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No-code in manufacturing: automation without programming

Oct. 1, 2021

For manufacturers, the road to automation success is obstructed by the ongoing skills shortage. Successful implementation and management of manufacturing execution systems, robotic process automation, and robotics can require extensive software development. Or does it? It’s time to explore the possibilities of no-code.

EMnify's Knud Kegel

The world’s top economies are being depressed due to skills shortages within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. At an organizational level, this is holding businesses back, reducing profit margins and diminishing success. The manufacturing and engineering sectors are especially impacted by these skills shortages, with 85% of UK managers in the sector struggling to find suitable candidates. In the US, a study by Deloitte estimates there will be 2.4 million manufacturing positions left unfilled between 2018 and 2028. 

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

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Automate faster, adjust quicker with no-code

Robotic process automation (RPA), cellular IoT and cheaper, more flexible, and more autonomous robots go a long way toward 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 manufacturing execution systems (MES) to programming, integrating and operating robots in the manufacturing process.

So, what is no-code? No-code development is perfect for engineers who have zero programming knowledge. It’s based on a visual drag-and-drop user interface, with no hand coding required to reach the end goal. It empowers workers to design solutions they need to overcome the challenges they face every day—without writing a single line of code. In 2019, 84% of enterprises across the US, UK, Canada and Australia had already implemented a low-code development tool or platform to take care of some of their coding needs. 

No-code is flexible and accessible. It 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

The MES is a specialist class of production-oriented software that manages, monitors, and synchronizes the execution of your real-time, physical processes. 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 makes it difficult for your frontline manufacturing teams to make 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 continually exponentially, and customers demanding 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.

Smart manufacturing powered by cellular IIoT

With Industry 4.0 and 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 and can pre-empt maintenance requirements—reducing their impact. 

When using ubiquitous cellular networks, data acquisition gets easier 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.

Consider some no-code use cases: 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 via a cloud-native single connection that avoids the public internet.

There’s also the need for rapid data collection in production processes, such as count, temperature, and video. Simple sensors that operate autonomously 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 with just a few clicks. 

When you build cellular IIoT into the equation, it will 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 surfacing new opportunities.

A bright no-code future

What we’re now seeing with the rapid adoption of no-code tools resembles the SaaS explosion. SaaS provided a lean alternative to owning software and paying for its maintenance, delivering advantages such as fast set-up, seamless deployment, and lower CAPEX. 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 environments, fulfilling the promise of effective and flexible automation solutions that are both extensible and easy to maintain.

Knud Kegel is vice president of product for EMnify

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