Why manufacturing in particular, you may be wondering?
“There is still a lot of work to do with respect to digitization of processes on the shop floor. Many manufacturing companies still have a large amount of paper-based flows and an almost endless use of spreadsheets. Operators are often unable to digitally capture the right data, let alone that this data flows through to other systems from which companies can derive interesting insights'' says Bart Claeys, founder of Apvine. “If manufacturers do automate or digitize their flows, they often implement traditional manufacturing execution systems (MES), for a single business unit or production line, which are usually expensive, big monolith chunks of software that aren't agile and often require a lot of customization.”
These Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) were developed for a different era, before the age of IoT and advanced interconnectivity. As technology moves forward, the need for change has become more and more apparent - technologies have to adapt to include application development, configurability, better connectivity and integration, or we need new tools for the same challenges. Luckily we already have the perfect platform - Mendix low-code.
But we may be a little biased on the subject, so we spoke with Patrick Verlee, Director of IT at Victaulic, to get a second opinion. Over his 20 year career in IT he’s overseen a lot of innovation in the development process. Most recently, and most notably, the company shifted over to Mendix low-code after decades of building apps with Java and C++.
Here’s why Victaulic made the switch
“We had a few frustrations with classic development that seemed to be part of the process. First was the lack of speed and agility. Apps took several months or even years to build using traditional code, and by the time they were finished, our needs had often already changed.” This often creates knock-on effects, such as the disconnect between IT and business teams, and an unfavourable cost – benefit ratio when considering which functions to add. Because of the inherent cost of development, building apps becomes a compromise between the ideal solution and an appropriate budget / lead-time.
Another problem we often encounter is something Patrick calls ‘the art of the developer’. Everyone has their own way of structuring code and building digital frameworks, so every time a new developer had to work on an old piece of code there was massive inefficiency and a lot of time spent rebuilding existing components.
Unfortunately there’s still some misconceptions about low-code, and many companies, particularly here in Belgium, are wary of making the jump. This was also the case for the team at Victaulic. "Even after two successful trial projects there was a lot of pushback from the IT team, who felt intimidated by such a drastic departure from what we all knew at the time. It was a little threatening to see how much faster and easier Mendix got the job done.”
So then, why is low-code the solution?
Obviously, it’s very fast and very agile compared to traditional coding and implementing an out-of-the-box MES, but that’s only one part of the story. Low-code is modular by design, so we build and deploy smaller applications or modules instead of that one big chunk. As a result, companies can move forward a lot quicker with a set of core features, and from there they can grow organically based on real feedback. New functions are easy to implement, so there’s less compromise. It all adds up to our microservices approach to applications - make speedboats, not oil tankers.
Low-code also makes the development process more accessible to everyone. Business teams are more involved, which means more communication and better solutions. “Instead of meeting once a month to discuss progress, we meet once a week.” says Patrick. “That creates new expectations - business teams need to make themselves more available during design and development sprints.” Shop floor operators are also part of the process thanks to quick iteration and agile workflows. They’re the end-users after all.
As more of our clients bring low-code to their shop floors across a wide range of industries, the end result is always the same - happy customers with better tools at their disposal and a new enthusiasm for creating digital solutions. As for Patrick, he feels there’s still a lot more that Mendix can bring to Victaulic. “We hope to do more on the IoT side, create smart factories and PLC integrations for example. We already have a smart tool for our grooved pipe coupling (a game changer in the industry), but that’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible.”