No-code and the new manufacturing frontier

5 mins read

For manufacturers, the road to automation success is obstructed by a continuing skills shortage. Successful implementation and management of manufacturing execution systems and robotic process automation can place heavy demands on software development. However, that doesn’t need to be the case. It’s time to explore the opportunities of no-code, explains Knud Kegel, VP Product at EMnify

The UK economy loses out on £1.5 billion of revenue every year due to skills shortages within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.[1] Not only is this impacting the UK’s ability to compete on the world stage, it’s also applying downward pressure on the rate of innovation.

At an organisational level, this is holding businesses back, reducing profit margins and diminishing success. Manufacturing and engineering verticals are being impacted the most by these skills shortages, with 85% of UK managers in the sector saying they are struggling to find suitable candidates.[2] In the USA, a study by Deloitte estimates there will be 2.4 million manufacturing positions left unfilled between 2018 and 2028.[3]

When businesses are understaffed and slower to innovate, they are slower to adopt new technologies, harness automation and benefit from advances in manufacturing processes.

Automate faster, adjust quicker with no-code

Robotic process automation (RPA), cellular IoT and more flexible manufacturing execution systems (MES) go a long way towards solving many of the challenges facing manufacturing businesses. Yet for manufacturers to build additional margin and plan for success, automation processes need to be faster and easier to program and implement.

In a sector facing long-term STEM skills shortages, this means embracing the no-code revolution for everything from RPA to MES.

So, what is no-code?

No-code development is aimed at engineers that don’t have programming knowledge. It’s based on a visual drag-and-drop user interface, with no hand coding required to reach the end goal.

Over recent years it has empowered workers to design solutions to overcome the challenges they face every day, without writing a single line of code.

What’s more, it’s becoming better, more effective and more widely accepted as a robust alternative to hand coding. In 2019, 84% of enterprises across the USA, UK, Canada and Australia had already implemented a low-code development tool or platform to take care of some of their coding needs.[4]

No-code is flexible, accessible and allows for speedy deployment of code to solve manufacturing problems. By placing control firmly in the hands of frontline engineers, no-code lets those closest to the problems design their own solutions. It’s a paradigm shift.

Build flexibility into your MES

From an holistic view, manufacturing execution systems are tasked with coordinating, executing and tracking plant processes. The MES is a specialist class of production-oriented software that manages, monitors and synchronizes the execution of your real-time, physical processes.[5]

Yet, because every manufacturing environment is different, requirements vary from plant to plant, as well as between adjacent industries. Every MES needs to be heavily modified to fit within its environment, and it needs to be fed rigid parameters to ensure its success.

That’s useful for IT components baked into the manufacturing process, but it also makes it difficult for your frontline manufacturing teams to carry out any necessary modifications.

This is where no-code platforms can make all the difference. Use them to bridge the gap between the rigidity of the MES and the changing needs of your manufacturing lines. With end user expectations growing exponentially, and customers in all industries wanting better quality products, delivered faster, and for less cost, manufacturers are tasked with producing new products with increasing speed and frequency. And that translates into a real need for no-code solutions.

When development time is scarce, and specialist skills are in short supply, manufacturers need to focus on creating unique product advantages, rather than spend time hand coding and integrating the components of automation. It’s all about speed of integration, and that’s what a no-code solution delivers, boosting your ROI at the same time.

There’s also the opportunity to drive efficiencies even further, with no-code for robotic process automation. RPA can reduce costs by minimizing human errors and increasing compliance, as well as maximizing productivity and increasing your go-to-market speed. This is the next natural step on your no-code journey.

Smart manufacturing with cellular IoT

As we continue our route through Industry 4.0, reaping the benefits of flexible factory automation, there’s an increasing need for secure and reliable communication between the MES, the production line machinery and the engineering team. Real-time data on machine output and production processes can radically increase visibility and productivity, as well as pre-empting maintenance requirements and reducing their impact.

When using ubiquitous cellular networks, data acquisition gets easer and faster. However, choosing the right IoT platform to streamline, integrate and secure IoT communication can mean the difference between seamless, actionable data communications and limited insights with cybersecurity vulnerabilities. And that could shut down your production lines.

Always ensure you have the right cellular solution for the job. Consumer-focused mobile services just aren’t designed to handle the unique requirements of manufacturing. With the right specialist provider, you’ll be able to enjoy no-code automation for your cellular IoT management infrastructure too.

Leaner, more responsive engineers

There’s also high value in being able to operate across a lean internal team. When engineers can build, monitor and act upon manufacturing applications, they are already close to the problem. They understand both the challenge and the potential solution. Often, what they don’t have is an internal software development team at their disposal. And with no-code, they don’t need it.

No-code use cases in manufacturing include traffic monitoring around facilities, to ensure worker safety and traffic flow, with digital boards and speed meters. Or smart building data collection based on temperature, vibration, lights, on/off switching, meters, motion and flow, all sending failure alerts across multiple networks and using cloud native single connection without public internet breakout.

There’s also the need for rapid data collection in production process, such as count, temperature and video. Simple boxes with autonomous operation can be deployed easily with no-code, avoiding the integration into complex production lines. Plus, you'll be able to build trigger-based operational workflows in just a few clicks.

When you build cellular IoT into the equation, it’ll magnify the no-code opportunity for your business, creating both vertical and horizontal integration. The information already exists across your systems and supply chain. All you’re doing is connecting it together, improving transparency and presenting new options. These are just a few examples of no-code in action.

A brighter no-code future

What we’re now seeing with the rapid adoption of no-code tools is similar to the SaaS explosion. SaaS provided a lean alternative to owning the software and paying for the maintenance, bringing many advantages with it. Quick set-up, seamless deployment and lower upfront costs are the hallmark. And no-code is on a similar industry-disrupting trajectory.

The development capabilities of no-code platforms will only continue to grow in the coming years. So, too, will the reach of these innovative tools into manufacturing facilities, fulfilling the promise of effective and flexible automation solutions that are easy to maintain.

About the author

Knud Kegel is VP Product at EMnify, the global cellular IoT communication platform provider. He leads EMnify's product teams in transforming IoT connectivity into an easy to consume cloud resource. Before EMnify, Knud was SVP Marketing and Business Development at CoreMedia, an experience management software provider for global brands. Knud has over 10 years of executive leadership experience in the B2B SaaS industry.

[1] The Institution of Engineering and Technology (2021) Addressing the STEM Skills Shortage Challenge

[2] Search (2021) Mind the Gap – The Skills Shortage Report

[3] Deloitte (2018) 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study

[4] Forrester (2019) Large Enterprises Succeeding With Low-Code

[5] Gartner (2019) Gartner Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems