Putting digital transformation on the fast track
This new era has opened the door...
With growing pressure to innovate, manufacturers are now racing against rivals on the path to digital transformation.
This new era has opened the door to technologies like machine learning and cognitive artificial intelligence, offering innovation at every link in the value chain, from research and development, through to factory operations. With so many opportunities for growth and efficiency, digital transformation has become imperative for those who want to move the needle from satisfactory to great.
However, for manufacturers, digital transformation isn’t an easy task. Organisations in the sector are all too often hamstrung by legacy processes and a complex software ecosystem across their business. These legacy systems leave IT teams struggling to strike the balance between driving innovation and retaining control over existing structures. For many businesses, part of the problem lies in a reliance on third-party software that was not developed specifically for their needs – with only a few building bespoke applications internally.
Weaving a digital thread
Manufacturers have a great opportunity to increase revenue and profit margins by adopting connected devices and digitally enabled services. To succeed, they must weave a digital thread across all aspects of the business. This means not just applying new systems, but also embracing a fundamental structural change to the way the IT team interacts with the wider business.
For example, bringing in a visual and more intuitive approach to application development can enable a continuum of developers to contribute and collaborate more effectively on the application development process, allowing the team involved in digital projects to expand beyond purely IT and into the wider business itself. Such collaboration capabilities can open up a dialogue between IT and the wider business early in the development process, allowing business users to take an active role across the complete application lifecycle and ultimately leading to better outcomes that work for everyone. It is not just about utilising certain technologies, it’s also about revamping the way they do business and shaping internal processes that can enhance the customer experience.
The building blocks of these technologies are now readily available – cloud resources, web-based languages, and powerful, highly-scalable databases – empowering manufacturers to build what they need themselves. New approaches to development like low-code enable manufacturers to more easily experiment with technologies like AI, combining speed with the ability to scale up and modify applications as and when required. Low-code platforms link business and IT together to test, build and deliver fresh ideas to market in just weeks, fast-tracking product innovation.
Realising digital transformation at speed
Whether it’s a business demand requiring a new application or IT integrating a new back-office system or service on top of current systems, low-code platforms allow rapid delivery of enterprise applications with visual modelling which eliminates the complexity of traditional coding. It allows greater efficiency, a lower cost and quicker product quality improvement
To put that into context, agricultural manufacturer AVEBE identified a need to close key strategic and tactical gaps in its contract management process. To solve this, it used low-code development to quickly deliver a multi-device app that could seamlessly integrate with SAP. Delivered in just 30 days, the initial app structured and streamlined contract management – enabling salespeople to easily tick-off internal contract management functions, including approvals, authorisations, routing, and more. This allowed the company to efficiently process several thousand contracts annually.
Opening the door to innovation
For manufacturers it is crucial to accept that the full benefits of digitising their business can only be delivered through changing the underlying fabric of what they do and the way the business operates. A real transformative process requires the development of bespoke technologies – such as software that is built for a unique business purpose. By opening up application development process to enable end users to get involved, manufacturers can move away from unconstructive technologies for good. This means stripping out off-the-rack software and moving towards solutions that really answer business needs and add more strategic value to the business.
Industry 4.0 is coming, but to reap the full benefits manufacturers must take a fresh look at current systems and practices to ensure they’re fit for purpose and able to facilitate change both today and into the future. To succeed, agility and speed will be vital – and that’s where manufacturers will really be able to set themselves apart from the competition.
By Johan den Haan, Chief Technology Officer at Mendix
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.