Improved Testing Efficiency & User Experience with Mendix and Siemens Opcenter RD&L

Yazaki is the world’s largest automotive wiring supplier, operating in over 40 countries and generating $16 billion in annual revenue. Their power, wire, sensor, and display products are used by nearly every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) around the globe.

Yazaki’s testing center in Canton, Michigan, has 40 lab employees who field 2,000 – 3,000 engineering requests each year. Manual work and an aging lab management system was hindering their team from efficiently executing these requests.

To better manage their test request process, Yazaki used the Mendix low-code platform to develop an intuitive UI on top of Siemens Opcenter RD&L (Research, Development, and Laboratory).

The new Yazaki Testing Portal was delivered in just six months by two business developers. The application requires minimal user training, eliminates Excel-based work, and is increasing efficiency in Yazaki’s testing centers.

A Compatible and Agile Platform

In 2022 Yazaki’s previous lab management system had reached its maximum functionality.

“We were very dependent on Excel. Our requesters would fill out an Excel form that would get emailed to their manager for approval, get emailed to our lab for another approval, and then manually imported into our old system. It wasn’t the most efficient process,” said Knott.

The new lab management system had to meet three key requirements:

  • Engineers must be able to submit requests directly to the system.
  • Lab personnel needed the ability to manage the requests from start to finish without moving between systems.
  • It must eliminate any manual, Excel-based work.

The IT team investigated new lab management systems to replace their legacy tool and selected Siemens Opcenter RD&L. However, Yazaki’s intended user groups have varied skillsets. Tailoring Opcenter RD&L to their experience levels and workflows would require extensive customization beyond what the IT team could support long-term.

“The UI with Opcenter RD&L presents unique challenges for people who aren’t frequent users. We have potentially a thousand engineers that may come into the system, and some of them only use it once or twice a year. It wasn’t intuitive enough for them, and it was difficult to customize to their exact needs,” said Knott.

The lab management system, while selected by central IT, is wholly owned by Knott and his colleague Jeffrey Malotke — two engineers without any software development experience. The team of two did not have the resources to train hundreds of engineers to use the system on a regular basis.

They saw that a low-code platform could extend the valuable information from Opcenter RD&L in a rapid and maintainable way.  Ultimately, Yazaki selected Mendix as it is:

  • The only low-code platform on the market that offers native connectors to Opcenter and other Siemens tooling.
  • Easy for businesspeople to develop and maintain a flexible user interface, without relying on IT for enhancements over time.
  • Highly responsive in terms of developer support.

“When we went in for the quote, we approached Mendix and said, ‘Hey, we need a quick, down-and-dirty version of an app to sell this to our management team.’ Within two days of making that ask, we had a fully-developed demo app — that was skinned with our corporate branding — to show our management teams what the platform was capable of,” said Knott.

The management team was sold. Development of the new Yazaki Testing Portal with Mendix began in September 2023.

Foundation for Low-Code Success

Jeffrey Malotke has been with Yazaki for 21 years across technology and IP management roles. In the last year he joined Yazaki’s testing center team to learn how to develop in Mendix and serve as the product owner for their new application.

“Our timeline for out-of-the box development — from Opcenter RD&L all the way up to a production Mendix application — took about 16 months,” said Malotke.

“Of those 16 months, only six months were actual Mendix development. Neither of us are software developers, but we were able to learn and grasp the platform that quickly.” The remaining ten months were primarily spent configuring systems outside of Mendix and working through internal feedback and approvals.

The development of the testing portal took place over several key phases. The first was structuring the request lifecycle and linking both Opcenter RD&L and Opcenter APS (Advanced Planning and Scheduling).

With the right technical foundation now in place for their associated systems, the Yazaki team then focused on learning and collaboration with Mendix. Malotke recommends that any teams new to Mendix:

  • Leverage the available enablement resources, such as the Mendix Academy for self-guided learning modules, or Experience Days where a live instructor takes you from training to building a live app in one afternoon.
  • Lean on platform experts and evangelists to troubleshoot and work through complex challenges early on.
  • Adopt an Agile way of working to capture user requirements and accelerate feedback cycles and releases.
  • Stay aligned with your IT team if you are a business developer.

“Without IT governing the security and giving us the space to work the servers, for example, none of this would have come true. If you’re a developer from within the business, make sure that you keep your development team involved in the process,” said Malotke.

The team became productive with Mendix in just a few months, and sometimes triaged more complex development challenges with Mendix evangelists. This co-development approach helped Malotke to quickly uplevel his platform knowledge. “Mendix experts are your best friends throughout this process,” said Malotke.

“The expert we were working with was at a conference when I reached out with an issue I couldn’t solve. I didn’t think I would get a response. But next thing I know, he’s online with me and had a team of people working in a corner trying to figure it out for me. We had the issue fixed within hours. That was something I had never really experienced before.”

Efficient and Intuitive Testing

The Yazaki Testing Portal was launched on-time in April 2024. It serves as a single system to manage testing requests from start to finish. The intuitive application requires minimal-to-no training for Yazaki’s engineers and lab employees to use productively.

Knott and Malotke were able to accelerate the application’s development by leveraging several out-of-the-box connectors from the Mendix Marketplace.

This meant that they did not have to develop some of their most critical features from scratch.

They also templatized the Yazaki UI design so that any future Mendix applications will start with the approved organizational branding and remain consistent.

Key features of the Yazaki Testing Portal include:

  • Role-based access by integrating with Yazaki’s Microsoft Active Directory. This way, the team wouldn’t have to worry about updating users as their role or employment status changed within the organization.
  • Live request tracking through a circular integration from Mendix to Opcenter RD&L, Opcenter RD&L to Opcenter APS, and then Opcenter APS back to Mendix via an SQL connection.
  • In-app approvals and email notifications for requesters – a feature that previously never existed. This was done by integrating with Microsoft Graph through another existing Mendix connector.
  • A file explorer to house images or test results associated with the request through a Mendix safe file transfer protocol (SFTP) connector.

The portal allows users to create the test request in the form of a Design Verification Plan and Report (DVP&R), the documented requirements to be produced by an OEM. “Our requesters are able to go into the system and add in the requirements that they have in their pre-built DVP&R from the customer. Then we’re able to generate it back in a form that they’re familiar with,” said Knott.

The ease of user training and uptake was a primary KPI for Malotke and Knott. They were able to get most of their users up to speed with just one training session and a how-to video. In one instance, they had a user successfully access and use the system before they even received any training.

“All of a sudden a test request appears on our radar, and we figured it was going to be all wrong,” said Malotke. “But it was absolutely right. It was in the exact DVP&R structure that we were looking for, and we didn’t even have to tell them how to do it. At that point we knew that the new application had really improved the user experience.”

The Road to Rapid Innovation

Malotke and Knott have plans to continue improving the Yazaki Testing Portal given their newfound rapid development capabilities. They regularly leverage the Mendix Feedback widget to collect input from their users and add them directly into their Sprint backlogs for prioritization.

“I spoke to one senior manager who has been with Yazaki for over 20 years. He’s gone through a lot of software releases. He said that this was the smoothest launch he’s ever experienced in his career,” said Malotke.

The Yazaki team already has an ambitious list of future projects and ideas, such as mobile applications, auto-generated reporting, and piloting the Mendix Workstation to communicate with peripherals.

“We were tailoring our old system based on its limitations. Now with Mendix we can go both ways. We can have Mendix tailor what our business process is, and we can have our business process tailor what our tool can do. And when we’re doing that, we’re noticing there are gaps that we never identified before. That is very beneficial for us to be more efficient,” said Malotke.

For Yazaki, Mendix has proved to be a valuable tool that can:

  • Keep the core clean while minimizing customizations (and therefore, additional costs) for systems like Opcenter RD&L.
  • Empower non-IT team members to contribute to transformation projects, reducing the IT project backlog.
  • Extend the functionality of homegrown core systems within organizational style guidelines.
  • Help identify other areas of improvement within the testing center.