Plex Manufacturing Cloud ERP—Running Your Business from the Shop Floor to the Top Floor

Plex Systems was one of the earliest adopters of the cloud deployment model for software delivery. Plex Systems’ flagship product, Plex Manufacturing Cloud (formerly Plex Online), is a SaaS ERP solution that extends beyond the boundaries of typical ERP software for manufacturers to provide a comprehensive “shop floor to top floor” coverage. Find out what this means for its customers in this spotlight report from TEC Senior ERP Analyst Ted Rohm.

Plex Systems—In the Cloud Before the Cloud Was Cool

The benefits a cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution provides to a manufacturing organization are now well documented. In a research note titled Six Reasons Why Manufacturers Should Consider Cloud ERP, Nucleus Research points out that “there are a number of benefits beyond total cost of ownership to deploy cloud ERP, including increased flexibility, scalability, accelerating deployment, business continuity, and usability.” The key takeaways from a report by the Aberdeen Group, The Case for Cloud ERP in Manufacturing: Alleviating Outdated Concerns, detail that the benefits of cloud solutions beyond overall cost include “the ability to not rely on internal IT resources, enhanced collaboration and visibility across the enterprise, scalability, and flexibility as SaaS deployments are updated by the software vendors.”
However, the benefits of cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) weren’t always so clear. Plex Systems was founded in 1995 with the initial goal of providing quality management systems for metal-forming manufacturers in the motor vehicle industry (MVI). The company initially focused on core technology for quality tracking, inventory management, and shop floor control. Plex Systems was one of the earliest adopters of the cloud deployment model for software delivery, and in 2001 shifted to SaaS as the only deployment model offered by Plex Systems.
The majority of the ERP solution providers are only now catching up to Plex Systems’ ability to deliver a SaaS solution via the cloud. Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype—many of these vendors fall well short of delivering their “cloud” solution on par with Plex. Some vendors are promoting cloud solutions that merely run on Microsoft Azure or Amazon cloud service—this is little more than supporting hard drives managed by the cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider. Other manufacturing solutions are now springing up on the Salesforce platform, but require a company to purchase multiple other component subscription packages to build out a complete ERP solution. Even other ERP vendors are relying on third-party implementers and integrators to set up and support their products in the cloud, but do not stand 100% behind the cloud deployment.
Plex has been delivering its SaaS cloud solution for more than a decade now. Having a pure SaaS offering means that the software vendor fully supports all the networking, infrastructure, and software needed to run the system. The vendor manages the data centers, commits to uptime service level agreements (SLAs), which in the case of Plex is 99.9% uptime, and maintains things like hot backups to dedicated failover servers. In short, all a company needs to run Plex Manufacturing Cloud ERP is an Internet connection.

Industry Focus                                                               

Born on the shop floor, Plex Manufacturing Cloud today provides global manufacturers with what Plex Systems describes as “shop floor to top floor visibility of their operations.” Plex believes the plant floor is the heart of the manufacturing business, and, by creating a platform for continuous innovation, Plex Manufacturing Cloud can be a powerful catalyst for its customers’ continued, profitable growth. 
Plex Systems focuses squarely on servicing the needs of six target industries. The company doesn’t stray from these markets just to pick up business—all the company’s efforts and attention are geared toward the following industries:
•         Aerospace and Defense
•         Motor Vehicles
•         High-Tech and Electronics
•         Industrial Manufacturing
•         Precision Metal forming
•         Food and Beverage
This allows Plex Manufacturing Cloud to excel in serving the needs of each of these verticals, with each showing a different facet of the Plex’s core strengths.

Customer Focus                                 

Plex Systems has succeeded in putting the needs of its customers first with its unique software. This leads to a product development process that is customer driven. Enhancements to the product are based on customer requests that come from an active and engaged customer community. The changes are then rapidly deployed with three significant updates released annually, and other updates rolled out at times on a daily basis. 
Plex Systems doesn’t lock in customers to perpetual licensing agreements
with annual maintenance fees. Rather, more than 90% of its customers are on annual contracts, and thus Plex must earn the right to sell the software to these customers again each year. This sense of urgency and intensity to meet customer demands and expectations galvanizes everyone at Plex Systems to maintain a high-quality product and drive continuous improvement across all areas of the company.

Plex—Overcoming challenges and the Future

The Plex Manufacturing Cloud ERP solution is not without weaknesses, and Plex Systems works to continuously improve its product based on customer needs. An example of how the company responds to customer needs is evidenced in
the recent enhancements in support of multi-entity financials. Plex’s Customer Advisory Boards challenged the company to augment the breadth and depth of financial reporting and analysis. In response to this need, “the product management, engineering, global support services, and product marketing teams created a cross-functional team that has the purpose to quickly develop, fine-tune, and launch Multi-Entity Financials. Plex beat our own internal timelines and is ready to deliver this valuable functionality to our customers,” reports Louis Columbus, Product Marketing Manager.
Jason Blessing, chief executive officer (CEO) of Plex Systems, states: “We are focused on helping manufacturers drive down cost, increase quality, and enhance productivity. Thousands of users rely on the Plex Manufacturing Cloud today in the auto, aerospace, and food industries.”

Product Overview—“shop floor to top floor”

Plex Systems’ flagship product, Plex Manufacturing Cloud (formerly known as Plex Online), is a SaaS ERP solution created for high-precision and high-liability manufacturing industries. The solution extends beyond the boundaries of typical ERP software for manufacturers to provide a comprehensive “shop floor to top floor” solution. The manufacturing ERP modules delivered in the cloud include accounting and finance; customer and sales management; human resources; inventory management; production management; product and program management; and supply chain management, all with business platform foundation support including business intelligence, document management, and workflows.
Plex Manufacturing Cloud is unique in that it combines the aforementioned common ERP modules with integrated modules for manufacturing execution systems (MES), quality management, customer relationship management (CRM), shop floor integration, and more into a single, fully integrated solution. This enables companies to effectively and efficiently manage virtually every aspect of their manufacturing operations. Highly regulated and compliance-driven industries including aerospace and defense rely on Plex Manufacturing Cloud to simplify and streamline their manufacturing operations while attaining compliance and greater profitability.

Fit and Finish

The layout of the system is simple and user friendly, even for people on the shop floor (and if even if they use touch screens). The main menus are organized as screens containing icons and hyperlinks, and each screen has a few buttons available at the top for the main functions (e.g., Add, Back, Delete, Help, etc.). If necessary, a more detailed menu can be obtained by right-clicking anywhere on the screen. Figure 1 shows a sample of the main menu of Plex Manufacturing Cloud.

Figure 1. Plex Manufacturing Cloud ERP Main Menu
Ease of Use
The screens throughout the solution are purpose built with the end user in mind. The screens were not designed for wowing the user with an endless number of tabs or detailed information that is used only a fraction of the time. Common screens use common everyday titles such as orders, invoices, inventory ship ready, and shipping. Though the detailed information needed to manage complex operations is available, the system doesn’t overwhelm the user with complexity.
A good example, given below, is the shipping screen. The critical information needed to process the shipments, with color-coded visual cues, is immediately obvious to the end user.

Figure 2. Shipping Screen

In contrast to most traditional ERP vendors that create manuals or files of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to share with their customers, Plex’s online help is in the form of a wiki. Customers can contribute to it by adding to the community knowledge base or by extending it with proprietary information that is available to only its own users. 

Featured Software Research:

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