Manufacturing Efficiency with Mendix, SAP, and Teamcenter

AESSEAL, a subsidiary of AES Engineering Ltd, engineers products and systems used in a wide range of pumps and rotating equipment to prevent liquids and gases from escaping into the environment, improve equipment reliability, and reduce maintenance costs.

With an expanding global footprint—235 locations in 104 countries—and an industry-leading portfolio of custom predictive and preventive engineering products, AESSEAL needed a solution to bridge crown-jewel legacy systems with a modern technology stack, or risk falling behind their own progress.

AESSEAL discovered the Mendix low-code development platform through its 15-year relationship with Siemens as Teamcenter users. In 2022, their IT team built a low-code proof of concept (POC) to refresh a legacy shopfloor solution and pressure test the platform’s integration capabilities with critical engineering systems of record.

After a successful pilot project, AESSEAL is now focused on standardizing their low-code development with starter templates, co-developing with an expert partner to grow their team, and leveraging Mendix to support in keeping the core clean.

System Integration Hinders Innovation

For Stuart Welsh, IT Director at AESSEAL, siloed legacy manufacturing systems with significant technical debt have prevented his team from delivering new, innovative solutions in recent years.

“From an IT perspective, our challenges are integration, integration, and integration,” said Welsh. “We love SAP, and it has transformed our business. We wouldn’t have gotten through COVID and remote work without it – but it’s an absolute beast to integrate with. The same is true with Teamcenter.”

Between managing never-ending upgrades in Windows and Oracle, refreshing legacy applications, or having to address challenges arising from non-standardized shadow IT solutions created by the business, Welsh’s IT team is spread incredibly thin.

“I’ve got a to-do list that’s a mile long. We’ve got some fantastic people who have been with the business for a long time and are passionate about it—but there’s just not enough of them and there’s not enough hours in the day to address everything on that list,” said Welsh.

Welsh attended the Mendix UK Manufacturing Forum in 2022 and connected with other organizations in the same position. Seeing the potential to extend development capacity and solve their integration challenge, AESSEAL moved forward with a Mendix proof of concept (POC) in October of 2022.

A POC That Seals the Deal

Before the IT team at AESSEAL broke ground on the POC they designed to vet low-code application development, they agreed the project needed to showcase business-critical functionality and meet their integration requirements.

The POC would refresh a key software system on the AESSEAL shopfloor that was based on aging technology, accessible on limited versions of Windows, and linked SAP, Teamcenter, and their manufacturing execution systems (MES).

“We chose Live Lists for our proof of concept, not only because it was a clear business need, but also because it ticked all those things we wanted to address in a proof of concept: SAP integration, Teamcenter integration, user permission controls—we wanted to really take Mendix out for a real-world test,” said Welsh.

With two developers—one an SAP architect and the other a Live Lists product owner—AESSEAL quickly built a new application with an improved UI that:

  • Integrates production orders and stock plans from SAP
  • Allows operators to manage the sequencing of jobs based on material supply and demand
  • Alerts operators of when machines are in need of cleaning or maintenance
  • Surfaces 3D JT files from Teamcenter or 2D drawings

“We store all of our CAM [Computer-Aided Manufacturing] programs in Teamcenter and that’s available to the operator on the shop floor,” said Welsh.

AESSEAL followed the advice of Mendix and expert implementation partner, Roboyo, and quickly released a minimum viable product (MVP) to a core set of users, collecting feedback that would inform their approach to scaling the application and their Mendix competency.

Laying a Foundation for Scalability

Encouraged by Roboyo and the critical lessons they learned from the Live Lists project, AESSEAL began to scope post-POC starter applications. The first starter application built on Mendix allowed the enterprise to create a unified branding experience across their user interfaces, with enriched user permissions by adding authentication and nuanced application access.

“We used the SAP connector for the first time, user authentication, and just about every background application that you need to be able to communicate with SAP in that SAP integration. Then we did a similar thing with Teamcenter,” said Welsh. “They’re there. They are complete. They work. And they are ready for us to deliver our next Mendix applications.”

AESSEAL began generating a backlog of features and applications they would build with Mendix. However, the first order of business for the IT team was to go back and iterate upon the Live Lists feature by adding more-than-MVP functionality, including user authentication capabilities developed as part of the starter application.

“We picked the right project but we fell into the trap of saying, ‘Well, here’s your new version of Live Lists,’ and the employees on the shop floor went, ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t do this and it doesn’t do that and I used to use that, but it isn’t here,” said Welsh.

Delivering enhancements with low-code proved to be far faster than with legacy tooling, and in parallel to consistent feature releases, AESSEAL was able to scope out the team and project-fit for Mendix.

“We’ve just hired a junior developer who’s going through the certification process and getting up to speed. We have another senior member of our development team who is going to start the Mendix certification in September, and we are recruiting a tester,” said Welsh. “We are growing our internal Mendix team. We’ve taken that initial leap of faith.”

Engineering Innovation

AESSEAL went from testing low-code as a concept to incorporating Mendix into business-critical workflows. The excitement has been contagious, and word has spread quickly about the IT team’s new successes and capability.

The digital engineering team has shifted from traditional development to adding new hires with low-code experience and introducing training for existing employees. “We took a senior C#, .NET developer—a traditional developer—and introduced her to low code,” said Welsh. “She’s now absolutely sold on Mendix. 90% of her work is now Mendix based, and she loves it.”

AESSEAL’s vision for Mendix is clear, according to Welsh: If they can’t natively build an application or feature in Teamcenter or SAP, they will turn to Mendix. “We’re going to keep SAP clean,” said Welsh, which will be critical as the team has already rolled out SAP S/4HANA in 33 countries to date.

“That’s the commitment that we’ve made to the platform based on the success we’ve had in delivering our proof of concept,” said Welsh.

“Five months in, and our team already knows the type of questions that they need to answer. They stood up at a recent management meeting and told the boss that developing in Mendix is three to four times faster than the traditional methods they used previously. Now that’s brave. That takes commitment for a developer to stand up in front of a management team and say that. They clearly believe it,” he added.

Welsh also acknowledges the valuable lessons learned along the way, like the importance of selecting the right first project and structuring adequate support beyond just go-live. For other organizations getting started with low-code, Welsh advises to:

  1. Get team members involved early: The earlier your team gets involved, the earlier they feel some ownership. Transitions are complex, but contributing groups feel more passionate about a project when it feels more like their own ideas.
  2. Get good training so you can do it yourself: Having an experienced consulting partner to help guide and train your IT team will expedite your application development and make your team feel in control at a rapid pace.
  3. Follow best practices: It may be difficult in the middle of development, and there may be temptations to choose a more straightforward path at times, but it pays, in the long run, to keep your core clean, keep the work on the outside, and pull from your systems of records.

With a low-code platform, AESSEAL has the tools to bridge legacy and modern technology to deliver a more connected, future-ready engineering environment that scales.