Published 17-02-2022

How low code is empowering manufacturers and increasing innovation


Coding is often seen as the technology equivalent of learning to communicate fluently in another tongue. The beauty of technology developments is that it has made it easier for more people in manufacturing to learn new skills – just like how Minecraft education is teaching primary school kids how to code. 

As a result, many companies are looking at introducing formalised citizen developer programs this year, to empower employees to build their own low code tools to deliver increased innovation.

Low code or software application design tools make it easy for non-developers to design, build, and launch software applications quickly. This eliminates the need for in-house coding specialists. With the introduction and widespread adoption of low code, the software industry is seeing a steady, but continual shift towards simplified coding and tailoring methods that are helping to empower manufacturers to create their own software applications. 

The question is whether the global hype around low code is substantiated? A 2019 report by Outsystems indicated that the accelerating digital transformation is the top reason most IT leaders chose a low code platform. Low code carries tangible benefits – according to Redhat, low code solutions have the potential to reduce the development time by 90%. Other benefits cited have included increased agility and cost savings. 

If implemented correctly, the benefits of low code can be far-reaching for manufacturers and distributors. Manufacturers can use low code platforms to address internal business challenges such as changing a business process or the improvement of operations across the shop floor. These platforms can also be used to enhance supply chain efficiencies and even to find new routes to market.

Improving operations across the factory shop floor
Factory shop floors require solutions aimed at optimising operations, improving productivity and reducing wastage. To meet those requirements, employees need to adhere to shop floor procedures, machinery downtime should be reduced and a shift handover protocol implemented. 

Citizen developers could develop low code checklists, protocols and even introduce business insights to monitor efficiencies across the shop floor. In fact, low code tools can also be used to connect to other systems, such as an internet of Things (IoT) device to collect information from machines across the factory floor. 

These tools are also useful for supplier insights into consignment stock information  and could even alert supervisors to potential stock out issues and help drive proactive behavior and prevent bottlenecks.

Enhancing supply chain collaboration
Supply chain disruptions are a reality, with businesses describing the current situation as ‘consistent chaos’. From trade wars, through to Brexit and the Pandemic, many manufacturers are regularly experiencing supply shortages  and delays. 

According to SYSPRO, head of product operations Darren Edwards, there have also been countless shipping delays due to huge bottlenecks at ports, as we have witnessed here in Australia. To overcome some of these challenges, visibility and early warning systems are key. 

Edwards claims that, here a low code app could be used as an alert system, sending out advanced shipping alerts as well as other alerts to customers or distribution partners. These tools could also help improve collaboration between multiple points across the supply chain. 

Exploring new routes to market
The 2021 SYSPRO  4.0 survey revealed that the disruptions of the pandemic played a catalytic role in the diversification of manufacturing businesses, with 39 percent of respondents indicating that they would be exploring new routes to markets such as eCommerce channels.

The value of online sales has soared in the past couple of years as internet connections have become faster, and payment transactions have become more secure. Online shopping has become the preferred method of consumer buying for many people. 

Here, manufacturers can leverage eCommerce integration apps to sell stock on an existing marketplace, or a low code sales catalogue app could be created for distributors to use at events and shows.

Considerations for a low code tool

While low code may be viewed as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to many of the challenges experienced by manufacturers and distributors, it still comes with risks. For one thing, low code should not fall into the wrong hands as businesses could face dire consequences if it is poorly applied. 

Security is also a key area of concern – due to the possibility that citizen developers could inadvertently introduce vulnerabilities. To overcome security issues, manufacturers need to look into API security.

It is also vital that your low code tool can connect with your ERP solution as a central point of data. Without an ability to connect, operational visibility may be lost and product specifications may have to revert back to being manually created.

Today, the ERP market is seeing a shift to enable more customisations. In fact, according to a 2020 Gartner report,  “ERP is shifting to enterprise applications complemented by an ecosystem that includes new capabilities for application platforms, integration and low-code/no-code development. Gartner refers to this new era of ERP as ‘enterprise business capabilities’  which facilitates the rapid development and adoption of new applications and capabilities.“

With the provision of a low code tool, manufacturers have an opportunity to improve workflows, speed up implementations and even innovate. The key is to ensure that the core business system that you invest in supports low code extensibility, power tailoring and customisation.