PowerPlex 2017 – Makers Making an Impact

By Jane Clabby, Clabby Analytics

This year’s PowerPlex conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia on May 8-11. The event built upon the “making things” theme introduced last year—highlighting the manufacturing focus of Plex, as well as the company’s customers, prospects and partners. Each attendee’s badge told us, for example, “we make automobile braking systems” or “we make candy” or “we make things happen”.

Plex Systems, based in Troy Michigan, makes cloud-based manufacturing ERP software linking the “shop floor to the top floor” with an end-to-end solution for financials, HR, manufacturing operations, customer and sales management, and supply chain planning—capturing information across the business for analytics and reporting.

Plex plays a large role in helping manufacturing businesses make things—with close to 600 customers in 1800 facilities in 20+ countries, representing $35B in total annual revenue. The Plex Manufacturing Cloud processes over 5 billion transactions every day—and 50 percent of those transactions come from connected devices and machines on the shop floor. With an annual renewal rate of over 95 percent, these customers rely on Plex so that they can focus on their core business. In fact, over the past 12 months Plex has delivered 99.995 percent uptime to its customers—just 26 minutes of unplanned downtime.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was a central theme at this year’s conference. Three market forces—cloud computing, the evolution of manufacturing and the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), are driving 4IR. By taking advantage of these forces, the Plex community has pioneered the concept of connected manufacturing—connected systems, processes, smart products, and people across the manufacturing floor—the foundation of 4IR. Plex customers are ahead of the curve, leveraging these trends to “make things” and to make things better and more efficiently. Here are several examples.

  • GenZe, a maker of electric bikes and scooters, is part of the rising sharing economy dedicated to providing affordable transportation across the US. The scooters are internet-enabled and connected to the Plex Cloud, allowing GenZe to collect information that can be analyzed to understand customer usage patterns and to provide monitoring of the scooter’s parts to support proactive maintenance.
  • Polamer Precision, winner of the 2017 Plex Impact Award for innovation, is using Microsoft HoloLens with Plex on the shop floor in a pilot program. The 3D technology is being used to illustrate the layout of the manufacturing floor—to see visually how forklifts move across the manufacturing floor—with the goal of automating that process.
  • Firstronic, a provider of electronics manufacturing services (EMS) and a 2016 Industry Week Best Plants winner leverages Plex’s cloud architecture to shorten the process of bringing on new plants from 12-18 months to fewer than 90 days. Plex provides the transparency to track material movement, and traceablity at the component level. The company will expand Plex usage to do more predictive planning, using Plex to identify which parts are running low and to order additional stock.


Skills Shortage

In my conversations with attendees at this year’s Plex conference, the skills shortage was a common frustration. Many businesses are using Plex to automate processes that were previously done manually, enabling some shop-floor activities to be accomplished with fewer people and allowing reallocation of resources throughout the company. Others are doing more on-the-job training with mobile devices and looking ahead to using augmented reality to instruct workers on the shop floor. While these are great solutions, they don’t really get to the heart of the problem. Our young people need to be educated in skills that will prepare them for the jobs that are available.

Mike Rowe, well-known TV host and podcaster, delivered the opening keynote on Day Two of the conference and provided his insight into the issue. Inspired by a trip he made to the San Francisco sewers to do an interview for Evening Magazine (a program on the local CBS affiliate), Mike traveled across 50 states and apprenticed at 300 “dirty” jobs, ranging from road kill cleaner to worm dung farmer.

After this experience, Mike had a “peripeteia” — reaching an unexpected reversal in his thinking about “dirty” jobs. With 5.6 million available jobs and 1.3 trillion in student loans funding education for jobs that don’t exist, the world needs to change their thinking.

As a result, Mike founded mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a public charity that is dedicated to providing the technical and vocational training required to fill the 3 million available skilled trade jobs currently available in the US—jobs that pay well but don’t necessarily require a college degree. During the conference, Plex presented Mike Rowe with a $25,000 donation which will be used to provide scholarships to people getting trained for high-demand skilled jobs.

Collaboration and Community

Finally, collaboration was an overarching theme at the conference. With over 13,000 active users in the Plex community worldwide, many rely on other users to work through issues or provide suggestions as to how Plex can be used in different and innovative ways to meet business goals. One third of the sessions at Power Plex were hosted by customers, sharing ideas and insight with the rest of the community.

Along with customers, the conference includes prospects and partners, and Plex prospects are encouraged to solicit product feedback from existing customers. Finally, PowerPlex 2017 marked the third year that the conference included a PowerPlex session devoted to women. This year’s luncheon included a cross-section of strong, articulate and successful women in executive positions who had great advice for women pursuing careers in technology and manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Makers are truly making an impact, and based my many conversations at PowerPlex 2017, Plex customers are already defining the fourth industrial revolution and what it means to the future of manufacturing.

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