Low code platforms augment manufacturing operations to accelerate digital transformation

By Raffaello Lepratti

Coupled with MOM, user-built applications capture critical know-how and support agility

In the past 18 months, we have seen a dramatic resurgence in innovation in the manufacturing sector. The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created new urgency in manufacturing agility and resilience. Across industries, we are prioritizing the need to quickly adapt to supply and demand changes with minimum disruption and resistance.

Nowhere is this focus felt more urgently than the manufacturing shop floor. Adaptation to change while ensuring quality production is difficult, especially in this unique environment. With the requirement to get to market at speed, digitalization is more critical than ever before.

While manufacturing operations management (MOM) solutions are the foundation of manufacturing digitalization, low-code platforms are emerging as the natural complement to accelerate agility and resilience in this environment. According to a Gartner report “by 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity.” Let’s discuss the reasons behind this development.

Manufacturing shop floor is a unique environment for digitalization

The historic management of manufacturing operations has created tremendous diversity in the IT landscape, comprising home grown, legacy, commercial desktop applications (e.g., Microsoft), ERP modules, and MES solutions, among others. This heterogeneous systems environment supports the unique characteristics of the shop floor, with its diverse processes, skills, materials, and methods. It is quite different from engineering, where there was a stepwise development of tools, such as design for specific systems, simulation, etc., and built for a common functional expertise (engineers).

In addition, many manufacturing enterprises add to this complexity with globalization, decentralized production, and acquisitions that inherit new sets of legacy systems. With the need to continue production without disruption, many of these systems persist.

Low-code platforms accommodate the unique needs of manufacturing digitalization

The reality is that many of these legacy systems are still delivering value because they encapsulate unique know-how and tribal knowledge that manufacturers need to preserve. Simply getting rid of the systems is too expensive, too complex, too disruptive, and too risky. They recognize the need to complement standardized MES/MOM functions with these other systems to leverage their value, balance real-time and non-real-time data interaction, as well as accommodate cross-domain business processes.

Low-code platforms accommodate these needs, while preserving and augmenting the core MES/MOM systems and their industry tailored capabilities (like Opcenter) and other legacy applications. By making application development accessible to the functional user, low-code platforms create citizen developers who can build applications tailored for their role, their view, and their methods, leveraging their hard-earned expertise. These users are often the most qualified to determine these application requirements.

Complementing the standardization and automation of MES/MOM functions, low-code platforms harmonize the existing complex, disconnected IT landscape. Harnessing data from any source, low-code applications accelerate the productivity improvement process, creating self-sustaining optimization and making know-how available to others. The resulting improvements ultimately help in rationalizing needed investments in hardware and software in the digital transformation journey.

Creating a “digital culture” that enhances speed and agility

Low-code platforms are putting the manufacturing workforce first. They are empowering the manufacturing domain experts across global locations to transform their knowledge into scalable applications.  These purpose-built applications enhance adoption, which is key to ROI and much needed change management. They are easy to use and tailored to each unique environment.

We are seeing a change of culture from central application configuration to user personalization that sustains the standardized core. This change can accommodate unanticipated market and regulatory changes (like we see during unprecedented times) by accelerating the ability to alter systems support on the fly.

Examples of industry-tailored low-code purpose-built apps augmenting MOM

We see many examples of low-code purpose-built apps augmenting MOM capabilities today. In the generic build/make-to-order manufacturing processes, we see an increase in the simplicity of “capability to promise” insights to key stakeholders by bundling information from supply chain, planning, scheduling, order management, and shop-floor resource availability to create accurate delivery forecasts. We see the connection of logistics (e.g., kitting, WHM, in/outbound, Kanban) with execution and traceability, as well as shelf-life management for time-sensitive material (like composites) movement and consumption tracking, Gemba walks and shift hand-offs checklists.

In job shop / machine shop manufacturing processes, purpose-built apps support tooling needs requests per job to trigger tool preparation and association with schedules. Additionally, apps are used for tracking change over check list for machines and audits, and equipment and tool plan maintenance scheduling.

Cross-industry examples include the creation of the real “E2E traceability” connecting various sources along the supply chain.

In F&B and Pharma, purpose-built apps make relevant data available to consumers. Specific to automotive, complex supply chain transparency and traceability apps collectively work towards the much-needed circular economy of next generation electric vehicles.

On the quality systems side, purpose-built apps in the area of offline sampling and sampling registration for laboratories are handling offline quality inspections execution and electronic procedures, as well as offline audits of product, process, and facilities. Additionally, apps are supporting supplier collaboration such as the Product Part Approval Process (PPAP).

Siemens harnesses the power of low-code platforms to complement a standardized, scalable core

Siemens Mendix is a low-code platform that integrates with the Siemens Opcenter MOM portfolio. Industry-tailored capabilities of Opcenter MES, when augmented with a low-code application platform like Mendix, accelerates a manufacturer’s digital transformation. The REST APIs and OData connectors of Opcenter accelerate the use of Mendix usage for purpose-built apps, while maintaining the MOM core and rich capabilities tailored to industry needs.

Low-code applications are a natural complement to the MOM standardized system. They maximize the value of MES/MOM investment and complement them with cross-domain business processes.

Low-code platforms unlock power, synergy, and knowledge – and increase agility

All manufacturers know they must go through a digital transformation, but they also know they have a lot of tribal knowledge and legacy systems on which they are reliant for continuous operations. Low-code applications give manufacturers the ability to capture expertise without disrupting operations, in a way that facilitates more rapid adoption. Complementing the power of the MOM core, low-code applications allow manufacturers to accelerate access to functionality needed today, before it can be made available in the standard platform.

Opcenter Manufacturing Operations Management and the Mendix Enterprise low-code application platform are recognized as LEADERS in Gartner’s magic quadrants in their respective categories. A combination of these solutions at Siemens deliver our customers increased agility.

Find out more about Mendix, the Siemens low-code platform, and Opcenter, the Siemens Manufacturing Operations Management platform, that are part of the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio.

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