Node-RED Unleashed: Transforming Industrial IoT Development and Industry Collaboration with Hitachi

Hear from Hitachi's Kazuhito Yokoi to find out more about Node-RED and why it is becoming so popular in Industrial IoT applications.

Node-RED is an open source, flow-based development tool designed for programming Internet of Things (IoT) applications with ease, and is a part of the OpenJS Foundation. It provides a browser-based editor where users can wire together devices, APIs, and online services by dragging and dropping nodes into a flow. This visual approach to programming makes it accessible for users of all skill levels to create complex applications by connecting different elements without writing extensive code. 

Node-RED has been working on some great improvements lately, including the first beta release of Node-RED 4.0. Updates include auto-complete in flow/global/env inputs, timestamp formatting options and better, faster, more compliant CSV node. More to come in the full release next month!

Recently, the OpenJS Foundation talked with Kazuhito Yokoi (横井 一仁), Learning & Development Division, Hitachi Academy, to find out more about Node-RED and why it is becoming so popular in Industrial IoT applications. 

A browser-based low-code programming tool sounds great, but how often do users end up having to write code anyway?

It depends on user skills and systems. If users such as factory engineers have no IT skills, they can create flow without coding. The two most common cases are data visualization and sending data to a cloud environment. In these cases, users can create their systems by connecting Node-RED nodes. 

If users have IT skills, they can more easily customize Node-RED flow. They need to know about SQL when they want to store sensor data. If they want external npm modules, they should understand how to call the function through JavaScript coding, but in both cases, the programming code of a Node-RED node is usually on a computer screen.

Hitachi is using Generative AI based on a Hitachi LLM to support the use of low-code development. Do you personally use ChatGPT with Node-RED? Do you think it will increase efficiency in creating low-code Node-RED flows?

Yes, I do use ChatGPT with Node-RED. Recently, I used ChatGPT to generate code to calculate location data. Calculating direction and distance from two points, including latitude and longitude, is difficult because it requires trigonometric functions. But ChatGPT can automatically generate the source code from the prompt text. In particular, the function-gpt node, developed by FlowFuse, can generate JavaScript code in the Node-RED-specific format within a few seconds. Users just type the prompt text on the Node-RED screen. 

It’s clear to me that using ChatGPT with Node-RED allows IT engineers to reduce their coding time, and it expands the capabilities of factory engineers because they can try to write code themselves.

In addition to factory applications, there's a compelling use case in Japan that underscores the versatility of Node-RED, especially for individuals without an IT skill set. In Tokyo, the Tokyo Mystery Circus, an amusement building, utilizes Node-RED to control its displays and manage complex interactions. The developer behind this project lacked a traditional IT background but needed a way to handle sophisticated tasks, such as controlling various displays that display writing as part of the gameplay. By using Node-RED, along with ChatGPT for creating complex handling scripts, the developer was able to achieve this. 

Using these technologies in such a unique environment illustrates how accessible and powerful tools like Node-RED and ChatGPT can be for non-traditional programmers. This example, highlighted in Tokyo and extending to cities like Osaka and Nagoya, showcases the practical application of these technologies in a wide range of settings beyond traditional IT and engineering domains. 

For more details, the video below (in Japanese) provides insight into how Tokyo Mystery Circus uses Node-RED in its operations.

Why is Node-RED popular for building Industrial IoT applications?

Node-RED was developed in early 2013 as a side-project by Nick O'Leary and Dave Conway-Jones of IBM's Emerging Technology Services group and is particularly well-known for its support of IoT protocols like MQTT and HTTP. Because Node-RED has many functions in MQTT, it is ready for use in Industrial IoT. 

From MQTT, other protocols like OPC UA (cross-platform, open-source, IEC62541 standard for data exchange from sensors to cloud applications) and Modbus (client/server data communications protocol in the application layer) can be used in 3rd party nodes developed by the community. 

Because Node-RED can connect many types of devices, it is very popular in the Industrial IoT field. In addition, many industrial devices support Node-RED. Users can buy these devices and start using Node-RED quickly.

Why have companies like Microsoft, Hitachi, Siemens, AWS and others adopted Node-RED?

Regarding Hitachi, Node-RED has emerged as a crucial communication tool bridging the gap between IT and factory engineers, effectively addressing the barriers that exist both in technology and interpersonal interactions. Within one company, IT and OT (Operational Technology) departments often operate like two distinct entities, which makes it challenging to communicate despite the critical importance of collaboration. 

To overcome this, Hitachi decided to adopt Node-RED as a primary communication tool in programming. Node-RED’s intuitive interface allows for the entire flow to be visible on the screen, facilitating discussions and collaborative efforts seamlessly.

This approach was put into practice recently when I, as the only IT Engineer, visited a Hitachi factory. Initially, typing software code on my own, the factory engineers couldn't grasp the intricacies of the work. However, after developing a Node-RED flow, it became a focal point of interest, enabling other engineers to gather around and engage with the project actively. 

This shift towards a more inclusive and comprehensible method of collaboration underscores the value of Node-RED in demystifying IT for non-specialists.

I believe Siemens operates under a similar paradigm, utilizing Node-RED to enhance communication between its IT and engineering departments. Moreover, major companies like Microsoft and AWS are also recognizing the potential of Node-RED. By integrating it within their IT environments, they aim to promote their cloud services more effectively. This wide adoption of Node-RED across different sectors, from industrial giants to cloud service providers, highlights its versatility and effectiveness as a tool for fostering understanding and cooperation across diverse technological landscapes.

How important is Node-RED in the MING (MQTT, InfluxDB, Node-RED, Grafana) stack?

Node-RED is an essential tool in the MING stack because it is a central component that facilitates the connection to other software. The MING stack is designed to facilitate data collection, storage, processing, and visualization, and it brings together the key open source components of an IoT system.

Its importance cannot be overstated as it connects various software components and represents the easiest way to store and manage data. This functionality underscores its crucial role in the integration and efficiency of the stack, highlighting its indispensability in achieving streamlined data processing and application development.

Node-RED has introduced advanced features like Git Integration, Flow Debugger and Flow Linter. What's next for improving the developer experience with Node-RED?

The main focus of Node-RED development at the moment is to improve the collaboration tooling - working towards concurrent editing to make it easier for multiple users to work together.

Another next step for the community is building a flow testing tool. Flow testing is needed to ensure stability. There's a request from the community for flow testing capabilities for Node-RED flows. 

In response, the Node-RED team, with significant contributions from Nick O'Leary (CTO and Founder, FlowFuse, and Node-RED Project Lead), is developing a flow testing tool, primarily as a plugin. A design document for this first implementation called node-red-flow-tester is available, allowing users to post issues and contribute feedback, which has been very useful. 

The tool aims to leverage REST API test frameworks for testing, although it's noted that some components cannot be tested in detail. If made available, this tool would simplify the process of upgrading Node-RED and its JavaScript version, ensuring compatibility with dependency modules.
Simultaneously, my focus has been on documentation and organizing hands-on events related to advanced features such as Git integration. These features are vital, as, without them, users might face challenges in their development projects. On Medium, under the username kazuhitoyokoi, I have published 6 articles that delve into these advanced features. 
One article specifically focuses on Git integration and is also available in Japanese, indicating the effort to cater to a broader audience. Furthermore, I have been active on Qiita, a popular Japanese technical knowledge-sharing platform, where I organized the first hands-on event. The first event full video is available here. (In Japanese)

The second event was held on March 18, 2024, and a third event is scheduled for April 26, 2024, showcasing the community's growing interest in these topics and the practical application of Node-RED in development projects. This multifaceted approach, combining tool development, documentation, and community engagement, aims to enhance the Node-RED ecosystem, making it more accessible and user-friendly for developers around the world.

Contributions to the Node-RED community include source code, internationalization of the flow editor, bug reports, feature suggestions, participating in developer meetings, and more. What is the best way to get started contributing to Node-RED?

If you are not a native English speaker, I recommend translating the Node-RED flow editor as a great way to start contributing. 

Currently, users can contribute to the Node-RED project by creating a JSON file that contains local language messages. If the user finds a bug, try inspecting the code. The Node-RED source code is very easy to understand. After trying the fix, the user can make a pull request.


The interview shows that Node-RED is an essential tool to improve collaboration between different professionals without technical barriers in the development of Industrial IoT applications. Discover the potential of Node-RED for your projects and contribute to the Node-RED project. The future of Node-RED is in our hands!