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64 Businessexcellence October 07 Scott Theune and Scott Brown of Plexus tell Martin Ashcroft about the unique supply chain design capabilities necessary to provide world class electronics manufacturing services Supplychainphysics

October 07 Businessexcellence 65 Plexus designs and manufactures electronic products, mainly for original equipment manufacturers in the medical, telecommunications, industrial, defense, security and aerospace markets. I am accustomed to think of this as contract manufacturing or more accurately electronics manufacturing services (EMS) but Plexus describes itself as “the product realization company”. Its customers include some giants in their field, such as Siemens Medical, General Electric and networking equipment supplier Juniper Networks. Headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, Plexus came into being in 1980 with the merger of an engineering group and an electronics manufacturing group and now has 13 manufacturing facilities in five countries. Heavily influenced by its customer GE, Plexus has been using six sigma for many years, and adapted that into ‘lean sigma’ in 2004, moving from an MRP based push system to a pull system based on customer demand. It’s a highly complex business, with something like 150 customers at any given time, each having a range of products that could involve anything from one assembly to a hundred or more. “The only commonality between different products,” says Scott Theune, vice president supply chain and operations, “is that they have some aspect of their construction that’s electronic in nature.” Manufacturing products under another company’s label adds a layer of complexity to the supply chain, especially when the OEM often wishes to specify which component suppliers Plexus must use. Although Plexus offers design services as well as manufacturing, it is not always involved in the product’s design. If the product is designed with the business and manufacturing processes of the customer’s preferred suppliers in mind, integrating these diverse processes with those of Plexus is a challenging task. “Supplier development becomes a huge factor because people bring us so many suppliers,” says Scott Brown, manager of supply chain analysis and design. “We have significantly more suppliers than we would have if we were just making our own product.” “We pride ourselves on being a product realization company,” says Theune. “We can Plexus