G-Grafana.

But there are more benefits to using Node-RED in your architecture that accelerate the opportunities for innovation in manufacturing.

Node-RED and Citizen Development in Manufacturing

Node-RED is an open-source programming tool for linking hardware devices, APIs and online services into flows. These flows are easy to assemble using a visual, browser-based editor and a pallet of nodes that can be deployed to its runtime in a single click. Due to its open-source community, Node-RED has over 5,000 nodes for integration and extension in its library, making it a highly flexible tool for working with diverse data sets.

For instance, Node-RED can create a client using Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC-UA) nodes. OPC-UA works with PLCs, sensors, and other equipment in industrial automation to communicate in a standardized way and exchange data without vendor compatibility conflicts.

Manufacturing Node-RED Architecture

The large set of available nodes makes development faster and allows for a degree of code standardization that promotes higher quality and less technical debt. Node-RED allows for custom node creation for internal processes, allowing them to be shared across all applications and creating standard patterns for everyone to follow.

This low-code visual programming environment of Node-RED is key to digital transformation in a manufacturing environment. Developed by former manufacturing engineers who have intimate knowledge of industrial operational environments, Node-RED makes it possible for engineers to develop high-quality code by using visual flows without extensive software development experience.

This allows citizen developers to make an active contribution to digital transformation. Citizen developers are employees who create applications and software solutions for their organization using expertise in their specific domains but are not software developers.

Leveraging Node-RED’s low-code visual working environment, citizen developers can extract data to publish to the broker and combine and transform many data flows to visualize operations. They can build unique dashboards and apps that automate tasks, streamline processes, and improve existing systems' user experiences. These applications may be bespoke, and highly specific to their own use cases to help them make better decisions and optimize their area’s performance.

Citizen development is a growing trend in the industry, harmonizing IT and OT interests. They bring an array of benefits to make businesses more efficient and cost-effective.

Acceleration of Software Development: Low-code platforms significantly expedite the software development process, enabling more efficient realization of business requirements. By quickening development, these platforms free up time and resources for design and innovation, leading to higher-quality software that better serves the business's needs.

Crafting Bespoke Applications: Organizations can democratize digital solutions by empowering non-professional coders with the right tools and resources. This not only facilitates the creation of custom systems that fit seamlessly into existing infrastructures but also enables rapid creativity and development, even for those without prior coding experience.

Enhancement of Operational Processes and Customer Experiences: With the automation capabilities of low-code platforms and the innovative solutions generated by citizen developers, operational processes can be optimized and customer experiences significantly improved. The synergy between these elements can lead to efficiency gains through automation and delivering more effective, customer-centric solutions.

From reducing development costs to increasing productivity, citizen developers offer significant value to organizations seeking ways to stay competitive.

This shift toward embracing citizen development within manufacturing represents a unique opportunity where both sides benefit significantly. Not only do OT departments gain access to custom applications tailored precisely to their needs, but IT teams can lead guidance for self-empowerment, resulting in greater efficiency through automation.

However, Node-RED has its limitations. It cannot scale its software delivery throughout the enterprise while maintaining security. It also lacks software version controls and tools for teams of developers, making it difficult to track instances deployed in the organization.

STFI: Node-RED in action

“Node-RED is very easy to use and quick to develop. The low-code interface makes it possible for a non-professional developer to quickly start building applications. Node-RED allows you to focus on developing the important things you want to create and not worry about a lot of the lower-level infrastructure you need to connect data from different sources.”

Andreas Boehm, Industrial Engineer, Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut e.V. (STFI)

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FlowFuse For Enterprise

FlowFuse was founded by Nick O’Leary, the inventor of Node-RED to address the needs of manufacturing enterprises. The FlowFuse platform works with Node-RED and offers organizations a way to incorporate and scale Node-RED, making it compliant, governed, and secure within the existing solution landscape, while providing an intuitive, customizable platform to build applications in a low-code environment to accelerate the digital transformation of industrial processes.

From production monitoring to supply chain management, FlowFuse allows teams to use unified OT and IT data to build customized, reliable applications for their unique manufacturing needs, bringing agile iteration into industrial operations.

Collecting diverse data from hardware, sensors, and edge devices through the MQTT broker to the UNS, FlowFuse has the power and ease to connect the data through intuitive OT data visualization flows, revolutionizing real-time equipment and device monitoring in manufacturing.

FlowFuse Architecture

Creating custom applications built with FlowFuse accesses unified data from throughout the manufacturing process and yields improved analysis of in-the-moment operational data. It allows teams to gain a comprehensive view of the production process, improving decision-making and efficiency. Establishing event triggers to automate an instant response to production line changes reduces downtime and boosts efficiency and flexibility in operations.

Innovation in Manufacturing is in Reach

The most significant enabler of innovation in manufacturing is the ability to streamline application prototyping in a low-code environment. The increase in speed to deployment and reduction in development cost remove barriers to creating valuable digital transformation for your organization.

Manufacturing is no longer reliant on point-to-point architecture, bogged down in proprietary platforms, confined to data silos, and waiting on slow, expensive software development. Creating a UNS & MQTT architecture allows data from throughout the organization to be accessible.

Using Node-RED’s low-code environment allows citizen developers to use their expertise to create applications and dashboards that inform their decisions. For process optimization, predictive analytics, and more, Node-RED enables iteration and rapid development of innovative, low-cost bespoke software solutions.

However, scaling this data access within a low-code environment across the enterprise and throughout every touchpoint in the manufacturer’s ecosystem is where FlowFuse gives your innovation wings.

FlowFuse ensures data and network security, establishing guardrails to keep your operation safe while teams are empowered to experiment with browser-based visual flows that integrate OT and IT data. The secure development environment fosters collaboration and allows multiple team members to co-create applications. The collaborative approach spurs creative idea generation and discovery while enhancing teamwork, and increasing efficiency, and cohesion.

By incorporating widely recognized and structured DevOps pipelines, FlowFuse provides expert support at various stages of development, from production to deployment, for continuous, secure, and high-quality application delivery backed by their professional guidance.

Abrasive Technology: Node-RED and FlowFuse in action

“Node-RED’s versatility and development speed have allowed Abrasive Technology to tackle projects that might have been deemed out-of-reach or discouraging in the past. It also allows us to develop our applications in a platform-agnostic way that is much more flexible and agile regarding hardware selection and adaptability. Our search for a better way to host and manage our Node-RED instances is what started our transition to using FlowFuse."

Josh Dudley, Abrasive Technology

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In your move toward a smart manufacturing environment and the interconnected operations of Industry 4.0, FlowFuse with Node-RED is ideally positioned to work with data throughout your OT and IT environments, giving your teams the power and security to create applications that will truly innovate at every level of your organization.

Contact FlowFuse to learn more about how we can support your manufacturing enterprise innovation.