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March 21, 2023

How one manufacturer transformed data capabilities by moving to the cloud

How did moving to an agile and scalable cloud ERP platform unlock new capabilities for high-tech manufacturer Physik Instrumente?

Modern manufacturing is built on precision. To achieve the degree of exactness needed, many manufacturers rely on third-party support, drawing on sophisticated machinery, and ever-increasing pools of data, to ensure that a finished product works to the nanometre. 

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Precision is the key to modern manufacturing: this needs to be supported by equally accurate data. (Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)

For more than five decades, Physik Instrumente (PI) has staked its reputation on the highest levels of exactness. Founded in 1970, in the German town of Karlsruhe, this high-tech manufacturer has become a global leader in areas ranging from positioning technology to motor and piezoelectric drives. Yet if PI now boasts 1,400 employees spread over more than a dozen countries, the intricacy of its operations was putting a strain on its data management system – until staff called on an old partner to transform its IT estate. 

Long-term targets

Like many companies reliant on legacy IT, PI had long been reliant on physical on-premise servers to store and manage its data, a situation that Stefan Schreiber suggests had begun causing difficulties. That was true, explains PI’s director of business architecture, everywhere from organising patches and updates to the “security performance of the system”. 

Besides these technical headaches, which took resources away from important manufacturing projects, PI was also struggling to move information directly between different offices as data requests were painstakingly rerouted via Karlsruhe HQ instead. That was shadowed by disparate information silos, making it hard to exploit data efficiently and encouraging problems around PI’s corporate identity.

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For an international company with such a global client base, the situation became clearly unsustainable. Combined with a broader ambition of sharpening global supply chains and the need for better data insights to improve PI’s long-term planning cycle – and it’s no surprise that Schreiber and his colleagues were aching for a change. 

Happily for PI, an obvious data management partner was waiting in the wings. Enjoying a working relationship with PI stretching back to 2006, Infor had previously helped the German company develop an in-house IT solution. Now, PI wanted to move its data to an ERP in the cloud – and Infor was again ready to assist. 

Streamlined ERP services

Ultimately, PI chose the Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise, an agile and scalable cloud platform – a decision that would ultimately revolutionise the business.

Of course, Infor first had to replace PI’s ageing on-site servers. According to PI staff, the previous collaboration with Infor proved critical. As Schreiber puts it: “We’ve been a long-time partner with Infor, and we’re understood.”

PI is not alone with this testimony about Infor. With upwards of 2,000 construction and engineering clients on its roster, the company has extensive experience in providing industry-specific support to intensive, data-driven manufacturers like PI. That’s echoed by impressive agility, allowing Infor’s platforms to innovate as user needs shift

Certainly, this combination of technical expertise would soon be reflected in PI’s own IT operations. Leveraging the immense decentralised power of the cloud – Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise, for its part, is run on Amazon Web Services – PI staff no longer need to store all their information in Germany. That, in turn, helps them retrieve the insights they need much faster for locally dispersed business units, especially as employees no longer need to factor in the server downtime of Karlsruhe. 

Other technical improvements are important too. Rather than having to worry about manual patching and security, for instance, Infor now ensures bugs are automatically fixed in regular intervals, keeping PI’s client data safe while also leaving staff more time to bolster critical areas of their business. 

Data and agility in the cloud

Yet if PI’s move to the cloud has offered a significant boost in terms of day-to-day efficiencies, perhaps Infor’s most valuable contribution involves broader data-driven insights.

To understand this, one must first appreciate the breadth of PI’s business. Active in areas as diversified as hydroacoustics to large-scale astronomy projects, the company’s devices end up in a bewildering range of places. Moreover, each industry has its own set of individualised metrics and best practices – and much value can be derived from understanding them collectively. 

Developed with various industry sub-verticals in mind, Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise can achieve precisely this sort of sector-relevant integration, a fact that translates to clear advantages for clients like PI. “This ensures we have very relevant functionality in the software and best practices,” explains Detlef Langanki, Infor’s vice-president of consulting services, adding that his team can then “implement them with our specialised consultants at the customer site”.

At the same time, Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise allows users to exploit data in many different ways. That holds true, for example, for encouraging online collaboration among stakeholders across the value chain, or sharpening customer service by allowing PI staff to access their details more quickly. 

Infor’s ERP is equipped with a host of other powerful and highly innovative tools. Machine learning is one particular area of focus, with the IT company exploiting patented automation technologies to provide clients with sophisticated insights on device outcomes and trends – a capability of great value to the precision-oriented PI for its outlook into the future. 

There is no need for PI, or indeed any other Infor customer, to adopt this complete package. Embracing the so-called ‘60-30-10’ model, Infor encourages customers to mix and match functionalities to suit their needs, leaving flexibility and space for growth as priorities change. 

“When it comes to working with Infor,” says PI COO Florian Geistdörfer, “what I really like to see is this future-proofing and scalability with us.”

Given everything Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise has achieved for his company so far, having such scalability and flexibility is invaluable, as Physik Instrumente continues to bring precision to every corner of its operations.

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