The history of low-code/no-code in manufacturing

In the past five years, no-code platforms have empowered workers in every industry to design solutions to the challenges they face every day, without writing a single line of code.

Perhaps more than any other industry, no-code platforms have the potential to change how manufacturers solve problems. By putting control back in the hands of frontline engineers, no-code platforms let those closest to problems design their own solutions.

Still, misconceptions and misinformation about no-code platforms abound. Here, we’ll look at 6 of the biggest misconceptions about no-code in manufacturing, and explain how they get it wrong.

Misconception #1: No-code is only for simple apps

The greatest misconception about the no-code revolution is that no-code platforms can only produce simple apps.

This myth stems from the impression that robust, functional manufacturing applications can only be built by those with hard-won coding skills. It likely has its roots in the MES era, when manufacturing software was designed for IT, not front line engineers, and minor changes took a significant effort to scope, code, and push.

It also couldn’t be further from the truth.

While no-code platforms limit the development environment, they don’t put limits on what users can create. For every problem on the shop floor, there’s a potential solution in the form of an application.

And apps grow more sophisticated in functionality every day. With features such as conditional logic, dynamic, event-based triggers, and Internet of Things connectivity, no-code apps are able to perform complex manufacturing tasks under high-stress conditions.

As Forbes recently wrote of no-code applications, “No-code platforms have become extremely sophisticated and support rich functionality in apps. It is now possible to build most end-to-end enterprise applications on a no-code platform.”

Tulip quality event log app
Complex, IoT-enabled visual quality inspection app

Misconception #2: No-code is bad for IT

If you were to only listen only to marketing materials, you would get the sense that IT and manufacturing engineers are locked in a continuous struggle. In order to stress how no-code platforms increase the autonomy of manufacturers, they’ve overstated the antagonism on both sides of the technical divide.

In reality, no-code gives both manufacturers and IT specialists a lot to be excited about.

Because no-code allows each side of the technical divide to do what they do best, it leads to much better allocation of valuable IT time and engineering resources. It produces collaboration and empathy across business functions where there may have been none before.

In many cases, this means faster time-to-market, higher ROI, and more secure systems overall.

Perhaps counterintuitively, no-code solutions are just as valuable for companies with deep benches of developers as they are for those without significant engineering resources.

As the manager of one technology and marketing solutions company noted of her decision to use a no-code platform, “Of course if our developers had time, they could have come up with solutions. But we didn’t have time, and if we’d waited for the developers, we’d be out $1 million.”

This is especially true in manufacturing.

When rolling out a new line of food products, manufacturer of smart kitchen technology Chefsteps, a company with many capable software developers, faced a make or buy decision: should they divert engineering resources to build manufacturing applications, or purchase a no-code solution?

Ultimately, they decided to use Tulip’s no-code solution, and the benefits were immediate. As Chefsteps software engineer Jeremy Shaffer noted, “From an ROI perspective, our investment in building apps in Tulip is far less than the opportunity cost we would incur by building our own custom software.”

Misconception #3: No-Code can’t scale

There’s a firmly held belief that custom solutions don’t scale well. (For apps, Forbes defines “scaling” as “capable of expanding upwards and outwards to serve the bigger data throughput needs of fully-blown enterprises.”)

This view is understandable from the perspective of custom, hard-coded applications and MES. In situations where every line of code needs to be optimized, high degrees of customization can be a nightmare to deploy at scale.

No-code apps, in many cases, scale in manufacturing better than their hard-coded counterparts precisely because they don’t require someone to manually edit code to accommodate expanded usage and use-cases. They’re easier to design and deploy on multiple lines, in multiple factories, and they allow for small incremental updates sensitive to local conditions.

And because no-code apps allow users to make changes as required by their business needs, they’re better set to export and scale. They’re an essential tool for achieving harmony across plants.

Misconception #4: There’s still some coding involved

This misconception is understandable when you consider that phrases that the phrases “low-code” and “no-code” are often spoken in the same breath.

Quite often, they’re used interchangeably. It’s worth stating this clearly: low-code and no-code are not the same thing.

Low-code still requires coding. It’s designed for developers, and its core benefit, among others, is a faster, more agile development cycle for business applications.

Tulip app editor on a laptop
Visual development editor for manufacturing applications

With no-code, the name says it all.

Adrian Bridgwater, a journalist writing for Forbes, has pointedly differentiated low- and no-code platforms:

“It’s important to remember that low-code is not the same as no-code. It’s not the same at all. No-code is for businesspeople… and is really all about telling the system the functions you want and knowing that the technology can build it for you. Low-code is still for developers and (as we have said before) is still pretty complex, but it does offer a means of making things faster for people who have tangible software engineering skills.”

Misconception #5: No-code apps aren’t secure

This is an objection often heard from IT departments. It’s entirely fair that professionals who’ve devoted their careers to creating secure systems would worry that “citizen developers” would, through sloppy execution or ignorance,” introduce vulnerabilities.

But no-code applications are completely safe. And manufacturers without cyber security expertise are not at risk of exposing critical infrastructure or data to attacks.

This is because the platforms themselves are secure, and IT plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of the platform itself. When a business user builds an application, they’re building within the sandbox of the platform. They can’t introduce vulnerabilities, because they don’t have the authority or ability to change anything occurring in the system’s back-end.

TechTarget even found that no-code platforms “help eliminate security problems associated with shadow IT and third-party apps.”

For manufacturers, this means that engineers can build and deploy IoT enable apps without increasing risk.

Misconception #6: No-code is a fad–developers will take over again soon

Given the rapid and relentless churning of the hype cycle, it’s no wonder that tech enthusiasts and manufacturers alike approach every “revolution” skeptically. Rarely do hyped technologies do everything they say they can do, and more often than not, tech fads pass faster than fashion.

For no-code, however, the prospects look good. Market valuation has skyrocketed recently, and analysts at Forrester Research predict that the no- and low-code markets will reach $15 billion by 2020.

Further, there’s an enduring shortage of qualified software developers in the global labor market. Even if it was cost effective to hard code all applications, there simply aren’t enough specialists to do so.

When considering the agility no-code gives manufacturers, as well as the engineering resources it frees, no-code appears a stable tool for digital transformation.

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