Plex Systems invited a few analysts to its HQ in Troy, Michigan. The highlight of the day was an interactive session where 4 of us “worked” on the shop floor of "Edge Corp" extruding from resin pellets components for car key fobs then assembling the parts and observing the workflow in the Plex ERP system.
While there were plenty of iPad, ruggedized PC and other displays on the floor and on the walls and Plex UI on each (some simply designed with color coding and alerts for shop floor convenience, others more colorful to show Kanban flow and product traceability graphs), what was striking was the variety of data capture technology that did not require keyboard and mouse interaction. It was an impressive display of how the Internet of Things as is already changing manufacturing plants around the world.
To start with, we all had employee badges printed using a Zebracard printer, Those badges were read by a Opticon OPR-2001 scanner. That provided our security access, guided us to appropriate work areas, and kept track of our time and our productivity for payroll input.
Labels with barcodes generated by Zebra light (GX420T) and heavy duty (ZM400) printers and scanners (like the Motorola MC9190 ) documented the production flow for the system from resin receiving to various production areas to finished fob shipping.
Quality checks via a digital Mitutoyo caliper (which triggered alerts in the system if tolerances were not met), and safety/inventory controls via a Kors Engineering provided light curtain and nano device (like a Staples Easy button) provided other non-keyboard interfaces.
The Plex IT Services team has a catalog which shows forklift computers, quality recording devices and IP based surveillance systems for various shop floors. It partners with a wide range of device vendors as shown below.In the next wave expect this list to expand as wearable technologies invade the shop floor.
One of their executives told me these connected devices are now allowing customers to take a step further and fine-tune energy usage decisions depending on how much lighting/air-conditioning is needed based on device utilization metrics.
Ben Stewart, an executive at a Plex customer, Inteva Products which provides door panels and sun and panoromic roofs to several auto makers, observed us at work. I asked him what he thought of the set up, and he said it fairly represents shop floor set up and technology at many plants he has worked at. That’s a pretty high compliment to the Plex mockup we participated in.