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Plex cloud ERP system proves to be mobility catalyst for manufacturer

Quatro Composites knew easy, widespread access to production and customer data was at the core of its vision for ERP. A cloud ERP system was the logical route.

In 2012, Quatro Composites, a manufacturer of carbon fiber and thermal plastics for the aerospace, defense, medical and industrial markets, realized its IFS ERP system could no longer meet its needs. Switching to a Plex cloud ERP system helped the company overcome geographic and physical constraints through the kind of mobile data access that only the cloud can enable.

Quatro specializes in taking small parts, typically made of metal or other materials, and converting them to carbon fiber composite, which results in parts that the company claims are lighter, safer and stronger.

Quatro expanded eight times in 10 years to accommodate 25% to 50% year-over-year growth. The largest expansion took place in 2012, when the company doubled its manufacturing space. That's when it began its search for a new ERP system that would enable it to go from a spreadsheet-based, manual data-entry system to an automated data collection system for recording, managing and accessing production information that would require little to no operator input, said Andrew Lipps, Quatro's director of ERP.

Initially, Quatro looked at 40 ERP systems before narrowing its choices down to three. The company ultimately selected Plex Systems' cloud ERP system for manufacturing, in part because Plex was able to provide all of Quatro's employees, including employees in remote offices and those using mobile devices, with easy access to the data they needed to do their jobs, Lipps said.

"When we compared Plex to some of the other offerings that were out there, the cloud was initially the big hitter for Quatro," he said.

Moving to the cloud was important for Quatro because the company wanted to move toward being more mobile and more efficient, as well as to enable its employees to access their data from any location.

Its facility in Poway, Calif., operates as Quatro's main engineering and technology center. Corporate administration, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution operations are based in Orange City, Iowa.

"If Quatro wanted to open up another facility, say, in another state, we wanted to be able to quickly open and start that operation," Lipps said. "And the cloud allows us to do that. And with the cloud, then comes the mobile direction and being able to have your data at your fingertips, and for it to be tangible."

Centralized database a key feature of cloud ERP system

Quatro uses the IntelliPlex business intelligence software from Plex to collect as much data as possible and to centralize it in the Plex database so the information is visible across the company. That means that rather than having to create multiple spreadsheets to capture parts specifications, for instance, the data is easily accessible and searchable, Lipps said.

The company has also created role-oriented reports and dashboards that collect and correlate information, and it can automatically generate reports on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

So, now, whether they're using smartphones or tablets, Quatro's executives can access their data from the cloud ERP system wherever they are. They no longer have to sit down with their laptops, log in to a virtual private network (VPN) and go through that whole process just to get to data or to access quick spreadsheets and metrics that they want to provide to their customers, according to Lipps.

Quatro's goal is to provide reports for everyone across the entire organization, including sales and marketing, all drawn from the same metrics and data. With greater visibility into customer trends, and even into the buying patterns of individual customers, Quatro can identify and address market trends, as well as increase business opportunities with current customers.

Recently, Quatro began looking into how to deploy workstations to get more data out of the cloud ERP system and into the hands of its employees. Currently, most of the workstations are Microsoft Surface touchscreen computers, but the company has evaluated alternatives and is beginning to use tablets that run Google's Android operating system.

"The easiest way [to use the software] is through the use of tablets," Lipps said. "We're also looking at how to lower our IT costs, but still get a great experience to our users with the products that we have."

Quatro plans to increase the use of tablets and other mobile devices on the shop floor to support label printing and document control. The company envisions having a bank of tablets available to employees as they clock in.

Employees would use the tablets to monitor, collect, input and review shop floor data on inspection, quality control, production and materials in real time to communicate between departments more effectively. The data would be available immediately and would enable the printing of labels on-demand from anywhere on the shop floor.

For Quatro, using the tablets on the shop floor has been "phenomenal," Lipps said. The company has been able to get data from the cloud ERP system to its supervisors and team members a lot faster than if those employees had to log in to a VPN server via their laptops.

"We looked at mobile device management systems to ensure that these tablets were secure, and they were locked down from an enterprise stance," Lipps said. "We've locked it down to where they only get the data that we want them to see."

Leveraging the Plex cloud ERP system, as well as going mobile, has enabled Quatro employees in every department to be more efficient and to get their jobs done faster.

"Say I have an individual who works in our quality area," Lipps said. "Instead of that individual spending eight hours a day building an Excel spreadsheet to show me the data, he can spend five minutes hitting search and telling me what that data is."

Quatro is continuing to look toward the future of mobile to determine what more the company can get out of it.

"Now you have virtual reality that's coming into play [such as Microsoft HoloLens]," Lipps said. "A lot of that is going to allow us to become more and more mobile. And, so far, Plex's platform has been built to allow even more possibilities with the mobile technology. I think [that] integrating into new systems and new mobile platforms [is] going to save a tremendous amount of IT costs going forward."

Next Steps

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