Best Automation Integrators Are Forged Not Born
If you are considering working with an automation integrator to help you integrate new technology or equipment in your warehouse, distribution center, or order fulfillment operation, you likely have a lot of questions.
What’s it like working with an automation integrator? Is it better to work with an integrator or directly with a manufacturer? What exactly does an integrator do? How do you choose an integrator?
The list goes on and on. Ultimately, the question you’re trying to answer is: Is working with an integrator worth it?
While it’s true that we might be a little biased, we would answer that question with a resounding yes. Simply put, automation integrators bring an expertise and deep understanding of the technology that empowers them to deliver tremendous value to your project.
Below, we answer these and a number of related questions that operations managers often have when considering working with an automation integrator.
What is an automation integrator?
An automation integrator is an organization with a team of professionals that investigates and works to implement and integrate best-of-breed systems, equipment, workflows, and technologies within an operation. The goal is to ensure that all hardware and software is working together as efficiently and productively as possible.
Automation integrators also go by a number of other titles, including systems integrator, warehouse systems integrator, automation systems integrator, and more.
Automation integrators can optimize the operations of virtually any business or organization where automation is leveraged. They are most often employed by businesses operating in the warehouse and order fulfillment industries, as well as manufacturing.
What’s it like to work with an automation integrator?
Depending on where exactly your project is in terms of development and when you choose to bring an automation integrator into the mix, the type of work they actually do can vary dramatically. Most projects will include the following four phases:
- Discovery & Analysis: At this point, the automation integrator is reviewing key data in order to understand the business case, an organization’s challenges, and their goals. This analysis will direct the results and direction of the project or system required.
- Design: This is an iterative, highly collaborative process in which your system will be designed utilizing best of breed technologies and processes.
- Implementation: Once the design is approved, implementation will involve kick-off meetings, documentation, change control, project scheduling, testing, and handover.
- Life Cycle Support: Life cycle support is often known as the “longest phase in the design build process” for the simple fact that it continues until a system or facility is decommissioned. It will typically involve system audits, maintenance, rebuilds, revisions and upgrades as necessary.
That being said, for best results it’s typically recommended that you bring an integrator into the mix as early as possible—ideally, in the discovery and analysis phase—so that they have the opportunity to shape the project from the beginning. This will ultimately reduce the need for project revisions and allow for a smoother project completion than if you were to bring them in halfway through a project.
Benefits of Working with an Automation Integrator
1. Cost Effectiveness
Many businesses assume that working with an integrator will cost more than if they were to work directly with a manufacturer, because an integrator is in essence a middleman of sorts. But while it’s understandable to think that, the reality is that it simply isn’t true.
When an automation or systems integrator is involved in a project, they bring with them an expertise and perspective that adds value to that project. Which manufacturers’ technologies best match the systems requirements, the ability to mix and match technologies in the system to meet budget and performance expectations, and knowing how manufacturers delivery times are impacting go-live schedules are all examples of the value an automation integrator can provide.
Simply put, manufacturers are great at what they do—but they’re guided by their production capacities and their bottom line, and that can sometimes cloud their judgment and recommendations. Integrators, on the other hand, succeed when you succeed, which ensures that you will ultimately get the performance that you want and need out of your systems, technologies and operations.
2. Valuable Relationships
A truly skilled integrator will have years of experience working with key players in the automation space. This experience tends to translate into the integrator developing strong relationships with various manufacturers. Integrators can potentially leverage these relationships in a variety of ways in order to keep your project on track.
For example, an integrator is responsible for the sales cycle and ultimately the equipment performance. This reduces the manufacturers costs and risk and in exchange provides discounts on their equipment which are not available to end users. While this will vary based on the integrator and manufacturer relationship, most often the cost of the equipment to the end user is the same or often less than if you went to the manufacturer directly.
As another example, consider the fact that supply chain issues are causing shortages in virtually every industry—including the automation space. Systems integrators, who work closely with a wide array of manufacturers, have a firm understanding of which manufacturers have the longest or shortest lead times for equipment. If your project is operating on a strict timeline, this intel and relationship can be the difference between success and failure.
When you choose to work directly with a manufacturer, it’s important to bear in mind that you are essentially locking yourself into that manufacturer’s hardware and software ecosystem. After all, you can’t expect a manufacturer to recommend equipment from a competitor; they will recommend their own equipment for all aspects of your project, regardless of whether or not it is truly the best option for your needs.
By comparison, an automation integrator’s recommendations will be guided purely by your project’s requirements. This means that they may recommend that you mix and match different pieces of equipment or technologies from different manufacturers in order to get the truly best-in-breed solution that will empower you to reach your goals.
Finding the Right Automation Integrator
In order to get the maximum amount of value out of working with an automation integrator, it’s critical that you select the right partner for your project. While there are many different factors you might consider in evaluating your options, three of the most important are: Concept, Craftsmanship, and Commitment.
With decades of experience, Conveyco utilizes its RightFIT methodology to determine the best solution for your organization and operations. Unlike a manufacturer, who will base their recommendations on their own equipment, we have access to the best-in-breed automation systems on the planet. We design systems utilizing the best combination of technologies available to exceed your business requirements.