Don’t be fooled by the name. Plexus Manufacturing may seem like it’s strictly a manufacturer. But manufacturing is proving to be a rapidly evolving industry, and the company, which has had a focus in engineering professional services since the beginning, is ensuring it keeps pace with these changes by continuing to diversify its capabilities.
Plexus has 40 years of experience behind it, and from its headquarters in Wisconsin, US, manages a global network of more than 19,000 employees, with locations scattered across North America, Europe and Asia.
Its Asia–Pacific presence accounts for around half of the company’s revenue. The business works across four market sectors: healthcare and life sciences; industrial and commercial; aerospace and defence; and communications.
Its strength is high-quality manufacturing in each of these sectors, and given that any decline in safety or quality can cost lives in areas such as health care or aerospace, the company’s commitment to the products it designs and builds is crucial.
Across these sectors, manufacturing is naturally the most visible of its services, but Plexus pledges its commitment to the entire product realisation process.
Beyond manufacturing, it also provides supply chain solutions; testing, logistics and aftermarket services; and – thanks to a global team of more than 500 engineering experts – complex product design and development services.
We have a significant capability for in-house design … the total cost to our customer will be lower.
Today, Plexus presents itself as a comprehensive solutions provider, which represents a shift from the past. Most processes earlier in the company’s history involved producing and supplying PCBAs, for example, to customers, who would then integrate them into finished products.
Now Plexus has shifted its focus towards construction of the final product, as well as testing. In many cases, Plexus then delivers products directly to its customers’ customers. Naturally, this demands a greater range of skills and knowledge among the workforce, and necessitates the development of greater capabilities internally.
After all, it’s one thing to make general electronic components and another to actually develop the finished product, whether it’s an avionic box or an MRI machine. Furthermore, now that manufacturers like Plexus are moving towards testing and quality assurance, it’s possible to combat the perception that the manufacturing industry makes things cheaply, without focusing on quality.
Plexus believes that today that perception isn’t accurate; consistent and exceptional quality is essential for manufacturing, and some of the industry seems to be moving in that direction. In fact, Plexus strives to deliver zero defects through all its teams.
This requires a deep-seated commitment to quality and operational excellence and it ensures both the success of Plexus as well as its customers. Design is also increasingly outsourced to companies like Plexus, which has a substantial in-house engineering design capacity.
The company maintains momentum on projects like these by “following the sun”, where a team works a full day in Asia, before handing over to a team in the US to continue work. This improves speed to market, which is increasingly in demand from customers.
YJ Lim, Regional President APAC, believes that Plexus taking on more processes internally has rapidly become one of its major strengths; as its experience in numerous types of design engineering and manufacturing grows, so does its expertise and capabilities.
“We have a significant capability for in-house design,” says YJ. “In the end, the total cost to our customer will be lower. There are fewer hiccups and less potential upsets.” An example of the company’s growing capacity for product realisation is the development of a hypertension treatment system.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects up to 37 per cent of the global population, and can be a major risk factor for other illnesses. Plexus was commissioned to work on a multi-electrode renal denervation system, designed to treat hypertension in a fraction of the time that other treatments require.
Such a project would usually take up to three years, though Plexus set a time frame to design, manufacture and allow the customer to launch it to market within 18 months.
The initial stages of this process involved a brainstorming workshop with the client, bringing them into the decision-making process and ensuring alignment in terms of the concept, timeline and project development.
Plexus calls this its “concept convergence process”, which proves an asset in keeping the customer informed and engaged. This development was undertaken completely from scratch. There were various technological challenges and complex supply chain issues to be solved.
One such issue was a requirement to introduce multiple vendors to each other to ensure Plexus had access to pre-assembled components as needed. Throughout this process, Plexus maintained regular contact with the customer.
The product, which was successfully launched by the customer right on the 18-month deadline, was a huge success. It cut hypertension treatment time from 24 minutes to four minutes, and was an improvement on existing processes.
Well-oiled supply chains are essential to processes like these. In fact, Plexus considers its own supply chain one of its greatest strengths, thanks to robust partnerships with suppliers.
The company focuses on maintaining business partnerships beyond just signing a piece of paper. At the end of the day, it’s the personal relationship and partnership that counts. These relationships require a give-and-take approach; one party can’t simply maximise profit at the expense of other parties.
We try to balance our needs. We’re in this together.
“We try to balance our needs,” YJ says. “We’re in this together.” The company’s long-term goals involve building on service capacities, as more customers seek to benefit from its diverse capabilities.
This allows Plexus to deliver more value to customers and supports Plexus’s goals to profitably grow its business. The company’s emphasis on mutual benefit has also helped its suppliers and their business goals.
Plexus shares in the opportunity to develop new products or technologies alongside suppliers. Another reason that Plexus is useful to its suppliers and partners is its multi-sector experience; through using Plexus’s experience, suppliers focusing on the medical industry can shift to service the aerospace industry, for example.
It’s an interesting parallel to the way the company encourages its workforce to gain experience across all departments. “There are a lot of capabilities and options for people to grow,” says YJ.
“An engineer joins but may not want to remain an engineer. They may move into HR to help recruit other engineers, for example. This makes their life interesting, the possibility of moving up.” These opportunities for growth are important in paving the way for future leaders.
By providing a wide range of experiences across the company and encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset, these future leaders are built to have a complete understanding of Plexus and the willingness to get involved at any level.
In particular, these future leaders are taught the intricacies of finance – undertaking costing and negotiating with customers on pricing, for example. Plexus puts a high value on the abilities of leaders to drive productivity and cost efficiency in all of the regions in which it operates.
But equally, the Plexus team strives to offer excellence in delivery, quality, flexibility and responsiveness. This emphasis on employee development is evidently paying off. In 2017, Plexus was named the best company to work for in Malaysia.
YJ says that although the industry preference has traditionally been working at OEMs, Plexus, as an EMS (electronics manufacturing service) provider, has turned that reputation around. Keeping its team happy is key to offering excellent services to customers.
YJ says that when someone believes in the company they work for and has pride in it, they are willing to go that extra mile for customers. It is this philosophy that sets Plexus apart from its competitors.
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