I leave every visit with Plex invigorated. Last week their user conference, PowerPlex in Atlanta was no different. Each time they showcase a growing number of customers – the majority are mid-sized US manufacturers. Plex now supports 566 customers, with 1816 plants in over 20 countries and $35+ billion in combined revenue.
And every time I wonder why we in the US don’t celebrate our “Mittelstand”, like the Germans, Austrians, Poles and others recognize theirs as a vital part of their economies.
I have 3 explanations:
– There has been a meme going around for the last couple of decades that US manufacturing is dead. That we have offshored all manufacturing. Reality check – we are still the second largest manufacturing economy in the world, after China. The value added by U.S. factories is more than $2 trillion a year, equal to the next three countries (Japan, Germany and South Korea) combined. We make world-class planes, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronic and medical devices, even cars – most of BMW’s SUVs are made in Greenville, SC where it has invested nearly $ 8 billion over the last two decades. 95% + of our manufacturing economy is made up of firms with fewer than 500 employees. Our mid-sized, tier 2 and 3 manufacturers are the backbone of this thriving economy, even if many have forgotten about them
– As a society, as Mike Rowe, creator of the Dirty Jobs show, powerfully showed in a keynote during PowerPlex, we have emphasized white collar college education over hands-on, trade skills. We have ended up with 5 million unfilled jobs most of which need those blue collar skills and at the same time burdened our young with over a $ trillion in student debt for white collar skills they cannot monetize.
– As a software industry we have neglected to point out the majority of ERP vendors (especially those in the cloud) or their consulting partners do not come within miles of manufacturing plants. Plex analytics focus on gritty metrics like scrap rates and first pass yield. They associate with operational consulting firms like Plante Moran. Over 50% of data in the Plex cloud originates at the shop floor. I would say is is less than 10% for much larger vendors, but because they have much larger revenues than Plex (which has annual subscription revenues north of $ 100 million), we give them way more credit. And in doing so we deemphasize the customer satisfaction that shows in 95+ % renewing their Plex subscriptions.
Here are just some of the things that made my time at the event so invigorating:
- Plex organized a visit for analysts to a plant of Trojan Battery. Trojan powers most of the golf and other utility vehicles you encounter. As renewable energy takes off , Trojan ships backup batteries to store that energy around the world. During the tour, we could have handled the lead pigs and we came tantalizingly close to the sulfuric acid being poured into the batteries – not something most analysts get to see on a daily basis.
- Plex organized plenty of time for me with execs like Kevin Jablonski of Sanders Candy (whose plant we had visited a couple of years ago), Chris DiNeno of Polamer Precision, Matt Irey of Trojan, and with several prospects. Each in their own way is experiencing rapid growth which Plex is accommodating with its uptime of 99.995 percent, or just 26 minutes of unplanned downtime in 2016. There was plenty of time to meet and greet CIOs like Paul Wright at Accuride and Ben Stewart at API Heat Transfer or indeed several of the over thousand attendees at the event and hear anecdotes like that of EG (Ernie Green) Industries 4 week implementation at a medical devices acquisition in the Dominican Republic. How many vendors put on stage humble props like bun warmers from Wisco Industries? I tweeted in admiration “Midsize manufacturing co execs are salt of the earth. So pragmatic, so results oriented.”
- While they may be pragmatic and hard nosed it was good to see these customers deploying “advanced manufacturing” concepts. CEO Jason Blessing highlighted three customers – Polamer and their augmented reality project using the Microsoft Hololens, EG and their use of commodity Android and other hardware to bring affordable scanning and other technology to their shop floor and digital design at Genze (en electric scooter) by Mahindra. Karl Ederle, who heads product management, highlighted “connected manufacturing” concepts in his keynote as robotics and sensors – the Internet of Things – proliferate on the shop floor. Jim Shepherd, who heads strategy, discussed how their DemandCaster acquisition is allowing for much more sophisticated and more comprehensive planning at customers.
- Opportunity to spend some time with Mike Rowe. What a down to earth guy – he reverently calls himself an “apprentice” to the workers he profiles in his episodes, not a hot shot TV host.
The US has its own vibrant Mittelstand. Kudos to Plex for continuing to highlight it and ably support it.
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)