Automation integrators go by many names. You may have heard them referred to as a system, process, or even robot integrators—but each of these terms refers to the same thing. Automation integrators act as your organization’s partner when it comes to all things automation. Partnership with an integrator means that adopting new technologies, learning to better leverage existing tools, and solving unique and complex problems can all be made easier and more efficient. As a matter of fact, this article will help you to understand how an automation integrator works.
It’s important to look at how many years of experience a company has, but consider the types of projects they do as well. If they have a specialty, and if that specialty matches your goals, they probably have the expertise you need. If they specialize in a single type or aspect of automation (e.g. vision applications) that you don’t require, however, they may not have broad enough knowledge for your specific situation. While a generalist integrator may have some experience in several types of automation, they might not have enough detailed experience for complex or highly specialized processes.
Knowing what brand or vendor the integrator uses for components is also helpful. If you are familiar with certain equipment, you might like to know if the integrator has worked with it before. Note also if they are “vendor agnostic” and purchase from a variety of sources, or if they work with a single vendor exclusively. The latter is not always a bad sign, but it could mean the limitation of some equipment options. For example, if an integrator exclusively uses one brand of the robot, they might not be able to meet specific needs that fall outside of that brand’s capabilities.
You also want to find out about their experience working with the integrator’s team. Was communication clear and timely? Did both parties establish rapport and have a good working relationship? Were they upfront about any setbacks or if things didn’t go as planned? Was there a backup plan? Most end-users will have to call on their integrator for troubleshooting, adjustments, and other assistance, but if it becomes a routine occurrence, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
In addition to experience and expertise, look at how each integrator conducts business. Do they take time to fully understand the unique aspects of each project or do they take more of a one-size-fits-all approach? Is there a tendency to try something new or unproven just because it’s new? Do they value creativity and enjoy the challenge of problem-solving?
You might not be familiar with all of the automation options that exist, so it’s critical to find an integrator that is? Are they willing to try something new or do they seem set on certain ways of doing things? The Association for Advancing Automation says, “a qualified integrator who’s up on advancements in technology may help you look farther into the future to show how automation can help you grow your business over an extended period of time.”
But, try to notice if they’re promising more than they can deliver. Do they have an oversimplified idea of your process? Are there attempts to throw in extras that seem out of their usual scope of work? Does the price or timeline seem too good to be true? Does the integrator acknowledge the risks inherent in any automation project? It’s better to find out the limitations of a supplier now than when the project is half-finished and faltering.
Finally, look at them from a business perspective. Things to consider include the number of employees, turnover rates, financial stability, and even how frequently they subcontract specialized work. Furthermore, do their company values align with yours in terms of reasons to add (or not add) automation, roles and responsibilities, and communication styles?
Working as a system integrator is a hands-on job. An integrator will need to have the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle a wide variety of difficult interoperability issues. Many businesses that move towards automation run into trouble with application components. Such these are developed by different teams, at different times, or come from different providers. A skilled integrator will be prepared for software and hardware conflicts resulting from these issues.
Your system integrator will also need to understand how to analyze application and network logs. They should know about various means of communication methodologies that could be employed to encourage systems to communicate—a handful of these include LON, BACnet, Modbus, and Legacy. Fluency in numerous disciplines should also be a requirement. See whether or not they can apply their knowledge and prior experience to come up with solutions. Probe their ability to conceptualize unique solutions for your specific application.
Look for opportunities to test an integrator’s skill when it comes to design and engineering. The ideal automation integrator should be able to generate robust 3D CAD designs for the purposes of communicating concepts and functions to the customer and for accuracy in manufacturing and assembly. They should also be able to clearly display solid implementation and integration skills and utilize the latest .NET capabilities.
So much of your automation project’s success depends on the integrator you choose. Taking time to conduct thorough research on each integrator is important. This includes reviewing their experience, and past customers, installing observing systems and paying attention to their communication and business style. It’s well worth the effort in the end.