Low-Code as Enabler of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Industry
- Privacy. As the apps can be developed by users without a deep expertise in technical issues, enterprises trust their staff and these development tasks are not usually outsourced to third parties but performed internally which increases the confidentiality .
- Rapidity. As the main part of the code is already developed, users only have to visually configure the apps instead of hand-coding them or make the necessary adjustments to develop the apps they need . As the development time is reduced, the availability of the apps is very fast. A survey performed by Forrester  showed that low-code development platforms accelerated development by 5 to 10 times.
- Cost reduction. Due to the reduction in the development cycle from a time viewpoint, the cost is also reduced whether the app is developed by the company or by external developers .
- Complexity reduction. As the apps are not built from scratch, the apps development is simplified and this fact enables to focus more on customizing the software to fulfil users’ requirements.
- Easy maintenance. The maintenance phase of software is vital to be able to quickly change what already has been developed to guarantee a permanent alignment between the service offered by the app and the business requirements. In light of this, as the essentials of the low-code development platforms are to offer little code, there is little code to maintain .
- Involvement of business profiles. These platforms provide simple and intuitive interfaces as a development environment for the deployment of apps. In this context, no technological knowledge is required, and the final users of these apps become the developers of such apps as they are the ones who have a deep knowledge about the business needs . According to  44% of the low-code development platform users are business users in collaboration with IT.
- Minimisation of unstable or inconsistent requirements. In the current software development process, potential conflicts might arise among requirements and the impacts on the app design of requirements’ changes. However, following the idea of the previous benefit, the use of low-code means that developers quickly build minimum viable products to validate ideas and customer requirements before wasting resources on features and functionalities that customers may not value .
- Scalability: the authors point out that low-code development platforms are mainly addressed for the development of small apps but their application in large-scale projects and mission-critical enterprise applications is not covered currently.
- Fragmentation: different low-code development paradigms can be defined depending on each vendor and their specific programming model.
- Software-only systems: while enterprise developers have little expertise of programming, they are often experts in some other engineering areas. These experts expect to be able to use their knowledge in the application, at the right level of abstraction and using familiar formalisms.
2. Context Analysis
- Tools considered as software components supporting a specific task in the software-production process. Such tool are in turn also classified as: editing tools (textual and graphical editors), programming tools (coding and debugging tools, code generators and code restructurers); verification and validation tools (Static and dynamic analysers, comparators, symbolic executors, emulators/simulators, correctness proof assistants, test-case generators and test-management tools); configuration-management tools (version management, item identification, configuration building, change control, library management); metrics and measurement tools (code analysers, execution monitor’s timing analysers); project management (cost-estimation tools, project-planning tools, conference desks, e-mail, bulletin boards, project agendas, project note books), miscellaneous tools (hypertext systems and spreadsheets).
- Workbenches that integrate in a single application, several tools supporting specific software-process activities. Among them, the author highlights business planning and modelling; analysis and design; user-interface development; programming; verification and validation; maintenance and reverse engineering; configuration management and project management.
- Environments defined as a collection of tools and workbenches that support the software process. The environments involve: toolkits; language-centred; integrated; fourth generation and process-centred.
2.1. Scientific Literature Review
2.2. Other Information Sources
3. Low-Code Development Platforms
3.1. General Overview of Virtual Factory Open Operating System (vf-OS) Platform
3.2. Analysis of the Current Low-Code Development Platforms
3.3. vf-OS Platform from the Low-Code Viewpoint
Conflicts of Interest
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|“Low-Code”||And “Application”||And “Platform”||And “App”|
|Web of Science||208||10||4||1|
|Virtual Factory Input/Output Interface (vf-IO)|
|It is a set of modules that virtualise factory’s real assets and connect them to their images in vf-OS. vf-IO implements plug-and-play mechanisms and device drivers for seamless/open access and smart virtualisation of the factory resources; it is composed by devices drivers, application programming interface (API) connectors, security, and data access. Thus, the vf-IO is composed of the modules that enable connectivity to assets like legacy enterprise resource planning (ERPs) or customer relationship management (CRMs), cyber-physical systems (CPSs), smart objects or wireless sensor networks.|
|Virtual Factory System Kernel (vf-SK)|
|It is the core of the operating system, responsible for providing key system resources and a set of specific services, which is open and accessible to other components of the system.|
|Virtual Factory Devices Drivers and Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).|
|Open APIs, interconnection modules and drivers serve as interoperability mechanisms between the factory and vf-OS applications. The integration between both is seamless and secure. It provides interfaces to physical assets (e.g., sensors) and virtual assets (e.g., ERP systems and data) and eases their use in vf-OS.|
|Virtual Factory Middleware (vf-MW)|
|It consists of system services and a data bus, which provide a set of modules to integrate data from arbitrary sources, including, but not limited to CPS, smart objects, radio frequency identification (RFID) devices, and wireless sensor networks. Moreover, the use of cloud-based data storage avoids vendor lock-in issues and minimises the risk of system failures. Accessibility of data is facilitated through connectors and wrappers.|
|Virtual Factory Open Applications Development Kit (vf-OAK)|
|A complete and fully open development kit addressed to the software producing community. The aim is addressed to guarantee the growth of specific applications running in vf-OS across all industrial sectors and scenarios. It is composed of a software development kit (SDK) to develop applications, a system dashboard, the OAK Frontend Environment, the OAK Development Studio and a developer engagement hub to engage developers. The SDK implements all the necessary APIs needed to develop vApps. The OAK System Dashboard represents the core software services for allowing system monitoring and configuration; the OAK Frontend Environment provides a framework that facilitates a general ‘look, feel, and composition’ to vApps and assists rapid development, by providing a compilation of UI elements including business logic via the OAK Studio; the vf-OS Development Studio is a desktop development environment that facilitates software developers to compose their applications for running within vf-OS. Additionally, the Developer Engagement Hub is a collaboration platform for developers to support each other.|
|vf-OS Applications (vApps)|
|Manufacturing smart applications enables and optimise communication and collaboration among supply networks across all manufacturing sectors and in all the stages of manufacturing and logistic processes: demand forecast, planning, supply, manufacturing, distribution, storage, replacement, and recycling.|
|vf-OS Store (vf-Store)|
|Virtual Factory Manufacturing Application Store offers fundamental services of a modern e-Commerce platform for consumer and developers. On one hand, vf-Store enables software developers to offer assets (demanded or initiative), and on the other hand, users can search for, obtain and rate existing vApps. Furthermore, the vf-Store acts as a mediator between developers and users. Therefore, the vf-Store is the central point for developers to get in contact with users. In addition to view/set ratings, review, and provide technical information about the asset’s behaviour, the vf-Store supports users to get in contact with developers to offer ideas for new assets.|
|Virtual Factory Platform (vf-P)|
|This is a holistic service platform, which is the foundation for all services and end user applications that vf-OS provides. vf-P encapsulates and acts as the interface and runtime environment between the components, connectors, OAK functions, marketplace, the service framework (supporting the running of intrinsic services and vApps) and the end user applications/developers. The vf-P can run locally and in cloud environments.|
|These users can access a new promising and high-growth potential market for the development of vApps. These are developed using the vf-OAK to quickly build applications running over the vf-SK and using the vf-IO and the vf-MW. The software developers can be independent or work within IT departments of particular manufacturers.|
|Manufacturing and Logistics Users|
|This group of users can search vApps in the vf-Store. The search can be filtered based on features, cost, or ratings amongst others. These users can request specific requirements to the vf-OS software development community when demanding custom vApps.|
|Manufacturing and Logistics Solution Provider|
|This segment exposes their ICT interfaces and manufacturing connections to the vApps. They are also able to contribute to the development of vApps that may be added and commercialised in the vf-Store.|
|External Service Providers|
|These users provide services (hosting, storage, connected cloud services, etc.) including those based on developed solutions.|
|Low-code development platforms and its description|
|Siemens MindSphere (Version 3.0, Siemens, Berlin, Germany, 2019) |
| MindSphere is Siemens’ cloud-based, open Internet of Things (IoT) operating system that connects real things to the digital world and enables powerful industry applications and digital services to drive business success. MindSphere’s open PaaS enables a rich partner ecosystem to develop and deliver new applications. MindSphere allows users to:|
|PTCThingWorx (Version 8.5, PTC, Boston, MA, USA, 2019) |
| ThingWorx provides the ability to source, contextualise and synthesise data while orchestrating processes and delivering powerful web, mobile and AR experiences. As claimed in their product page, ThingWorx is the fastest way to deliver industrial innovation through:|
|GE Predix (GE, Boston, MA, USA, 2019) |
| Predix combines sophisticated asset modelling, big data processing, analytics, and applications to provide the IT foundation for industrial operations as follows:|
|IBM Cloud (formerly IBM BlueMix) (IBM, Armonk, NY, USA, 2019) |
IBM Cloud (Bluemix) is a cloud PaaS that supports several programming languages and services as well as integrated DevOps to build, run, deploy and manage applications on the cloud. Bluemix comes with a catalogue, where own and third-party applications have been uploaded for their deployment with the following features:|
|Microsoft Azure IoT Suite (Microsoft, Redmond, WA USA, 2019) |
| Azure IoT Suite is a set of preconfigured solutions that facilitates a quick start and can be customisable to meet specific requirements from the customer. It is an open source implementation of a common IoT solution patterns that can be deployed to Azure using the subscription means of the customer. Each preconfigured solution combines custom code and Azure services to implement a specific IoT scenario or scenarios. It features:|
|Software AG ADAMOS (DMG MORI, Dürr, Software AG and ZEISS as well as ASM PT, Germany, 2019) |
| The ADAMOS IIoT platform’s basic functionality is offered in the core areas of device connectivity & management, real-time analytics and visualisation, workflow automation and enterprise & cloud integration. ADAMOS is an open and manufacturer-neutral IIoT platform that envisions a world of digitally networked manufacturing, and intelligent services around existing products for machinery and plant engineering enterprises with the following features:|
|Feature||Siemens MindSphere||PTC ThingWorx||GE Predix||IBM Cloud (BlueMix)||MS Azure IOT Suite||Software AG ADAMOS||vf-OS|
|Security by design||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤|
|APIs to access third party software||◖1||◖1||◖1||⬤||-||⬤||⬤|
|Business Process Modelling||-||⬤||-||⬤||-||-||⬤|
|Data Ingestion and ETL||◖||◖||◖||⬤||⬤||◖||⬤|
|Messaging and Pub/Sub||◖||◖||◖||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤|
|Product Management, Conception, Simulation||⬤||⬤||⬤||⬤||-||-||◖5|
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Sanchis, R.; García-Perales, Ó.; Fraile, F.; Poler, R. Low-Code as Enabler of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Industry. Appl. Sci. 2020, 10, 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10010012
Sanchis R, García-Perales Ó, Fraile F, Poler R. Low-Code as Enabler of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Industry. Applied Sciences. 2020; 10(1):12. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10010012Chicago/Turabian Style
Sanchis, Raquel, Óscar García-Perales, Francisco Fraile, and Raul Poler. 2020. "Low-Code as Enabler of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Industry" Applied Sciences 10, no. 1: 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10010012