Manufacturing Software Company Celebrates Growth

May 8, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Imagine a software system that allows manufacturing companies to manage their operations from anywhere there is an Internet connection. Plexus Systems tried and accomplished just that.

The software company is based in the Detroit area and creates software exclusively for manufacturers. Patrick Fetterman, vice president of marketing for Plexus Systems, said a small to midsize company can manage its entire business off the software — from its suppliers to what happens on the floor.

He stated that many of Plexus Systems customers connect the software directly to their machines so they can see the rate of whatever work is being done. The software is also helpful in measuring quality, in shipping and tracking orders, and all the higher-function human resources tasks, such as tracking hours for paychecks and injury reports for OSHA, and all the finances. All a company needs is a Web browser and an Internet connection.

“We often go in and replace 25 to 30 different systems,” said Fetterman.

“Software as a server” is a hot phrase with Plexus Systems, as the company’s product does not require purchasing servers or software installation, which can hit the million dollar range, Fetterman said.

The system is based on a monthly subscription model, which allows companies to upgrade, downgrade or cancel service whenever they want. A monthly subscription can range from $3,000 to $70,000.

Plexus Systems originated as an internal IT program for an automotive parts manufacturer that was suffering horrible quality problems. Fetterman said that over the course of one year, the manufacturer was able to improve its quality so much that customers and competitors asked how they did it. The secret, Fetterman said, was in the software the company developed to correct its problems. In 1995, Plexus Systems split away from the manufacturer and became an independent entity, and “never looked back.”

For many years Plexus Systems was run as a private company by the original owner, until a couple of years ago when the company took on an investment from a large private equity firm in New York.

“We got religion about sales and marketing and growth,” said Fetterman. “And that’s when we started ramping up.”

Fetterman joined the company just over a year ago, along with a new vice president of sales, and the company has been expanding rapidly ever since. Most of the company’s clients are based in the Midwest and especially in Michigan. Plexus Systems has been growing in West Michigan so much that the company decided to have its annual customer conference in Grand Rapids. This will be the first time in the conference’s six-year history that it has left the Detroit area.

“So many of our customers are here,” said Fetterman. “And so many of our customers’ customers are in Michigan. As we looked around, the growth in Grand Rapids and this facility (JW Marriott) in particular is really unique in Michigan.”

The conference started out very small, with 20 people attending the first year. This year there will be between 300 and 400 people, according to Fetterman.

The conference will be held at the JW Marriott on May 19-21. Monday kicks off with a charity golf outing for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at the Thousand Oaks Golf Club, followed by an evening reception at the JW. Tuesday and Wednesday will have classes and speakers focusing on technical information with specific topics. Tuesday will end with another evening event, and Wednesday will bring in keynote speaker David Brousell.

Brousell is editor-in-chief of Managing Automation, a magazine for business and technology managers in manufacturing. He will give a sneak preview of the research in a recently completed survey of 1,600 respondents on American competitiveness in manufacturing.

Five customers will also be presenting.

“People can get up and learn from their peers,” said Fetterman. “We try to encapsulate all of that in these classes.”

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