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5 Ways Low-Code Solutions Can Address Smart Manufacturing Challenges

Gary Cassell, Industry Lead, Manufacturing and Automotive, Appian
February 7, 2022

Over the past decade, a technology revolution has led to the growth of smart manufacturing. This trend was enabled by the increased availability of cloud computing resources, rapid mobile device proliferation, and the adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices. 


These solutions benefit manufacturers in many ways, but they also bring challenges. Often, companies implement technologies to solve individual problems rather than bringing them into a harmonious ecosystem. The buildup of multiple disparate technologies introduces complexity, limiting some of the benefits of smart manufacturing. 

One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face comes from gaps between systems. For instance, planning software should be able to understand real-time demand signals from buying behavior while also communicating with supplier systems to understand where materials shortages might cause shortfalls. Connecting with the technology used by suppliers, for example, can help improve financial performance—according to a recent IDC report, organizations that share data and applications within their partner ecosystem will see a 3% improvement in revenue in 2022 compared to companies that don’t. 

Low-code platforms help boost connections between systems, improving your workflows and expanding on your existing smart manufacturing investments.

Here are just a few benefits of low-code for manufacturing: 

  1. Reduce data silos: Manufacturing organizations can benefit from improved data flow and information access. Yet, many companies struggle as regions and departments implement their own separate technologies to solve issues. For example, it’s common for companies to use multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, requiring employees to waste time switching between solutions to find information. Low-code platforms can ingest data across systems and regions and pull it into a single application without the support of heavy development resources. When you tightly integrate your systems into a standard application, employees no longer have to sift through multiple solutions to find information. Management can easily view company-wide data and metrics from a central location, enabling better decision-making. Plus, team members can collaborate more effectively. This leads to improved bottom lines for companies—indeed, consulting firm McKinsey claims collaboration can open up to $100 billion in new value for manufacturers.
  2. Improve demand forecasting: Traditionally, planners had to predict demand from historical data. When demand remains predictable, organizations can ensure they order the correct levels of supplies without needing to shift too many materials into storage. But disruption events like COVID-19 can lead to a shift in demand due to people spending on goods instead of experiences.When you connect your systems throughout the entire manufacturing process, planners can get closer to receiving real-time demand signals, like increased customer order volumes. In turn, they can procure the right resources at the right time and predict demand even in uncertain times.
  3. Enhance resilience: In light of recent disruptions in the supply chain, resilience has become a top priority. Building an application that speaks to supplier systems means you’ll learn about potential slowdowns earlier. For example, if a major supplier runs into shipping issues at a port, getting an early alert allows you to shift resources between factories sooner so you can fulfill orders more easily. Also, while it may take months to bring new suppliers online, having additional partners gives you flexibility when it comes to sourcing. Tightly connecting systems allows you to onboard suppliers faster.
  4. Increase sustainability: Due to consumer demand, many organizations have had sustainability programs in place for years. Regulations around the industry have increased the pressure to meet emissions goals as well. Analyst firms have noted this trend toward environment, social, and governance (ESG) programs, further emphasizing its importance to the manufacturing industries.Low-code applications that connect your data help you in a number of sustainability-related areas. Here are two examples: transportation and reporting. On the transportation end, better connectivity leads to more collaboration and better decision-making, reducing returns (and thus, fuel emissions). Plus, low-code applications help you easily and effectively track sustainability metrics and report proof to auditors.
  5. Heighten efficiency: Almost every part of the manufacturing process can be streamlined with more tightly interwoven systems. Organizations get real-time demand signals for better planning. Factory floor workers have fewer interfaces to switch between when systems flow into a single process (and they stop using workarounds and manual processes as band-aids for problems). Customer service representatives have fewer systems to sift through for information on returns and deliveries. Plus, once you’ve connected these systems, you’re in a much better place to boost efficiency further with automation. For example, using robotic process automation (RPA), you could easily automate email communications for returns without having to bog down customer service reps with minutia. 

If you’re in manufacturing, odds are your company already invests in several systems. Scrapping them or replacing them with a new, off-the-shelf solution probably isn’t an option. Developing applications to connect these systems can help, but traditional development can be costly and time-consuming. 

Unlike traditional development, low-code platforms allow you to design and develop full workflows for applications using a visual, drag-and-drop interface. This results in much faster application development—up to 17x faster according to a report by Forrester

Plus, a good low-code platform offers automation tools like RPA, artificial intelligence, intelligent document processing, and business process management to help further boost efficiency, improve collaboration, and streamline your organization’s operations. Enterprise-grade low-code platforms also offer built-in mobile readiness so you don’t have to design and develop separately for mobile applications. 

As manufacturers face increasing challenges in the marketplace, whether from competitors, supply chain issues, or consumer demands, having better connected systems can help them simplify the process dramatically. Learn how to enhance your connected manufacturing efforts end to end by reading the eBook.