Fast Track to Industry 4.0: Low-Code Development in Manufacturing

August 3, 2021

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) is transforming the manufacturing industry by helping businesses improve performance, production, and output.  

The biggest manufacturers are already adopting automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other modern technologies. Smaller manufacturers are often slower to implement smart manufacturing due to the potential costs and logistics.

Low-code development provides a potential way to fast-track your organisation’s path to Industry 4.0. If you want to avoid getting left behind, find out how to use low-code platforms to get up to speed.

What Is Low-Code Development?

Low-code development refers to a type of software development that reduces or minimises the need for line-level coding. Instead of hiring a specialised development team, your existing engineers and technicians can develop and customise the tools needed for your manufacturing processes.

Most low-code development solutions offer a visual interface for assembling workflows and applications. Users can drag and drop building blocks containing commands and actions to streamline the typical application life cycle.  

A low-code development platform (LCDP) can be used to produce entirely new applications and tools or provide additional functionality to existing applications.  

How Does Low-Code Development Aid Manufacturing?

Low-code development is used in every sector that requires custom software solutions. However, the manufacturing sector stands to benefit the most.

A recent study found that 80% of manufacturers consider smart manufacturing to be critical to their future success. Smart manufacturing involves the use of an interconnected network of equipment, machinery, and processes.  

Integrating smart technologies like IoT and other Industry 4.0 initiatives typically requires the use of specialised applications and platforms. Due to the costs of developing new applications, smaller manufacturers are often the last to benefit from custom purpose-built software solutions. LCDPs provide an alternative solution.

The advantages of an LCDP for manufacturing include:

1. Shorter development life cycles

2. Faster implementation of new processes

3. More efficient workflows  

4. Less need for specialised IT  

Low-code development is not a new concept. It originated from the rapid application development tools released in the early 2000s. However, the technology has evolved to provide increased flexibility and ease of use. Here is a closer look at some of the benefits.  

Low-Code Allows for Faster Development and Implementation

Faster development is the main advantage of low-code solutions. The typical development life cycle may extend for months or even years, depending on the complexity of the project. Coding consumes a large portion of the life cycle, as developers need to write thousands of lines of original code, which also involves frequent testing.

Low-code development platforms handle a large portion of the coding effort, leaving the developers and engineers to focus on the required business logic of the software. After the user develops a new workflow, it can immediately be tested in real-life and improved based on user feedback.  

Shorter development life cycles also lead to increased business agility. Businesses can adopt new technologies and processes with less effort, allowing them to quickly respond to new opportunities, such as changes in demand for products or the rapid development of a new product. Almost any process can be automated with minimal effort.

Integration with Legacy Systems and the Newest Technologies

Low-code development platforms are often compatible with both legacy systems and the latest technologies. Businesses can use low-code platforms to bring their legacy systems up to speed with the rest of the industry.

Industry 4.0 technologies, including AI and machine learning, depend on access to data. Connecting legacy systems to data networks allows for the complete digitisation of a manufacturing facility. Every process can be monitored and assessed to find areas for improvement.  

Using a low-code system also provides access to some of the latest Industry 4.0 trends, including:

1. Cloud computing

2. Industrial Internet of Things (I-IoT)

3. Machine learning

4. Additive manufacturing

5. Blockchain for data sharing

These technologies provide endless possibilities for manufacturers. Cloud computing and the industrial Internet of Things allow for real-time tracking and analysis of all manufacturing processes.

Machine learning leads to better decision-making, as the latest ML platforms can offer more insight compared to humans alone. With additive manufacturing, companies can develop prototypes almost instantly and at much less expense compared to just a few years ago.

Engineers and Technicians Can Develop Tools with Low-Code Platforms

Third-party consultants are often brought in to develop custom applications and implement new technologies. They often coordinate with the existing staff to deliver a tailored solution that makes the most sense for the client.  

Low-code platforms allow companies to focus more on delivering business value and less on writing code, often without much outside assistance. Instead of bringing in an external consultant or vendor for every software-related change, internal staff can often build and test the software themselves. The ability to develop applications in-house saves even more time, energy, and money.  

Lower Barrier to Entry for the Latest Industry 4.0 Technologies

The use of LCDPs helps lower the barrier to entry for manufacturers that want to use the latest technologies. The upfront and ongoing costs are lower. The deployment time and challenges of implementing new systems are also reduced.  

With easier integration and lower costs, manufacturers of all sizes can use LCDPs to begin the transformation to smart manufacturing processes.  

Last Thoughts on Using Low-Code Development for Faster Results

Modern manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly complex. The typical facility relies on a wide range of applications from multiple vendors, which also requires a variety of technologies and programming languages.  

The diversity of tools creates challenges when developing AI-powered automation systems and other Industry 4.0 processes. Manufacturers need to implement systems that obtain data from a wide array of different equipment and applications.  

A low-code development platform (LCDP) provides a better way to integrate multiple technologies. Companies do not need to find specialists who understand every technology and programming language used by their current IT infrastructure. In-house staff can develop or update data workflows using low-code platforms. However, integrating your existing systems with a low-code platform still requires expertise.

The next step for joining Industry 4.0 is to find a company that specialises in data science and AI solutions for the manufacturing sector. After implementing a low-code platform, the path to adopting new smart technologies and harnessing the power of machine learning becomes much shorter.

Feel free to also check out our other posts:

Turning Big Data Into a Competitive Advantage in New Product Introduction

Creating a Digital Transformation Roadmap for Product Ramp-up in Manufacturing

Getting the Next Innovation Project Approved: Tips on How to Get C-Level Buy-in