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Case Study: The Long-term Value Of SaaS

To manage its growing operations in the 80s and 90s, Shape Corp. expanded its IT functionality by adding separate stand-alone systems, upgrading and linking them as needed. Over time, this approach became cumbersome and resource-intensive. When the company got to a point where upgrades and patches were required on several systems simultaneously, it replaced its separate systems with a single integrated system.

Shape Corp. is North America’s top manufacturer of automotive bumpers. The Michigan-based global company also manufactures impact energy management systems and performs advanced custom roll-forming for furniture, agricultural, recreation and healthcare industries.

Founded in 1974, Shape has more than 1,300 employees in locations spanning six countries. Its sites include 14 offices, eight manufacturing facilities, six manufacturing alliances, and two technical centers.

To manage its growing operations in the 80s and 90s, management expanded its IT functionality by adding separate stand-alone systems, upgrading and linking them as needed. Over time, this approach became cumbersome and resource-intensive. When the company got to a point where upgrades and patches were required on several systems simultaneously, it replaced its separate systems with a single integrated system, Plex Online.

Focused Approach

According to Shape IT Manager Molly Hunting, Plex Online has been a great fit for her company because “it doesn’t try to be all things to all kinds of companies.”

“Plex Online’s focus is on manufacturing industries with extensive traceability requirements,” said Hunting. “That’s our environment, so we speak each other’s language.”

Plex Online replaced several separate systems for preventive maintenance, production, gages, problem controls, reporting, and more. Also, while the previous independent systems had not natively talked to each other, all Plex Online functions are completely integrated.

The system manages all core shop floor functions for Shape, including bills of material, purchasing, receiving, inventory, manufacturing, basic quality, planning and scheduling, shipping, key measures, EDI, engineering change tracking, subcontracting, financials, and document control.

In the three years following its initial launch of Plex Online, Shape also implemented Plex Online’s advanced human resources, quoting, maintenance, advanced quality, and program management functions. In addition to using Plex Online at all of its parent facilities and operations, it also uses the finance functions at most of its alliance companies.

The Benefits of True SaaS

Plex Online is a true Software as a Service (SaaS) model, which means Shape’s data is securely housed and maintained off-site by Plex Systems.

“We do not need programmers or IT security specialists on-site,” explained Hunting. “Programming, maintenance, and security functions are managed by Plex Systems, a company that specializes in that field. We know that we have experts handling things, so that’s one less burden for us.”

Plex Online data is always available in real time, and it can be accessed at anytime from anywhere— a distinct benefit given Shape’s global reach.

“Our users in China run on the same system as our users in Mexico, our subcontractors in Alabama, and everyone on the shop floor in our Michigan facilities,” said Hunting.

Plex Online meets the needs of the international organization in other ways as well. Shape’s local accounting specialists around the world view quantities in their particular country’s measurements and denominations, and all employees can use the Plex Online glossary to display screens in their local languages.

Continuous Improvement

Over the years, Shape continues to benefit from Plex Online’s dynamically growing feature set and the continuous enhancements driven by the system’s active user community.

Plex Online enhancements are available to all customers immediately. Typically, when a change is available, Shape receives new configuration settings that allow management to choose whether or not to implement it.

“We continue to find new ways to use Plex Online to gather data that helps us make decisions faster,” said Hunting. “For instance, we’ve incorporated new Kanban heijunka methods, and we’ve integrated external job applications into personnel files.”

Shape has joined the active group of Plex Online users who are collaborating more than ever through in-person and online forums.

“Plex Online has a strong community following, and it is great to be part of the process of driving ongoing enhancements,” said Hunting.

Complete Data Integration

The seamless integration of all of its functions is Plex Online’s greatest benefit to the day-to-day operations of Shape, according to Hunting.

The company leverages single points of data entry without having to maintain interfaces, duplication, or replication. For instance, the employee list used for time and attendance is the same one used to track who produced which container, and to evaluate performance. And the same list used to complete quality checklists is the one used for strategic plan action items and related functions.

All Shape employees access data very quickly whether they work in finance, manufacturing, inventory control, purchasing, quality, human resources, or any other area. Over time, that has put more power into the hands of all employees to contribute to quality, productivity, and profitability improvements.

PLC Integration

Plex Online ties together production, maintenance and quality data via PLC equipment on the shop floor.

For instance, tooling data is tied in with parts data such that machine users know exactly how many parts they can run with each tool before that tool needs preventive maintenance. Downtime reporting enables management to track machine utilization and efficiency at a high level.

The keys to Shape’s shop-floor productivity are the quality checksheets that must be completed before any job is run. Plex Online randomizes the details on the checksheets, ensuring they are carefully reviewed for each job.

Plex Online automatically records the number of “hits” that are made per tool, per part, on an ongoing basis— information that drives a highly efficient preventive maintenance schedule.

If a machine goes down, Plex Online automatically notifies the user and records the downtime. Users do not have to do this manually. If the problem cannot be fixed on the spot, the machine operator just pushes a button on his or her PLC to obtain help.

Each shop-floor PLC includes counters that tally part checks and labels, ensuring that labels cannot be generated for finished parts until part checks are complete.

If a part is bad, Shape employees use Plex Online’s advanced traceability tree to minimize the impact. Not only can they trace every component that went into that part, but after they identify the problem they can also trace what other parts the flawed component went into.

The Power of Online

The long-term value of Plex Online hits home with the Shape management team on a daily basis, as well as whenever the team sits down together for strategic planning.

”Each year, as I prepare our IT budget, I get a big smile on my face,” said Hunting. “I think ‘We’ve been using Plex Online for another year. Is it time for a patch? No. Time for an upgrade? No. Need to upgrade interfaces? Again, no.’

“When we chose Plex Online, the fact that it was a SaaS-based model was simply part of the overall sales pitch,” continued Hunting. “We chose the software because it was a good fit for our business, not because it was SaaS. Yet, if we’d chosen another software solution, we wouldn’t have the benefits of complete integration and we would still be living on the circular road of constant upgrades and never-ending IT maintenance costs. Instead we are focused on new opportunities.

“That is the power of Plex Online.”