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Those closest to manufacturing challenges understand them best.
This is the philosophy behind no-code operations applications. No code applications let manufacturing experts–like engineers, plant managers, and seasoned operators–create fully functional, shop-floor ready applications for some of manufacturing’s toughest challenges.
With IoT connectivity, interactive displays, and conditional logic, operations apps can perform a wide variety of functions. There are as many possible apps as there are processes.
But with all this possibility, it can be hard to know where to start.
In this post, we’ll set you up for success by sharing our best tips for building a custom, functional applications.
Tip #1: Start with a clear business case or manufacturing problem
This may seem obvious, but the best operations apps are those built in service of a concrete business or manufacturing outcome. This means that you shouldn’t necessarily pick the “coolest” app you can think of, or build a complex app connected to every IoT device in your factory.
Rather, engineers learning to build no code apps should start with a process, metric, or outcome they would like to improve, and then design an app that produce will tangible results.
In our experience, most people tend to start by building a work instruction app. This is no surprise, as work instructions solve concrete manufacturing problems. They improve efficiency, reduce defects, and enhance operator engagement.
Further, the success of work instructions can be measured by a number of KPIs. Step time, cycle time, number of process completions in an hour, throughput, number of mistakes per step, operator performance, time spent on rework–these are just some of the dimensions that a work instruction app make it possible to measure and improve.
For “black box” factories–factories that haven’t yet collected a significant quantity of data on internal process and performance–work instructions provide a strong baseline against which further improvements can be measured.
Whatever the current state of your factory, the best apps are those built with measurable improvement in mind.
Tip #2: Start small
Once you’ve picked a business case or manufacturing outcome you’d like to improve, find a way to translate it into a manageable project. Often, this means reducing the scope of the initial project into something smaller.
If you’re designing digital work instructions, pick a few steps you’d like to prioritize first, or select a simple process without too many moving parts. It’s better to build a finished, functional app with a few steps than it is to start an ambitious project and abandon it halfway through.
Put differently, it’s much easier to expand on a working app than it is to bring a stalled project to the finish line.
Manufacturers trained in lean might recognize this focus on continuous improvement as part of a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. Others might see it as part of the agile playbook. Either way, the point is to deliver small pieces of value quickly, iterate often, fail fast and forward, and avoid get bogged down by an attempt at a masterpiece.
Tip #3: Consider the end user
A little empathy goes a long way. Before you start building your app, try to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will use it.
For example, a seasoned shop floor associate will have different needs than a new hire. A seasoned employee might get frustrated at a work instruction app that require him to manually trigger the next screen after finishing every step. Similarly, an employee in training might be overwhelmed by SOPs that provide too much information at once.
Either way, it’s up to the engineer to understand the needs of the end user, and to design an app with their experience in mind.
Tip #4: Map your app
At Tulip, we’re on a mission to eliminate paper from the shop floor. But don’t throw out those notepads yet! Instead, use them to diagram the logic and flow of your app. (Or, better yet, whiteboard it).
Operations apps are a flexible, powerful solution precisely because they allow engineers to use conditional logic, event based triggers, variables, and counters, all without writing a single line of code.
This means, however, that the flow of an app might not be trivial. For complicated apps, there can be many possible branches in logic, and dozens of variables updated in the course of a single app completion.
Before jumping into the no code development environment, sketch out the basic progression of steps, the variables you expect to store or update as you go, and any if/then branches that might occur throughout.
This will help you isolate any design problems, streamline your app’s flow, and improve your own concept of the app’s function and outcome. Ultimately, mapping your app makes it much easier to execute a working app.
Tip #5: Test as you go
Every trigger, connector, variable, and piece of logic you use creates a potential point for errors. Instead of waiting until you complete an app to test it, it pays to troubleshoot as you go.
In the course of building your app, make sure that everything works as intended before moving on to the next step. If a problem does arise, this process will allow you to isolate the cause, and build in functioning increments upon each step.
Pro tip: Tulip Customer Success Engineer and app builder extraordinaire Anabell Jimenez recommends building a hidden test step into your app. This step can be placed before or after the app begins, as long as it’s not accessible while the app is running. Test steps are useful because they let you ensure that all devices are properly connected, variables are updating, and logic is sound. They let you guarantee that everything is working “under the hood” without sharing with the end user.
Tip #6: Get creative
At the end of the day, the power of applications comes from their flexibility. There are a near infinite number of use cases to which they can be put. It’s up to the people on the shop floor to imagine how IoT connectivity and no code apps might work together to unlock new potential.
So once you understand the basic functionality of operations apps, and have some experience building simple application, try to imagine what your connected factory would look like.
If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking “I wish I could…” with regards to your lines, consider how IoT enabled apps might make that desire a reality.
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