As factories continue to invest in smart manufacturing capabilities operators are now challenged with utilising vast amounts of new data.
With greater smart manufacturing connectivity among humans, machines, processes and data there is now an increased need for tools that can not only connect workers to each other but also capture, contextualise and analyse data to suggest options to prevent an issue or resolve it in real-time.
“Although smart manufacturing technologies seek to connect and optimise data, devices, and processes, it also involves intricate interactions among multiple software systems,” says Dr. Raffaello Lepratti, global vice president, Industrial Manufacturing at Mendix.
“These technologies can include commercial off-the-shelf software for enterprise resource planning, product lifecycle management, manufacturing operations management, warehouse management, and software change management. They can also include legacy systems still embedded in the process ecosystem, such as Excel, paper-based processes, or even homebrewed customisations whipped up to meet a transient need and then never transitioned out.”
Manufacturers now need to be more strategic with their digitalisation efforts. According to PWC’s UK Manufacturing Operations Pulse Survey (2021), over 44 per cent of companies surveyed reported a lack of transparency on performance and 37 per cent reported challenges around process control in production. The study also found that most manufacturing businesses operate on inefficient IT landscapes that use multiple systems for managing manufacturing operations, which in turn leads low data utilisation and minimal insights from shop-floor data.
“Even though the demand for software to help manufacturers to meet these challenges within its workforce seems to be skyrocketing, the traditional way of delivering software has been struggling to keep up with this increase in demand,” Lepratti continues. “This gap between demand and delivery often tends to constrain manufacturers’ ability to execute their plans for digitalisation. To fill this gap, manufacturing companies are now willing to embrace new technologies ‘more than even before’. Low-code development platforms can make the difference and be a ‘perfect’ solution for readying the hybrid workforce for the smart manufacturing revolution.
“In terms of improving collaboration across the factory floor, up until now workers have been limited to using basic communication tools such as email and text messages, which are typically disconnected from data flows related to actual work processes. With the help of low-code, businesses can now embed digital collaboration into their process workflows, which in turn can enable faster decision-making and drive overall business value.
“The application development platform is also considered to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to build, integrate, and extend applications. It supports application creation for the web, tablets, augmented reality, and hand-held and vehicle-mounted devices and can be run anywhere: from IT, on the shop floor, in the cloud, and on the edge. The platform is also capable of supporting and strengthening the skills of the entire workforce. Its intuitive visual interface empowers workers with little to no development experience to connect their data, devices, processes, and tasks with smart manufacturing technologies.”
Manufacturers have been grappling with a shortage of skilled labour. Recruiting and training has become more challenging due to a mismatch between technical skills and capabilities needed by employers versus those currently available in the labour market.
According to a Gartner survey, 57 per cent of manufacturing leaders worry that their workforce lacks the skills to support the organisation’s smart manufacturing initiatives. These include automating new factory processes, Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, and edge-based data sharing. There is also a growing risk of losing institutional knowledge, especially as an ageing workforce increasingly retires across the sector.
As manufacturing becomes more digitally oriented, organisations must reshape their systems to fit the characteristics of the new hybrid workforce, Lepratti concludes. “By supporting all types of technology users, low-code will simplify your workforce’s adoption of smart manufacturing technology all while keeping operational processes simple, integrated, and agile, no matter the underlying technology driving them.”