PowerPlex 2018 – Innovation in Manufacturing


PowerPlex 2018, held May 14-17 in Detroit, Michigan, hosted more than 1,000 members of the Plex community who gathered to learn about new solutions and technologies and share innovative ideas with their peers.  Plex is a leader in cloud-based manufacturing ERP software for a variety of industries including automotive, aerospace and defense, food and beverage, industrial machinery and precision metalforming – with an end-to-end solution that captures information from the shop floor to the top floor for analytics and reporting.

Motor City, with its rich manufacturing history, is an ideal venue for PowerPlex, the world’s largest gathering of manufacturing technology professionals. This year, the event featured 90 sessions with 40% presented by customers from around the world and across multiple industries.  The PowerPlex theme of “making things” was front and center, with Plex customers and partners focused on making new things and doing things in new and different ways.

Plex CEO Don Clarke’s stated goal for the conference was to have all customers leave the event feeling that they had made the right decision with the Plex Manufacturing Cloud (PMC). In discussions with customers, I feel like Clarke, as well as Plex accomplished this goal.

Plex Key Products/Offerings

 2017 saw the largest growth in company history, and in 2018, Plex is continuing its focus on customer experience and helping drive customer innovation. Enhancements in existing offerings, new solutions in IIoT and Mobility, as well as tools that provide easy integration with Plex give customers the ability to take advantage of the many benefits of a connected manufacturing environment – better efficiency and productivity, improved quality and better communication across the supply chain. Let’s look a bit closer.

Plex Mobile:

Plex has announced an extension of the PMC, Plex Mobile (available July 2018), which will allow customers to seamlessly handle business critical job functions directly from their smartphones.  Plex Mobile will be available across different smartphones (from the Apple Store, Google Play, as well as Windows Marketplace). The PMC allows shop floor and worker connectivity through endpoint devices (i.e. hand scanners), and Plex Mobile will extend these capabilities while supporting role-based management (and security) directly from a smartphone.

The Plex Mobile app will interact with wearables including ring scanners and blue-tooth enabled devices to minimize manual actions and to enable the worker to complete job tasks without returning to a fixed control center. The focus will be on common workflows and increasing productivity on the shop floor. Using native mobile device capabilities, including camera and audio, shop floor activities such as barcode scanning will be automated. Plex Mobile will offer organizations improved workforce efficiency, better data accuracy and enhanced traceability.

Plex UX:

A major milestone this year, Plex released Plex UX, the next generation PMC with a modern user interface and advanced features, to all its customers. Plex UX is the future – the strategic platform and a multi-year investment for Plex. While there is no current “sunset” date for classic PMC, Plex hopes to move as many customers as possible to Plex UX in the next three years. However, the company does recognize that the transition is a process and is supporting customers as they make the move to Plex UX. For example, customers who are migrating can access both products simultaneously by user, function, screen or department.

Plex IIoT:

IIoT helps enhance connectivity and standardize processes for manufacturing businesses. Plex leverages the connectivity inherent in IIoT to connect new things and gather new information that can be used for analytics. Plex IIoT (future product) will be designed for use case, to solve a specific business problem or to help achieve a business outcome with the goals of reducing cost, managing complexity and improving reliability. Several of the areas that Plex is evaluating include attribute-based finite scheduling, sequenced shipping and lot inheritance.

Smart Glasses:

Plex has been working with smart glass technology since 2013 when they first started experimenting with Google Glass.

DAQRI smart glasses are a great example of a new technology that can be used to enhance the functionality of the PMC. Smart glasses from DAQRI are professional- quality, affordable, augmented reality glasses. Designed to be used in a workplace environment, the glasses overlay digital information onto the physical environment. The glasses increase efficiency and productivity by using augmented reality to give the shop floor operator contextual information as he performs job functions. With a device like this, operators don’t need a fixed workstation to work with Plex, enabling them to move freely around the shop floor. Operators are hands-free and the glasses instruct them based on their work center, telling them, for example, what part number to pick at a given point in time by providing visual instructions.

Microsoft HoloLens, mixed reality smart glasses, offer a new and unique way to handle remote support for the PMC. For technical and troubleshooting calls, HoloLens is worn by the worker on-site, giving remote support personnel a look directly at the machine and how the person is interacting with it. This enables the remote worker to see exactly what the on-site worker is seeing as information is shared in real-time for more cost-effective collaboration. Technical support workers can take a late-night support call from home, increasing productivity by enabling the issue to be fixed remotely rather than shutting the machines down and incurring costly downtime.  Without HoloLens, it could be hours before skilled personnel arrive to resolve a problem, leading to scheduling issues and the need to expedite orders at an increased cost to the business.

Customer and Business Partner Innovation

As previously stated, one of the major themes at PowerPlex 2018 was innovation. Not only were Plex and its customers and partners doing new and different things with Plex and technologies such as mobile and IIoT, but the Plex community incudes many businesses who are leaders in their respective industries because of their ability to innovate in many different ways – product innovation, business process innovation to name a couple. Below are two examples that stood out; the stories are unique and there was a good amount of buzz around them through Plex social channels.

Argent Tape and Label:

Led by female CEO, Lynn Perenic, Argent is a leading Michigan-based supplier of adhesive solutions to the automotive, industrial, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries. Argent produces pressure sensitive labels in a digital print room – a humidity and climate-controlled clean room with a state-of-the-art Domino digital printer.  Argent is also a 2018 recipient of the Plex Impact Award for Leadership.

Not only is Argent on the cutting edge of innovation in adhesive solutions, the company is also an innovator in company culture. Argent is dog-friendly which is fairly rare for a manufacturing business. Perenic notes that the dog-friendly atmosphere creates a happier and healthier environment for its employees, with workers being more engaged and missing fewer days of work. One other unique aspect of the company’s culture is the open book management model, in which employees share responsibility for the company’s operating metrics and share in the profits when Argent hits their goals. With better visibility and support of the company’s growth goals, Argent looks to rapidly expand their business.

Shank’s Extracts:

Shank’s Extracts manufactures extracts, flavors and colors in addition to providing packaging solutions to commercial and private label markets. Shank’s has about 2,400 active formulas with 3,300 SKUs for finished goods – with new flavors being added regularly based on customer preference. With that much variation in an industry that is becoming increasingly regulated, it is difficult to remain compliant.

Shank’s uses Plex for its risk management compliance process – handling visual standards, reference documents, supplier rules, preoperational inspections, schematics, hazard assessment protocols (HAP), environmental monitoring and other documents. Plex is customizable for easy internal document access for all users, making audits stress free. By innovating the audit process, users can easily navigate through a variety of risk and compliance assessments more quickly and also set up assessment attributes and naming conventions to enhance internal processes and create more effective reporting.

Summary Observations

 Clabby Analytics has been at PowerPlex for the past three years. Each year, we look forward to seeing how Plex and Plex customers are translating new technologies such as mobile, IIoT, and smart glasses into more effective ways of doing things on the manufacturing floor. For us, the customer conversations, demonstrations and specific use cases really make the technology “come alive’’.  And for Plex and its customers, the conference is a great way to share ideas and information that will provide the groundwork for innovative products and better ways of “making things”.

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