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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

No-Code Slays the Manufacturing Paper Tiger – Automation.com

How to increase manufacturing efficiency using no-code app development to digitize outdated paper forms.
Paper forms remain pervasive in manufacturing. They now can be digitized cost effectively to increase productivity using no-code mobile app development—without programmers. The inefficiency of using paper forms contributes to low worker productivity and a significant probability of inaccurate information.
 
Many manufacturers are still using paper-based systems since the cost to digitize has been a barrier, particularly for small and medium manufacturers requiring expensive hardware and writing custom software. This has changed with high performance and low cost of tablet computers and smartphones coupled with no-code application development software, which is empowering companies to quickly create digital replacements for paper forms that improve efficiency and quality. This is another step that allows people to leverage the power of computing without being programmers. Manufacturers have the opportunity to efficiently improve operations using existing staff. This is analogous to how spreadsheets became a huge enabler providing nonprogrammers with the ability to leverage the power of computing.
 
Paper forms are highly inefficient, leading employees to waste a significant amount of working hours searching and managing documents. The traditional document management process is a time-consuming and laborious affair as it involves manual steps such as receiving document request, searching and retrieving the documents manually, and delivering it to the requester(s).
 
No-code development platforms are essential for manufacturing and process subject matter experts in companies to achieve the benefits of digital manufacturing. Small and medium size manufacturers that have lagged in digitalization particularly benefit since no-code mobile app development levels the playing field, enabling them to be more competitive. No-code platforms make it possible for a broader range of business employees to truly own their automation and build new software applications as citizen developers. The digitalization of paper forms results in greater information efficiency, quality, and accessibility.
 
I discussed this with Alpha Software’s Richard Rabins, co-founder and CEO, about the company’s alpha TransForm No-Code software for users and professional developers. Rabins explained that the software is optimized for ease of use, customizability, and speed of development/deployment. Interestingly, Dan Bricklin, inventor of the electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc, is the company’s chief technology officer (CTO).
 
Rabins explained that TransForm is focused on replacing paper forms of any complexity, and Excel data entry screens with powerful “offline-capable” mobile data capture apps including analytics and workflows. The TransForm functions allow users to create complex data validations/calculations and forms branching to create logical information entries (figure). The mobile software incorporates fully relational database model and responsive mobile form layout for any device. Information manuals and other support files can be incorporated to assist users, which further increases efficiency.

Alpha’s TransForm software solution architecture.

Alpha’s patented offline support for mobile apps provides offline data capture, and offline database lookups on smartphones and tablet computers, ensuring operation in areas where employees work that have poor or dead spot communications. When employees return to areas with good communications, intelligent synchronization updates systems.
 
The mobile software is easily deployed via the company’s Alpha cloud, which includes redundancy, security, rollback/forward, and scalability. Examples of mobile apps built in Alpha TransForm include construction punch lists, inspections, manufacturing quality control, manufacturing 5S audit, field dispatch & infrastructure repair, and maintenance/equipment inspection.
 
What no-code means: No-code is an approach to designing and using applications that doesn't require any coding or knowledge of programming languages. This type of software is part of the self-service movement that empowers business users to create, manipulate, and employ data-driven applications to do their work better. Many of the common applications on smartphones and tablets used in everyday life by people configuring things such as Facebook pages are basic example of no-code programming.
 
Low code: The company also offers alpha Anywhere, a low-code software for professional developers, which is standards based and optimized for integration with existing systems along with rapid development and deployment for professional developers seeking power and versatility.
 
No-code/low code growth: The no-code/low-code trend is expected to grow significantly with platforms evolving from just facilitating function-specific tools, to making it possible for a broader range of business employees to truly own their automation and build new software applications with no coding. In addition to companies proactively taking advantage of no-code/low-code for existing employees to improve operations, the ongoing shortage of engineering and software talent can be minimized by applying tools to turn more existing employees into citizen developers.

Reference
Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Low-Code Development Technologies Market to Grow 23% in 2021

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Lydon was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.
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