Every manufacturer relies on a fundamental business process known as the manufacturing value chain to create products that consistently meet customer needs. To maximize the benefits of this value chain, manufacturers often purchase or build their own software—but that’s expensive and difficult to customize.

Templates and app suites for low-code application development offer manufacturers a streamlined and budget-friendly option for customizing these systems. Here’s how manufacturers can maximize a value chain with low-code app development templates and app suites.

What is the manufacturing value chain, and how does it work?

The value chain is a core manufacturing process that is driven by customer demand. It begins by gathering detailed customer requirements, usually through customer interviews in the business-to-business arena. In a business-to-consumer scenario, this research is usually handled via focus groups and market studies. Once the manufacturer has defined the requirements for the product, it will often conduct a feasibility study that evolves into something that the product engineers can work on.

From there, the engineers basically invent a new version of a product—such as a car, juice mix, or dishwasher—that is as close as possible to customer requirements while also meeting manufacturing criteria, such as a limited carbon footprint or a targeted cost for materials. Then, the manufacturer validates that the product meets industry standards, such as for safety. In the case of an aircraft, for example, this may involve running a simulation to test the aerodynamics of the design.

Next, in the process engineering phase, the manufacturer ascertains the correct process for building the newly defined product. If the product is complex, the associated manufacturing engineering process might not be able to build the product at scale with acceptable cost and quality standards. In the worst case, it might not be possible to build the designed product at all. Once the correct process is validated, the manufacturer knows what to build and how to build it. Now the product can be marketed and the sales team may begin to receive orders, in which case the manufacturer begins executing them in the plants and production sites.

At this stage, it’s essential to have the right routing and data collection processes in place. The manufacturer must also make sure that its factory runs efficiently, that the machines don’t break down, and that the required maintenance intervals are being met. The manufacturer has to maintain a high level of quality, meet its production targets, and support its execution staff with the necessary worker guidance systems and instructions. Ultimately, the manufacturer completes the manufacturing value chain process by testing the product, packaging it, shipping it, and coordinating the outbound logistics associated with its delivery to the customer.

Challenges within the manufacturing value chain

Manufacturers juggle three core elements of the value chain: customer requirements, marketing, and filling orders. A manufacturer usually has systems in place to support these three elements or is thinking about obtaining them. These systems could be pricey one-size-fits-all solutions or finicky custom systems that are difficult to maintain long term.

Unsurprisingly, manufacturers are looking for a middle ground between these two options. They want to buy solid core systems from certified, reliable vendors, but they don’t want to pay millions of dollars to have those core systems customized for only a short period of usefulness. Customizations also make it hard to take advantage of the core system’s latest features when the vendor releases software updates. Until recently, manufacturers have found themselves in a Catch-22 with no real path for realizing a meaningful return on their technology investment.

The solution: A low-code approach to system customization

A low-code approach allows manufacturers to customize on top of their core systems far more quickly and cost-effectively than they otherwise could inside those systems. Either the business that has the requirements and the developers who build the custom applications can sit in the same room and go over the needed features and UX, or—even better—the employees who have the requirements can be empowered to build the custom workflows and connected apps on their own. This way, the manufacturer can more rapidly arrive at a system that is both robust and well-adapted.

Low-code app development can also help manufacturers cover processes and niche areas that previously may have been overlooked in digital transformation efforts. Manufacturers can also use leading low-code app development platforms, like Mendix, to retain critical institutional knowledge, centralize IT governance, monitor the quality and the maintainability of their applications, and more effectively control dev-ops processes.

How templates and app suites benefit the value chain

Low-code app development templates come in handy when a manufacturing team wants to digitize new aspects of the value chain. Accordingly, Mendix has drawn on its deep manufacturing domain expertise to develop templates addressing specific manufacturing use cases. These templates are available for free on the Mendix Marketplace, and anyone who has a valid subscription to the platform can download them and adapt them for their own business needs.

Mendix templates are not full-blown solutions. Rather, they illustrate the value of low-code app development in solving a particular business challenge and can help manufacturers develop their own solutions in much less time. Most manufacturers have vast numbers of manufacturing processes—not just one or two. Consequently, they will ultimately want to convert a lot of Excel spreadsheets into applications to better support those processes.

Certain sets of Mendix templates play in the same domain and mostly have the same user base. They are also largely interconnected or rely on the same master data set, sparking a need for a consistent style guide and user experience. Recognizing this synchronicity, Mendix has organized certain templates into app suites. For example, there is a set of applications for medical device customers that centers on processes unique to that industry. There are also domain-oriented app suites—for example, an engineering app suite that combines a number of existing application templates targeting the engineering departments.

Mendix has also built an application template for quality inspections that allows a team to track and execute checks and inspections, whether for prototypes, product audits, in-process inspections, or quality data from suppliers. In these cases, it’s essential to have hands-on guidance at the job site. The template makes it possible to create a mobile application for this purpose. This kind of mobile application can even be used offline in places where the internet is unavailable, allowing the quality inspectors to carry out their tasks, document the results, and get synchronized with the cloud when internet access is available again, therefore securing a single source of truth for a mission-critical process.

Realize the benefits of the manufacturing value chain

Manufacturers depend on an efficient, well-functioning value chain to meet customer expectations and consistently turn out quality products. Most off-the-shelf and bespoke systems, while providing the necessary overall functionality, aren’t flexible enough to accommodate individual manufacturers’ requirements. Both these types of systems risk generating burdensome technical debt over the long term.

Low-code app development templates and app suites offer manufacturers a middle ground between these two options, allowing them to quickly and cost-effectively customize their value chain management systems. Tailored to specific industries, domains, or processes, these templates and app suites empower manufacturers to digitize important processes that might otherwise go overlooked. By taking advantage of templates and app suites for low-code app development, manufacturers can solve otherwise stubborn business challenges and fully realize the benefits of their value chains.