Update on Plex Systems, Stand-alone MES and IIoT

I had an opportunity to talk with Ben Stewart, VP Product Strategy for Plex Systems, the other day to get my first deep dive for years. I talked with the company occasionally, but it was primarily an ERP developer with a robust MES incorporated. Much has happened lately.

What has set Plex apart for years is its SaaS, multi-tenant cloud offering. While competitors have only recently found a way to move from the license-based, client-server model to some form of cloud offering using browser-based connectivity with HTML 5 to offer visualization through tablets and smart phones.

Plex has made several moves within the past year to bolster its presence and offering and along the way garnered a Gartner recognition. First, Plex has made its MES available without its ERP so that users of other ERP solutions can add Plex SaaS MES. The second news is the Gartner recognition. And the third news item discusses Plex entering the IoT space through acquisition giving it a robust and comprehensive solution to its customers.

Plex Manufacturing Execution Suite (Plex MES)—a flexible cloud-based suite.

Plex Systems manufacturing operations capabilities are now available as a best-of-breed shop floor-specific offering called the Plex Manufacturing Execution Suite (Plex MES). This cloud-based suite is comprised of packages that satisfy the spectrum of smart manufacturing needs from MES to manufacturing operations management (MOM).

“Plex allowed us to quickly standardize our systems and processes across eight facilities globally, helping the company record production and quality checks in real-time,” said Jennifer McIntosh, ERP Manager of Gill Industries, a world-class supplier of advanced mechanisms and welded assemblies. “With the entire company now working from a single system of record, we are able to leverage MES capabilities to continuously improve our quality standards and optimize processes while reallocating our staff to focus on value-added business activities instead of system and server maintenance.”

Plex MES is designed to seamlessly connect insights from the shop floor up to the top floor, enabling production to deliver relevant real-time, operational information to key roles throughout the organization and empowering everyone to make better business decisions.

Plex MES gives manufacturers access to key capabilities required for smart manufacturing, including:

    Error-proofed control: Choreographed production processes are driven directly from the quality control plan to shorten cycle times and improve efficiency. A unique operator control panel is paperless and easy-to-use, allowing for increased productivity and fewer manual input errors. In-line quality control governs quality activities to ensure check sheet compliance, and real-time production reporting allows for real-time decisions.
  • High-resolution visibility: The full production lifecycle—from raw materials through finished goods—is accessible from anywhere on any connected device. Operations are monitored in real-time, delivering manufacturing intelligence for more accurate decision-making. Compliance risk is mitigated through database-driven traceability information, while increased visibility to asset performance creates more opportunities for continuous improvement.
  • Seamless connectivity: Flexible, configurable cloud MES is connected by design. It is easy to deploy and standardize enterprise-wide while connecting to enterprise systems like a corporate ERP. Edge connectivity to industrial automation ensures at-rate production recording to Plex MES in the cloud. The Plex MES solution is fully unified, reducing the risk of disruptions common with an MES comprised of multiple point-solutions.

“There is an underserved need among large organizations to tap into the invaluable data generated in plants around the world,” said Bill Berutti, CEO of Plex Systems. “Plex MES answers that need by consolidating our 20 years of manufacturing expertise into a highly targeted smart manufacturing solution that enables operational visibility, transparency, and accuracy, helping manufacturers standardize operations across multiple plants.”

Gartner

Plex Systems announced that Gartner has recognized it as a Challenger in the 2019 Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems. For this report, Gartner evaluates vendors on their Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute. Plex is positioned furthest for Completeness of Vision in the Challengers quadrant and has improved its position on Ability to Execute compared to the previous year.

“We feel that recognition of Plex Systems as a Challenger is further validation of our ability to disrupt the MES market,” said Bill Berutti, CEO of Plex Systems. “Our manufacturing expertise is based on decades of helping customers exercise control over their shop floor operations while gaining access to invaluable data. Plex MES is flexible and scalable, answering a growing need among manufacturers to standardize their shop floors anywhere in the world.”

According to the 2019 Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems report, “The global MES market is a key pillar of smart factories and digital business for manufacturers. New technologies are starting to be leveraged, and disruptors are emerging. Supply chain technology leaders should use this research to select appropriate vendors and solutions.”

Plex delivers cloud MES and ERP to nearly 700 global process and discrete manufacturers. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution, manufacturers can easily implement, scale, and standardize operations with Plex across their plants throughout the enterprise.

Plex is also rated on Gartner Peer Insights, an online platform of ratings and reviews of IT software and services written and read by IT professionals and decision-makers. Verified, anonymous reviews provided by members of the Plex worldwide customer base include:

Plex Systems releases Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), a suite of solutions designed to solve business challenges generating from the shop floor.

Plex Systems released Plex Industrial IoT, which connects machines to the cloud, manages the resulting data streams, and contextualizes the information in real time. The first available offering will focus on asset performance management (APM), helping companies avoid manufacturing disruption caused by common problems like unplanned downtime, diminished machine performance, and substandard quality output.

Plex’s new solution enables manufacturers to implement and leverage connectivity in the era of Industry 4.0, breaking down siloes created by varying protocols and data types used by equipment and sensors by simplifying the connection to machines and the contextualization of data. Plex Industrial IoT grants access to the underlying machine intelligence, delivering to manufacturers timely and accurate insight in a single solution, eliminating operational surprises.

Plex Industrial IoT delivers:

  • Continuous improvement through access to historical IIoT data: The first solution within the suite focuses on asset performance management (APM), starting with an understanding of current and historical activity. This real-time assessment empowers shift supervisors and plant managers with the data to understand behaviors, trends, and diagnose root cause of common challenges like machine failures, efficiency dips, or substandard quality output.
  • Improved productivity with real-time asset dashboards: Plex Industrial IoT helps manufacturers monitor what is happening with any asset, in any facility, from any connected device with comprehensive pre-built dashboards. Customizable and real time, these dashboards deliver access to up-to-the-minute metrics and analytics. The information delivered by the dashboard enables manufacturing leaders to respond to live data immediately and accurately to improve operator performance or overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) mid-shift.
  • Minimized operational disruptions by predicting and preempting unplanned downtime: Data collected over time with Plex Industrial IoT, analyzed against historical trends and contextualized against MES and ERP data from the same facilities, will expose an unprecedented quality of shop floor to top floor insights. This reduces operational disruptions to help manufacturers better plan for the previously unanticipated.

This is Plex’s initial Industrial IoT offering following the acquisition of IIoT leader DATTUS in July 2018.

Updates With GE Digital

GE Digital had not updated me for a while. So, an invitation to a conversation with new GE Digital CTO Colin Parris was welcome—even if in the middle of several virtual user conferences. Naturally we talked about digitalization, something GE Digital was early to the game with. Also AI. Digital Twin continues to form the base of the company’s strategy.

Most welcome, there was no talk of optimization and Six Sigma. Instead business transformation through Lean plus Control plus Digital Twin was the focus of conversation.

As an example of the importance of digitization, he discussed a business that was so focused on optimization that it didn’t want to invest in digital. Then COVID came knocking. The company had been reluctant to digitize, but did it in five days when forced to when employees had to work from home. It then improved the system over the ensuing three months.

Here is another example Parris related.

The Prime Minister of India asked citizens to turn off their lights for nine minutes in a show of solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. With meticulous planning by India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), national and state agencies, and supported by the GE Digital Grid Software team and Advanced Energy Management System (AEMS) solutions, the nation’s power grid withstood a 31- gigawatt drop and recovery.

When the request came down, POSOCO and its extended team of national and state agencies had less than 60 hours to prepare. For 1.3 billion consumers this would be a simple, yet powerful, way to unite with their fellow countrymen and the world, but it would also put tremendous stress on the nation’s power grid. A sudden decrease in demand could cause grid instability, leading to system collapse.

Due to national lockdowns associated with the pandemic, the normal daily peak demand of 160 GW had already fallen by 50 GW due to the significant reduction in demand from the commercial and industrial sectors. For the April 5 “lights out” event, POSOCO estimated a reduction in demand of 12 GW within two to four minutes. Power systems can handle gradual drops, but a sudden drop caused by lights switching off across the nation risked collapsing the world’s largest synchronous grid. Consumers would expect the power to return at full capacity at the end of the nine-minute vigil.

Preparations to meet the unprecedented reduction in load and recovery began in earnest on April 3 to create and test guidelines for reliable grid operations across POSOCO’s five regions. Hydro and gas generators, which require the least amount of time for ramp-up, were tested the morning of April 5. The Ministry of Power announced that the country’s electricity grid was robust, stable and ready to handle the demand.

At 9:00 pm on April 5, an estimated 80% of the nation’s citizens (approximately a billion people) turned off their lights and illuminated candles, lamps and flashlights in a show of national strength and unity. The resulting power drop and recovery was 31 GW – more than double the projections, but by connecting with control centers remotely, observing key parameters, and continuously monitoring system health, POSOCO was able to provide uninterrupted supply to consumers.

Given India’s strict lockdown response to COVID-19, the GE Digital teams were not able to hold in-person planning meetings, but by using GE Digital’s remote work capabilities, the team’s engineers were able to support POSOCO while working safely from their own homes.

I also received update information about GE Digital’s APM 4.4 (Asset Performance Management).

  • GE Digital’s APM 4.4 uses Digital Twins, Advanced Visualizations, and improved Connectivity to help Asset and Process Intensive Companies in Power Generation, Oil & Gas and Chemical Processing Industries to Rapidly Reduce Costs while Adapting to Changing Market Conditions
  • Power Generation companies using existing APM solutions enjoy availability / uptime increases of up to 20%; with O&M Cost Reduction up to millions of dollars per year
  • Oil & Gas and Chemical Processing companies using APM enjoy up to 6% improvements in availability, up to 40% reductions in reactive maintenance and up to 20% reduction in costs associated with Health, Safety and Environment issues

Available both as a cloud and on-premises solution, APM allows companies in asset and process intensive industries like Oil & Gas, Chemical and Power Generation to align key technologies with critical work processes and functions across their businesses.

This release has focused on driving tighter integration across capabilities within the APM solution as well as to existing systems such as Enterprise Asset Management / Computerized Maintenance Management System (EAM/CMMS) solutions. In addition, APM focuses on automating work processes with enhancements to allow users to automate tasks and provide a more seamless experience to have the right information at the right time to make critical business decisions.

“Our software helps customers to better operate, analyze and optimize their business processes with simplicity, speed and scale,” said Linda Rae, General Manager, GE Digital Power Generation and Oil & Gas. “APM helps industrial companies to efficiently and rapidly reduce costs while adapting to changing market conditions. With more than 30 years’ experience delivering software for our partners in industry, we’re always learning how to help them rise to today’s challenges.”

The latest APM release added more than 30 new Digital Twin blueprints for Oil & Gas, Chemical, Fossil and Nuclear Power Generation as well as Mining, to its catalog of more than 300 pre-configured analytic and diagnostic models for various equipment classes and systems across industries. Built by reliability subject matter experts, the blueprints monitor asset health by detecting degradation or performance loss across the asset or system to provide a diagnostic recommendation. This significantly reduces the time to value for our customers, with built-in detection and remediation information guidance.

Several new reports are also available for predictive diagnostic users including Sensor Health Reporting and the Predictive Diagnostic Coverage report. These help users understand diagnostic coverage relative to an asset’s designed capabilities.

For Predix APM cloud customers, Advanced Visualization capabilities are being introduced to enable rich dashboarding, analysis, and reporting on APM alerts, cases, and more. Dashboards are now available through the integration of a Business Intelligence (BI) tool for additional dashboarding capabilities.

GE Digital has also announced enhancements and unlimited availability of Predix APM for European customers via its Frankfurt, Germany operations center. In partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), GE has made technology investments to enhance customer experience and further support GDPR regulations.

The GE Digital APM Roadmap continues to advance the state of technologies for APM as well as features and functions. APM 4.4is now generally available from GE Digital. More information can be found here.

Zero-touch Edge Computing Platform Simplifies Deployment

I remember Stratus Technologies for years as a fault-tolerant server company that was almost alone exhibiting at manufacturing events. It has been an aggressive innovator for the past several years. This was just released today.

The company now bills itself as a global leader in simplified, protected, autonomous Edge Computing platforms. It today unveiled enhancements to its ztC Edge portfolio, which includes the ztC Edge 100i and ztC Edge 110i. This update delivers an improved and more efficient deployment and provisioning experience to help organizations quickly install the zero-touch Edge Computing platforms across multiple locations. In addition, new manageability, security, and performance enhancements will help partners and customers reduce their cost of operations and maintenance, minimize risk of data loss, and ensure high availability for all business-critical operations.

The ztC Edge is a secure, rugged, highly automated Edge Computing platform that helps organizations achieve peak performance through increased operational efficiency and zero downtime at the edge. With its built-in virtualization, automated protection, industrial interoperability and more, ztC Edge ensures that customers can quickly and easily achieve higher availability for their essential applications.

Improved Manageability

  • ztC Edge system settings and user preferences can now quickly and easily be stored to a local drive or the Stratus Cloud. Simplified system backup and restoration will help companies save time by automating certain processes and reducing user error.
  • Different templates can be created and archived for different use cases, workloads, or locations, making commissioning systems more efficient and accurate. Organizations can use these templates to rapidly provision single, or multiple ztC Edge platforms from remote areas. This is especially important for partners who implement and manage multiple platforms across multiple customers’ facilities and properties, making it easier for them to support systems and applications from one off-site location remotely.
  • The latest version of the ztC Edge is Microsoft Azure certified, with integration capabilities embedded in the platform for simple systems management and faster time to value for customers.

Improved Security

  • The ztC Edge 110i update introduces a new secure, cloud-based file repository, called the Stratus Cloud, for partners and customers to safely transmit, store and retrieve their ztC Edge system preference templates. Unlike other third-party cloud offerings, Stratus Cloud automatically authenticates users and groups using the same credentials as their Stratus Customer Service Portal account, saving partners and customers time and effort.

Increased Performance

  • The ztC Edge 110i also comes with expanded 64 GB memory capacity to support a broader range of memory-intensive industrial workloads, giving customers more choice and flexibility in consolidating multiple applications (such as SCADA) on one machine – saving costs and increasing agility.
  • ztC Edge 110i platforms are now Class I Division 2 certified, making them safe to deploy in hazardous locations. This certification allows ztC Edge to be implemented in a wider variety of industrial settings with more significant environmental variability.

The ztC Edge’s built-in virtualization makes applications portable, while the computing platform also provides greater availability, resilience, and data protection than other platforms. Numerous out-of-the-box capabilities improve the security of customers’ ztC Edge platforms, thus upgrading their security posture and mitigating risk. ztC Edge platforms also support common OT and IT protocols, tools, and standards, such as SNMP and OPC UA, which makes them easy to integrate into, and work with, existing environments, saving partners and customers time.

“One of the biggest threats to customers is adding technology that is undependable and not secure. Customers should never have to worry about these risks when modernizing their Edge Computing capabilities,” said Jason Andersen, vice president of business line management at Stratus. “For some organizations, having highly reliable and protected platforms in place is imperative to the success of their business. They depend on these platforms to be ‘always-on’, secure, and able to run in any environment without human monitoring, maintenance, repairs, or support.”

“With 40 years of experience protecting business-critical applications and environments, our ztC Edge platform has evolved to address challenges around performance, security, and manageability for computing at the edge,” said Jason Dietrich, chief revenue officer at Stratus. “Stratus partners can trust they are providing customers simple, protected and autonomous Edge Computing solutions that will maximize their operational efficiency while minimizing their operational, financial and reputational risk.”

Aligning Sales and Manufacturing Operations

Aligning Sales and Manufacturing Operations

Digitally integrating and aligning manufacturing operations with the rest of the enterprise has been an elusive goal for perhaps 20 years. It was a promise of ERP. Easy to say; hard to accomplish. Then we went through all the IT/OT stuff. Here’s another take–aligning sales and operations. Speaking from bitter experience, have faster and more accurate feedback from sales would have made our lives better in operations.

Salesforce just announced Manufacturing Cloud, a new industry-specific product for manufacturers. Manufacturing Cloud brings sales and operations teams together around a unified view of market and customer demands to more accurately forecast, plan, and drive predictable business performance. With Manufacturing Cloud, companies can now better meet commitments and run a more streamlined business while improving customer satisfaction. 

Here is the rationale from Salesforce: The manufacturing industry depends on predictability, as its capital-intensive businesses often have complex physical operations that cannot be quickly or inexpensively modified to meet changing customer demands. Unfortunately, operations teams aren’t always aligned with sales reps to ensure they have a single, real-time view of all aspects of their customer relationships.

Critical customer insights are siloed across spreadsheets and multiple ERP systems, which can negatively affect account performance and ultimately the ability to accurately predict demand. The resulting inventory stockouts, buildups and warehousing costs reduce operating margins and negatively impact revenue. In order for manufacturers to provide a seamless customer experience, they need a solution that helps them better understand customer needs while improving visibility across the entire value chain. 

“In the manufacturing industry, changing customer and market demands can have a devastating effect on the bottom line, so being able to understand what is happening on the ground is imperative for success,” said Cindy Bolt, SVP and GM, Salesforce Manufacturing. “Manufacturing Cloud bridges the gap between sales and operations teams while ensuring more predictive and transparent business, so they can build deeper and more trusted relationships with their customers.”

Introducing Manufacturing Cloud 
Manufacturing Cloud, the newest industry-specific product from Salesforce, delivers a new level of business visibility and collaboration between the sales and operations organizations of a manufacturing company. This allows them to have a better view of their customers through powerful new sales agreements and account-based forecasting solutions, providing visibility into their customer interactions while enabling them to generate more robust sales forecasts.

Salesforce has collaborated with major manufacturing and sales companies through the product pilot program, including Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. – Engines Division, Hitachi Chemical, CF Industries, Mipox, GELITA and more.

Manufacturing Cloud features include:

  • Sales Agreements allow manufacturers to unify their run-rate business with data housed in ERP and order management systems with the contract terms negotiated—including planned volumes and revenues—so both operations and account teams can have a 360-degree view of the customer. If any changes to the agreement are needed, they are immediately incorporated into the existing sales agreement, ensuring there is always a single source of truth. This allows account teams to manage the full sales agreement lifecycle and have visibility into committed and actual order volumes, the performance of the agreement against the forecast and other time-phased custom metrics. This also simplifies the renewal process, ensuring account teams continue to bring in revenue while increasing margins. 
  • Account-Based Forecasting provides manufacturers with a complete view of their current business alongside future opportunities. This allows sales, finance and operations teams to develop more accurate forecasts while breaking down internal silos. Account teams can also add updates on changing customer needs or market demands, allowing the team to collaborate and adjust forecasts in real-time, helping to make business transactions, profits and revenue margins more predictable. 

In addition to Manufacturing Cloud, Salesforce is also releasing new manufacturing-specific innovation across the Salesforce Customer 360 Platform to help manufacturers deliver greater transparency, streamline collaboration and grow their businesses.

  • Einstein Analytics for Manufacturing provides account managers with access to an intelligent experience with out-of-the-box KPIs into account health, demand insights, product penetration and sales agreement progress. By centralizing and analyzing key data sources, account managers can proactively engage clients that are at highest risk for churn. In addition, by identifying key trends within an account, account managers can proactively grow their relationship by recommending relevant upsell and cross sell opportunities. 
  • Community Cloud for Manufacturing will deliver a new pre-built template specific for manufacturers that extends sales agreements to channel partners, allowing them to easily collaborate together on leads and opportunities. 
  • MuleSoft Anypoint Platform unlocks data from any application, data source or device—whether that data is on-premise or in the cloud. By enabling organizations to connect Manufacturing Cloud with other systems, sales and operations leaders can automate the complete order-to-cash process, create a comprehensive forecast view and drive business process automation across all sales channels.

Partners Accelerate Expansion 
Salesforce has a comprehensive ecosystem of partners that will extend the power of Manufacturing Cloud. Key partners were instrumental in the development of Manufacturing Cloud, and will power digital transformation for customers in the manufacturing industry.

  • Accenture: As a pilot partner, Accenture’s global experience with industrials is providing new ways to apply Manufacturing Cloud to deliver transformational value through practical, connected, cloud-enabled solutions. 
  • Acumen Solutions: As a design and pilot partner for Manufacturing Cloud, Acumen Solutions collaborated with Salesforce to identify personas, use cases and requirements of customers in the manufacturing space to inform product development. 
  • Deloitte: Cloud4M, an ISV Managed Package, was built on Manufacturing Cloud by Deloitte Digital, Deloitte’s creative digital consultancy and a Manufacturing Cloud pilot partner. Cloud4M is a pre-configured, multi-cloud software solution designed to simplify decision making in B2B sales agreements and throughout the end-to-end customer engagement process, tailored for manufacturers and industrial product companies. 
  • Rootstock: Rootstock’s ERP system, built on the Salesforce Platform, feeds actuals from its ERP to Manufacturing Cloud to track compliance against sales agreements. Additionally, Rootstock’s planning engine consumes sales forecasts from Manufacturing Cloud to improve the quality of production, procurement and distribution plans.

Availability  

Manufacturing Cloud, Einstein Analytics for Manufacturing and Community Cloud for Manufacturing will be generally available in October, 2019.