Whether you call it Smart Factory or Industry 4.0, manufacturers can achieve digital transformation using iPaaS, which connects enterprise software with manufacturing machines and processes, delivering automation and digital transformation of systems and processes.
Introduction: How iPaaS Powers Digital Transformation
I wrote this article to help manufacturers understand iPaaS, how it’s different from an applications platform, where it lives and why it’s such an important driver of digital transformation. Let’s get started.
Similar to the Software as a Service (SaaS) model where users subscribe to cloud software, the Integrated Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is one part of a cloud applications platform where all software (SaaS and on-premise) lives, shares data and automates complex manufacturing processes and machine maintenance.
You subscribe to iPaaS just as you would to any SaaS software. The difference is that iPaaS is not another standalone enterprise solution. iPaaS is the place where all of the software you use lives. The benefit of this one-happy-software family is the ability to rapidly deploy applications on the same platform to extend the capabilities of existing software and transform the way you manage digital operations. The result is a streamlined, flexible manufacturing operation that promises savings in both time and in money.
What is iPaaS?
Because iPaaS connects business and manufacturing software in the cloud, it serves as the enterprise glue between multiple systems, manufacturing processes, machines and the people who use them. iPaaS delivers the connectivity that makes it possible to access and share data for real-time insight into the business, powering digital transformation.
Think of iPaaS as the great connector between all of the enterprise software you use to run the business. It connects the software that runs the equipment, tracks finances, extends the capabilities of an existing ERP system and much more.
Gartner, the technology research firm, provides a fuller description, defining the platform as “a suite of cloud services” used to develop, integrate, and connect on-premise and cloud-based processes, applications, and data. iPaaS can be used to integrate business processes, from a one-building organization to a global enterprise with many locations.
How iPaaS Works for Manufacturing Businesses
Why No-Code, Low-Code, Pro Code Speeds up App Deployment and Costs Less
iPaaS is built using software development tools known as no-code, low-code, pro-code. No-code and low-code application development is just right for the citizen developer, the business manager or sales executive who wants to create a dashboard or build a new report without going to IT. The best of the rapid application deployment tools offers a drag and drop GUI so that anyone who’s a fluent user of business software can build an app.
The top applications platforms also have tools to help in-house or external IT teams accelerate their productivity, anticipate problems and introduce best practices that better serve the organization. They can build or manage databases, create mobile apps and develop connectors to software currently in use.
Best-in-class platforms are like a Swiss Army Knife. They come with built-in tools and pre-built connectors that do not need middleware to connect with enterprise software already in use. This enables professional developers to focus less on connecting printers to the network and more on building elegant, enduring software solutions.
A Red Hat Consulting Pathfinder report finds that low-code and no-code solutions could slash app development time by up to 90 percent. It’s no wonder, then, that Gartner predicts more than 65 percent of application development is expected to happen on no-code or low-code platforms by 2024.
Unlike a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering—in which a manufacturer typically pays a subscription fee to use the provider’s cloud-based application—iPaaS is a cloud-based platform that allows software applications, both cloud and on-premise, to connect, share and exchange data.
The best iPaaS solution is multi-tenant. This means that all users are running the same version of the platform across the entire organization, even at multiple locations. Updates happen automatically and all users are on the same version of the software, eliminating complicated management of different licenses. Software updates are pushed to the customer on a regular basis and are the platform provider’s responsibility. Multi-tenant options also significantly lower IT costs.
Three ways a multi-tenant iPaaS lowers costs; it:
- Disrupts the cycle of broken-fix IT management and implements best practices that accelerate efficiencies, automate processes and truly deliver real-time data.
- Reduces and simplifies IT infrastructure costs other than expanded internet bandwidth.
- Gives users the ability to deploy iPaaS applications faster and spend less when compared to traditional IT development methodologies.
Secure from the Source
All companies face the threat of cyberattacks and security breaches. A 2021 McKinsey survey of 100 companies across all industries finds that most organizations aren’t nearly as protected as they should be. “The dangers are swiftly growing in number and security,” the report states.
Seventy percent of the companies are in “reactionary” mode, filling security gaps as they crop up, McKinsey found. Make sure that your iPaaS provider runs on a private cloud housed in an elite data center and that it delivers:
Security: Layered, physical and logical security to monitor, detect and defend against potential security breaches or intrusions.
High Availability: Redundancy across the cloud platform ensures that uptime is 99.9% so that your data is safe, available and intact.
Scalability: Maintain the most modern cloud infrastructure so that critical business needs can be met in real time and scale quickly to support business growth.
iPaaS, Industry 4.0 and the Digital Factory
The iPaaS market is exploding. In 2020, it generated $3.47 billion in revenue and grew by 39 percent, Gartner finds. Manufacturers, not to be left behind, are adopting iPaaS at high rates as they see how the technology can benefit their enterprise.
With iPaaS, manufacturers can finally complete the digital transformation of the factory floor. This means smart sensors, robotics, automated processes, machine-learning inspection tools, IIoT and more can provide digitized feedback about real-time factory operations. And that information can be shared with other parts of the business and with the enterprise software currently in use.
A “single source” platform is a big deal in manufacturing, where processes change daily, sometimes by the hour or minute; where, among many other factors, equipment must be continually monitored for predictive maintenance to prevent a line shutdown.
To make digitized data actionable, it must be interconnected with the capacity to conduct analysis. This is the value of iPaaS: the capability to connect all systems and get a bird’s-eye view into the state of the plant floor at a moment’s notice.
How to Choose the Right iPaaS
Before you invest in iPaaS, make sure that you know what to look for. Here’s a checklist to help you make the right decision, solve your problems and run a smarter business.
Look for pre-built connectors to commonly-used manufacturing and enterprise software. The best iPaaS connectors eliminate the need for middleware or bolt-ons, simplifying your IT ecosystem.
Business Intelligence Dashboards
Dashboards offer that bird’s-eye view into how systems are functioning in real time. They should be customizable, easy to use, and easy to read and understand. A no-code and low-code WYSIWYG app enables the sales team or the HR manager to build beautiful dashboards. And pro-code app tools enable rapid development of more complex dashboards.
Look for a solution with a device gateway that bridges the digital gaps between on-premise software and cloud without any bolt-ons. Users need an applications platform that supports an unlimited number of device drivers for industrial equipment, CMMs, printers and more. Find a gateway that supports local file processes and monitoring, to integrate flat files or other documents into your data flow.
Manufacturers benefit from a single user interface with the ability to perform real-time exchange of information among your team, systems, software, and equipment via a browser extension. A browser extension should serve as a bridge between the data flows, apps, documents, dashboards and your end-users or other systems. It eliminates multiple apps, browsers, or dual data entry by bringing everything into a common, single user interface with the ability to add buttons, forms, dashboards, or other features to the screens your users already know and are comfortable using.
Beyond the Plant Floor
The iPaaS system should be manufacturing-specific and able to integrate information from the shipping and logistics systems so that manufacturers can follow products after they leave the plant to ensure on-time delivery using the most cost-effective means of transportation. Manufacturers should also be able to track returned and damaged products and connect that information into the enterprise systems.
iPaaS is the glue that binds enterprise software, such as the accounting system, to ERP, supply chain and logistics applications. It enables end-to-end visibility into shipping costs which in turn creates the opportunity to lower shipping expenses.
How Fuuz Helped a Thermal Management Solution Company Keep a New Contract
Here’s what a successful iPaaS implementation looks like. A company which makes thermal management solutions for the automotive, commercial truck and recreational vehicle market, won a new project from one of the largest electronic vehicle OEMs.
But it put the company in a pinch. They needed to be up and running quickly. Quality control requirements were strict. With little time to lose, the supplier needed to on-board new trading partners, create barcode labels and communicate with machine builders. All of its digital systems needed to connect to ensure everything met the specifications, proving that the supplier could make a quality part and provide the necessary tracking data.
To solve the operational and scaling challenge, the company implemented Fuuz, the no-code, low-code digital operations platform, using the iPaaS Integration Suite to leverage digital data with Fuuz’ pre-built connectors to its apps and enterprise software.
The OEM was so impressed with the output of Fuuz that our customer is expanding Fuuz to other locations and other suppliers are now lining up to get a similar implementation.
Fuuz from MFGx is a great example of an iPaaS system specifically created for the complex needs of manufacturing and industrial businesses.
Manufacturing technology consultants create an ever-changing vocabulary to describe the use of digital processes: Industry 4.0, Smart Factory, Digital Thread. Whatever you want to call it, iPaaS delivers the connectivity and real-time visibility into processes and data that manufacturers have been waiting for. And an iPaaS system certainly makes adoption easy, cost effective and scalable.