No-code platforms enable manufacturing experts, those closest to operations, to design flexible, scalable, customizable applications. They allow for better allocation of human and company resources and make sure that organizations leverage their process and domain expertise to the fullest extent.
Most importantly, these platforms give control back to engineers on the shop floor.
What is no-code?
“No-code” refers to software platforms that allow engineers to design applications without directly interacting with back-end systems. These platforms provide a visual development environment, usually in the form of a graphic user interface, and allow users to drag and drop different app elements into place. For instance, no-code platforms allow you to add rich media such as videos, images, documents, and CAD files to apps, as well as interactive, digital forms for collecting data easily through checkboxes, text fields, dropdown menus, and booleans. Additionally, you can build flexible databases to store and analyze data collected from people, machines, and devices.
In short, “no-code” refers to platforms that allow employees without technical training to build fully-functioning, enterprise-ready applications from scratch or from pre-made templates. Those that build such fully-functioning apps are known as citizen developers.
Who is No-Code For?
The short answer is everybody. That’s why it’s called ‘citizen development’.
Just as Blogspot made it possible for anyone to be an author, and YouTube democratized video, no-code platforms remove the technical barriers previously required to develop robust, production-ready applications. No-code blurs the boundaries between producers and users of software by creating an infrastructure for further development.
Since the advent of no-code, commentators have settled on the term “citizen developer” to describe the democratization of development technology. Gartner has written that no-code is a key pillar of a broader digital strategy precisely because it broadens a company’s development base. Their argument is that businesses will succeed faster if they can radically shorten the development cycle, and involve significantly more business personnel in the development process. According to the research firm, “citizen development is fundamental to digital transformation.”
Why Manufacturing Needs No-Code
No-code platforms have the potential to be especially disruptive in manufacturing. To get the full scope of their impact, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of no-code and traditional solutions.
What traditional solutions are missing
If there’s one word to describe traditional manufacturing software, it’s “rigid.” And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Traditional solutions like the MES and ERP can coordinate, execute, and track a factory’s processes, producing tangible improvements in quality, efficiency, and visibility. And if it wasn’t for its robust frameworks and systems, managing such a varied and extensive range of processes would prompt unvalidated changes that can lead to catastrophic waste or mistakes in manufacturing. This would impact the bottom line.
But because of their rigid nature, these traditional, top-down systems are built with IT at their core, not the shop floor personnel. They are:
- Difficult and expensive to customize
- Slow to implement – according to Gartner, the average implementation time is 15-16 months
- Difficult to update as operational needs change
- Not keeping up with the pace of technological development
The truth is, in this changing landscape of production, more and more manufacturers are expected to produce customized products, and production lines need to accommodate numerous variations upon core products. New product introduction cycles have become shorter and shorter, and profit margins have become thinner and thinner.
Benefits of no-code
So why is no-code (flexibility, speed, iterability, democratization) the better solution for keeping up with the pace of technological development?
The benefits to no-code are immediate and substantial.
1. Better allocation of IT/engineer hours
Because no-code allows each side of the technical divide to do what they do best, it leads to a much better allocation of valuable IT time and engineering resources.
In many cases, this means faster time-to-market and more secure systems overall.
2. Decentralizing Innovation
An unintended consequence of hierarchies is that they are slow to innovate. The more layers and approvals an idea has to traverse before it can happen, the more hands involved in bringing it to life, the slower it will move. By decentralizing development – by streamlining approvals and removing unnecessary barriers preventing business users from experimenting and testing – no-code platforms encourage innovation.
No-code platforms lower the opportunity cost for innovation by decreasing the distance between ideas and execution.
3. Ability to stay agile, iterate, and improve faster
Because no-code places control back in the hands of the engineers and operators closest to the manufacturing problems, it encourages rapid iteration, decentralized decision-making, smaller value delivered more often, and faster response to change.
4. Flexibility and speed – with safeguards
With flexible approvals and permissions, large enterprise-size organizations can set up processes to maintain control of app updates. This is especially useful for restricting edits to back-end databases used for storing process information or for collecting data from machines, devices, and workers.
How Shop Floor Engineers become Citizen Developers
Once a manufacturing engineer identifies a use case, they brainstorm what steps it would take to address their problem. Once these steps have been outlined, they use the platform to turn an abstract set of steps into a concrete solution.
This is where engineers put on their citizen developer hats.
Engineers will begin to design their applications using the platform’s visual editor, dragging and dropping various media and text elements to match their desired layout. The elements on the page can then be made interactive to respond to inputs from people, machines, and ambient conditions in real-time.
Using the advanced no-code solutions along with IoT connectivity, responsive logic, and control over multiple variables, citizen developers can program responses to specific inputs that trigger a response if they meet certain conditions.
IoT is for the Citizen Developers
Manufacturing apps differentiate themselves from other solutions through the Internet of Things connectivity. Simple plug-and-play connectors let citizen developers create apps that communicate with machines and devices in real-time, bringing people and machines into a responsive, dynamic whole.
Applications coordinate people and processes and respond to certain pre-programmed conditions while recording and delivering data in real-time. This is a revolutionary step from the past, where teams of developers could take days to scope, write, and push minor developments.
Sample No-Code Application: Visual Work Instructions
Manufacturers can easily update their standard procedures with digital work instructions.
No-code platforms let engineers design media-rich, visual work instructions. IoT connectivity responds to operator actions in real-time, and guarantees that instructions are followed to the letter. Conditional logic lets engineers design work instructions that are responsive to even the most complicated, customizable assemblies.
Because the engineers on the shop floors are the ones that know the smallest of details in their build, translating their vision of what would make an efficient process directly into an app can streamline workstreams. Giving engineers the ability to put 100% of their input into what they will be using day-to-day is the closest you can be to minimizing any waste of valuable time and talent.
The signs that no-code platforms are here to stay are clear. Manufacturing operations are evolving and changing faster than ever. Business cycles are moving faster than ever. And there’s a greater need than ever for customized business applications.
No-code platforms return control to frontline engineers. They give IT time to focus on critical systems and security initiatives. And they’re flexible enough to rise to the manufacture’s toughest challenges.
To learn more about how next-gen manufacturers are embracing citizen development, watch the on-demand recordings from Next-Gen Manufacturing: The Rise of the Citizen Developer. You’ll learn how businesses are implementing no-code platforms that empower their engineers and managers to build powerful, rapid-built apps that solve problems without coding expertise.