Chris Balow, Director at Plex, on Smart Manufacturing

Smart Manufacturing at Plex
Smart Manufacturing at Plex
Chris Balow, Director, at Plex, by Rockwell Automation, on the digital frontier, the evolution of smart manufacturing & the skilled labour shortage

Chris Balow is the Director of Product Management at Plex, by Rockwell Automation. During the past 18 years with Plex, he has had the opportunity to walk factory floors across the country and build relationships with manufacturers across all industries. He draws on these firsthand experiences to inform the development of new or improved smart manufacturing solutions.

Here he discusses smart manufacturing, the skilled labour shortage and transitioning from traditional production to digital, exclusively with Manufacturing Digital


Hi Chris, what led you to this industry?

“I earned my degree in integrated manufacturing, which is what they were calling smart manufacturing in the 90s. My first job out of college was with Ford Motor Company as a product designer. After that, I began developing software to support the automotive manufacturing industry. 

“In 2005, I joined Plex, where I had the opportunity to explore new manufacturing industries and verticals outside of automotive. My first role with Plex was focused on implementation, which allowed me to meet with manufacturers to understand their challenges and help solve them. In this position, I learned about all aspects of the supply chain across various verticals, which greatly supported me in my next role in product development.

“I’ve come full circle with my career by again focusing primarily on smart manufacturing in the automotive industry. So much has evolved and changed since I began in the industry and it’s very exciting to be a part of it again.”

Chris Balow, Director, Product Management, Applications, at Plex, by Rockwell Automation

Tell us about how you use smart technology in your work.

“My job is to understand the challenges facing manufacturers, so we can adapt our products and offerings to address those needs. Many of the issues faced by manufacturers today, such as the skilled labour shortage and supply chain snafus, can all be addressed - and often solved - with smart manufacturing solutions.

“Manufacturers can attract skilled workers to focus on high-value activities by implementing smart technology that streamlines processes and automates repetitive job functions. This can lead to greater job satisfaction and productivity.”

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How is the automotive sector changing?

“The automotive manufacturing sector is undergoing profound changes, as companies transition from traditional production models to more digital, automated processes. The 2023 State of Smart Manufacturing Report found that manufacturers believe better data analytics are the key to driving positive business outcomes. This shift promises increased inventory accuracy, more consistent quality and lower costs for manufacturers over the long term.

“In addition to the rise of automation, the global automotive market is expanding its focus on electric vehicles, fueled by government initiatives and consumer demand. As a result, many automakers have declared ambitious plans to increase their electric vehicle offerings in the coming years, while still simultaneously producing fuel-injection vehicles. This will create challenges in forecasting the demand for EVs versus gas-powered cars and will require automakers to be agile to adapt to constantly evolving markets.”


What do the next 12 months hold for you and the company?

“We expect the EV transition to take centre stage for the next several years, as manufacturers race to reach federal and state guidelines. It is no secret that producing EV cars creates a unique set of challenges that Plex plans to adapt and evolve to help solve, which we expect to lead to some exciting innovation.”


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