Honda at heart: Plexus multi-industry enterprise system built on automotive supplier foundation

In use at more than 1,200 plants worldwide, the Plexus Online on-demand enterprise system has to be one of the most successful application suites you’ve probably never heard of. And with more than 350 functional modules, the description "suite" is surely no misnomer.


In use at more than 1,200 plants worldwide—and boasting a 100-percent customer retention rate— Plexus Systems ’ Plexus Online on-demand enterprise system has to be one of the most successful application suites you’ve probably never heard of. And with more than 350 functional modules, the description "suite" is surely no misnomer.
Embracing ERP, manufacturing execution, and supply chain and customer relationship management, Plexus offers materials and inventory purchasing, receiving, and tracking; shop-floor production and control, complete with Kanban, kaizen, and heijunka capabilities; and process inspection and traceability tracking.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that until recently, Plexus’ success has come about without any active marketing: VP of marketing Patrick Fetterman has been in place just a year.
“Sales have been almost entirely word-of-mouth—and even then, we’ve been achieving 45-percent year-on-year growth for the last four years,” says Fetterman.
A firm focus on customer requirements has clearly helped. Plexus Online, explains Fetterman, is designed around the business and regulatory requirements of a relatively small but economically important clutch of industries: automotive, aerospace & defense, medical device, and packaged food.
In automotive, an even tighter focus exists: Plexus Online is built with the goal of helping suppliers do business with Honda of America Manufacturing .
“As a company, Plexus made it one of our strategic objectives to be the system of choice for Honda suppliers,” says Fetterman. In fact, he explains, the Plexus product that serves as the foundation of Plexus Online was originally developed as part of an internal project at an automotive parts manufacturer, with Plexus Systems being spun out as an independent company in 1995.
The “Online” part of the Plexus Online name gives a clue to another source of the application suite’s appeal: Plexus was a pioneer of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, converting the company's software architecture from client-server to on-demand as far back as 2001. And Plexus is finding the marketplace increasingly receptive to SaaS advantages, says Fetterman—namely rapid deployment, simpler upgrades and maintenance, and lower costs of ownership.
It’s an appeal that extends across the corporate size spectrum. “Companies with revenues of $500 million buy a broad set of capabilities—shop floor to top floor,” says Fetterman. Paramount, Calif.-based Weber Metals, for example, has found Plexus useful in delivering improvements ranging from a faster quotation time—down by 80 percent—to slashing the time taken to reschedule the machine shop, reducing it from 18 hours to under an hour.
The needs of larger companies are more specific. “They tend to buy particular modules—supplier quality, for example—to plug gaps in their existing application suite,” says Fetterman. “And then, after a couple of years, we tend to find that they are not only coming back for another niche capability, but they’re mandating applications like supplier quality within their supply chains—at which point you begin to understand where the organic growth is coming from.”

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