Current economic forecasts put the economy on a recovery path in 2021 but it is likely to be 2022 before GDP grows beyond 2019 levels. Likewise, manufacturing and retail sectors are expected to continue to shed jobs. At the same time, global business consultancy McKinsey is observing that COVID-19 is driving the adoption of Digital Transformation strategies at unprecedented rates.
Given this scenario, manufacturers must put agility at the top of their survival plans. The question now facing manufacturing leaders is how to accomplish this objective as part of existing digitally transformation programs in such a way that maximizes the agility of their operations. Their top question is often “Who should I work with and what software will allow me to accomplish these objectives?”
The answer isn’t as simple as just identifying the right application such as a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Quality Management System (QMS) but must also factor in what platform for these solutions makes the most sense. The answer that will give the best results? Start by selecting a solution built upon a microservices architecture to ensure sufficient flexibility is embedded in your IT/OT infrastructure.
Read this article for other insights in selecting an MES solution, 3 Critical Factors Often Overlooked During an MES Evaluation Process
Here are 5 Reasons Why Microservices Make Sense for Manufacturing Applications
1. Manufacturing operates as a system. As one examines the evolution of software applications in general, and in manufacturing specifically, an overriding trend is the blurring of functional boundaries between application providers. Virtually every major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) provider has added MES functionality to their suites. The same is true for QMS providers who now offer sustainability and EH&S functionality. Likewise, MES providers have greatly expanded their footprint into quality and reliability/maintenance.
The reason is straightforward: Manufacturing operates as a system; all the parts are interconnected. Therefore, the applications that support such an interconnected system need to themselves be interconnected. This leads to the first reason microservices are the right choice for manufacturing applications going forward: Microservices provide a scalable platform.
2. Microservices’ scalability eases interconnectivity. Despite the efforts of some enterprise application suite providers to provide every functionality, the truth is that innovation continues to emerge from smaller providers. Therefore, companies looking to stay on (or closer to) the leading edge of technology and functionality will likely always be integrating new applications to well-established transaction-based back-ends.
3. Microservices make the most of Cloud infrastructure. They provide the ability to spread load across multiple servers and data centers. This can ease compliance with local data security issues when properly managed, reduce response times by putting user-facing services closer to endpoints, and simplify platform support.
4. Microservices allow developers to be more responsive. As a rapidly changing economy necessitates frequent operating changes, applications built on microservices can be very quickly adapted to new business models and demands. Large teams building, testing, and deploying massive product releases will become a thing of the past. Solutions built on a microservices architecture can quickly evolve with your business, and typically at a much lower cost.
5. Microservices provide for futureproofing. Manufacturers cannot accurately project what their operating requirements will be in the future. Nor can they afford to rip and replace applications every 5-10 years as they have done in the past. With microservices, manufacturers have a platform to evolve their software footprint as they move their business going forward. With the advantages of Cloud, interconnectivity, and a platform approach, microservices extends the life of end-users’ software investments.
Manufacturers can learn from other industries that faced similar scalability and responsiveness challenges in the past. Prior to 2020, the need for manufacturers to have a great deal of operational agility certainly existed but the pain was not as acute. The last six months have transformed many parts of our lives. For manufacturers, the need to respond quickly has never been so elevated as a requirement for not only profitability but survival. Fortunately, microservices-based applications are now available, coming at a point that coincides well with the industry’s need for a better approach to this persistent challenge.
Dan Miklovic is the founder and principal analyst at Lean Manufacturing Research, LLC. He has a wealth of experience as an end-user, software vendor, consultant, and market research analyst. He led a plant applications development and implementation team at Weyerhaeuser, was a process system engineer at Scott Paper, led the network design team at a large engineering firm serving the pulp & paper and mining industries. His industry analyst experience includes roles at Gartner, Sustainable Collaborations Group, and LNS Research. He is currently a member of The Analyst Syndicate. He has authored dozens of articles, contributed to several engineering handbooks, authored a text on industrial networking, and was a co-host of World Business Review, a TV program seen on public television, CNBC, and other outlets.
You may contact Dan at [email protected].