I tend to take a lot of photos and talk a lot when I am invigorated by products, places or people. Two days in Detroit this week for Plex’s annual user conference yielded me over 200 photos and 50 conversations. That's a lot of invigoration!
Here are some things that stood out
Jerry Foster, CTO of Plex had a keynote with several customers and partners which brought out explicitly how the shop floor is changing with wearables, sensors, robotics and drones. The session and the expo hall showcased DAQRI smart glasses, a Honeywell ring scanner, MS Hololens and LUIS cognitive services, a headset with the Kopin Whisperchip to offset plant noise, PTC Thingworx & Kepware. I go to events of many ERP vendors and I have never seen so much focus on the shop floor. I have asked for permission to post the keynote on New Florence. Worth spending an hour when I have it up.
The show floor profiled products of many Plex customers. I also had conversations with several of them. I was struck by how many products are “smart” – their bill of materials are increasingly influenced by Silicon Collar and embed chips, bluetooth, lithium-ion, software and sensors.
Plex organized a visit to the Chelsea, MI plant of Hatch Stamping which makes highly engineered metal stampings and assemblies. Its plants across the country are a nice blend of man and machine with massive stamping presses and robots next to welding and coating lines. Even the scrap they produce is art-form.
I was part of a panel on forces of change in manufacturing. It was a packed room and we could have spent the entire session on technology (Chad Walls of Kamco Industries on my panel had been part of the earlier keynote and quite a few conversations in the halls were about Plex’s new UX and analytics). I was pleased David Morfas of Plex, the moderator allowed the audience to participate and we covered wide ground from plant location drivers to challenges of attracting young talent to the shop floor.
Throughout the visit I got plenty of mix of old and new Detroit, a continuing icon of US manufacturing. Jeff Schroeder of MFC Netform kindly gave me a tour of downtown Detroit. The Z Lot with its urban art and the modern stadiums contrasted with the Opera House opened in 1922. I stayed at a hotel next to the Mariners Church opened in 1842, and the tunnel to Canada opened in 1930. Quite a contrast to GM headquarters a stone's throw away with its gallery of modern automotive design. Cobo Center where the conference was held is contemporary in style and design but they have commissioned a mural by the fresco artist Hubert Massey to celebrate Detroit’s industrial history.
Funnily, unlike at a typical user conference, there was little news from Plex - very few press releases, a quick update on the continuing CEO search, product roadmaps in an analyst breakout session. That bothered a couple of my analyst colleagues. Not me. I felt the vibrancy in the customer base and in the city. The shuttle driver to our Hatch plant tour drove us through the heartland of Detroit area manufacturing. He spoke warmly of his bus, on a Ford F 550 chassis, even though he also gets to drive Mercedes-Benz vehicles. I was struck by his pride for the product and the place. American manufacturing is doing fine.
Plex should continue to thrive in that community.