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Building APIs for the Manufacturing Industry

By Alan Glickenhouse posted Fri June 30, 2017 03:12 PM

Manufacturers often do not sell directly to a consumer.  So, is there really a need for APIs? – Of course there is!  Manufacturers do deal with supply chain, the manufacturing process, and retailers who sell their products as well as their employees and distribution channels.  There are many scenarios where APIs can be used.

So, let’s explore how APIs are used in the Manufacturing industry.  Once again I’ll use the structure I previously introduced (here).


Mobile App Development – Mobile Apps may be provided for customers even though you may not sell directly.  Common mobile capabilities that might be provided by Manufacturers include:

  • Basic APIs - product list, product detail, instructions, parts information, diagrams/graphics, repair information, store locator.

  • Custom APIs: product purchase history, maintenance history

  • Mobile advantages include product locator with GPS directions


Mobile APIs could also be provided for Employees to guide work assignments and help productivity by delivering information to the employee where they are located.


What APIs are available today in Manufacturing? Here are just a few samples of public APIs:

  • SNAP PAC - An API to Opto 22 industrial programmable automation controllers (PACs) to enable rapid Industrial Internet of Things application development, reduced time to market in machine and system design, and faster automation and control project deployment.

  • IBM Blumix Car Diagnostic API - translates OBD error codes into a human readable form, making it easier to assess the status of a vehicle. This API supports all error codes that can be read with ELM327 OBD dongles, as well as error codes specific to car manufacturers. The Car Diagnostic database is professionally maintained and includes more than 17,000 error codes.

  • ItemMaster - is a source for product images and data. The site aims to provide free, detailed information about products so that all vendors have the same information available. The ItemMaster API allows users access to the ItemMaster database so they can make calls to return a listing of manufacturers, listing of brand names, and a listing of items.

  • Ei3 - Ei3's Internet applications are used by manufacturers to gather, processes and analyze large amounts of machine data. Users are provided with mobile apps, web pages, dashboards and reports that show key performance indicators describing the performance, uptime and quality of machine output. But in traditional implementations there are many technical challenges that make this a daunting task for many companies. Ei3’s Web Service solves this by providing tools that link shop-floor data into ERP, Quality and other enterprise computing platforms.


Besides creating Mobile Apps for their customers, there are many other areas where APIs can provide value for manufacturing companies.


Partnering – The obvious use case for Manufacturing is partnering.  On boarding retailers who sell your product, integrating their systems with yours for ordering/inventory/supply are typical scenarios.  You may also make your product related APIs available to partners who are writing their own mobile apps and want to include information on the products they offer – i.e. the products you are selling through them.  Some of the same APIs as your own mobile App could be applicable – product list, product information, etc.

Additional partner opportunities for APIs include on boarding and integrating with distribution channels and suppliers.  APIs for scheduling deliveries and inventory levels are some examples.


Public APIs – In addition to the typical product comparison type use cases, manufacturing companies want their brand promoted by others.  I refer to this as “the business next door”.  Try to think about what things people might be doing that need the product you provide.  These are the industries to target for your APIs to help drive sales of your product. For example, if the product you manufacture might be given as a present then birthdays, holidays, graduation focused businesses can help drive sales of your product.


Social – Manufacturing companies want to create a buzz about their products and react appropriately to comments on social media about their products.  If there is a positive comment, then this should be promoted (e.g. re-tweeted).  If there is a negative comment then you may want to take action before this escalates.  Also look to social media as a marketing opportunity for potential customers looking for your product, your competitor’s product, or other scenarios where your product might be appropriate.  For example if you manufacture head phones, then advertising to people searching for your product or your competitors can identify opportunity, but you might also advertise on music sites, air travel, etc.


Devices –Devices are prevalent in the manufacturing industry.  Plant floor automation, handling issues, and driving business processes often starts with information provided by some sort of device or monitor.  The interactions from or to the device can be API calls.  APIs may also be involved in handling abnormal situations as reported from the devices on the plant floor.  And, APIs can be used for employee and plant safety, for example when an employee is in a dangerous position the employee can be notified and the plant equipment can be directed to stop.


Data – More than likely you are already capturing lots of data about your manufacturing processes and business interactions.  Many businesses are transitioning to APIs to collect this data over time.  But more immediately they are taking advantage of the data they already collect by making it available quickly and easily through APIs to provide visibility to more audiences inside the company.  Thus obtaining more value with little additional effort.  In some situations, data access may also be applicable to partners or potentially sold to third parties.

Manufacturing companies can use APIs to drive product success.  APIs are used to promote a positive customer experience which includes product awareness, marketing, selling, enhancing customer loyalty, and managing the supply chain, distribution, and market analysis.  These are all critical success factors for products, so as APIs are introduced for these purposes you should always put controls around them so that you know who uses the APIs and how much. With that visibility, you can manage change, introduce new versions, and protect your back-end infrastructure with enforced rate limits.


To understand more about IBM’s thoughts on the API Economy visit the IBM API Economy website.  IBM API Connect is IBM’s complete foundation to Create, Run, Manage, and Secure APIs.  You can find more information about IBM API Connect at the API Connect website.  And you can also experience a trial version of API Connect.


If you have questions, please let me know.  Connect with me through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.