Choosing the Right Automation Partner

The best industrial automation solutions come after partnering with a custom automated machine designer, builder, or robotics and equipment integrator. There are many integrators out there, and you may find yourself in a situation where multiple automated systems integrators bid against each other on your automated manufacturing machine project. When a custom automated machine project can take months or years, and the capital investment can reach six or seven figures, you stake your business on this choice. The correct integrator will complete a project that increases productivity, efficiency, consistency, quality, revenue safety, employee satisfaction, and employee retention with swift practical Return on Investment (ROI). The incorrect integrator will miss timetables, bloat your project scope, and tie up investment resources you could have used in other growth opportunities for years. 

Seek a Single Source Guarantee

The ideal automation systems integrator handles every stage of the machine design and build in house. Their vertically integrated team of software engineers, mechanical engineers, CNC machining experts, and electrical engineers cross collaborate to mitigate issues and maximize quality. They rely on no third parties, no outsourced design, and no opportunities for intellectual property leaks. Your machine graduates from stage to stage in a seamless handoff with consistent staff and backups available to answer your questions and address your concerns. A single source automation systems integrator matches your commitment equally with the same investment of time, labor, and resources. They maintain institutional memory from earliest design to final integration and install. A vertically integrated team resolves issues with your project in real time with full mobilization. Single source centralizes accountability. Single source integration aligns the complexities of machine design engineering with the machining, assembly, and testing involved in the machine build. Compare that to managing multiple third-party contracts, managing communication across time zones, and the complications involved with communicating with multiple companies with conflicting obligations.

Automate Agnostic to Brand

The ideal automation systems integrator signs no exclusive contracts for parts, software, or services. An agnostic custom automation machine integrator finds the technology to fit your solution, not fit your solution to their sponsorship. Integrators that have exclusive contracts with companies for things like robot arms, software, or assembly components typically do so to reduce their own costs and advertise that as saving they pass on to customers. It forces them to ignore better solutions in the name of contractual obligations. When you are making a long-term capital investment in your manufacturing, you cannot afford to ignore build options available in the name of saving an integrator money. You will spend years paying for short-term mistakes.

Understand ROI and Budget

The right automation partner does more than calculate the Return-on-Investment figures for your custom automated machine or robotic solution. They can create a scatterplot of comparative project opportunities based on variable Risk, Return on Investment, and comparisons to your current manufacturing line costs. A mature custom automation integrator treats ROI correctly as a justification for the project, not a budget. The right integrator takes the time to research your current production shifts, costs, and goals, and translates them into multiple high level machine model options. They then work with you to exploit the new opportunities created by your advanced manufacturing capabilities.

  • Beware integrators that underbid. It is tempting to take the lowest bid on your project but ask yourself how proud you would be to know you had the cheapest seatbelts, the cheapest parachute, or the cheapest hard hat. A responsible integrator bids understanding the labor, engineering, and part costs. An irresponsible integrator bids to get the business and later bloats the costs with change orders, delays, and scoping integrity issues.
  • A responsible integrator uses a combination of research, ROI, and communication to create a practical budget for your machine. They commit to that budget in the scope of work and strictly define the costs associated with late changes to avoid scope bloating.
  • A responsible automation integrator manages an explicit delivery schedule. They define on schedule and off schedule. They acknowledge that delays are a dollars to days increase on the time and investment needed to reach ROI. They manage cross team collaboration with Gantts, meetings, and a support based work environment.

Commitment to Testing Standards and Contracts

A responsible automation systems integrator never compromises on Factory Acceptance Testing Standards, Site Acceptance Testing Standards outlined in the Scope of Work (SOW), and the agreed upon targets of the final automated machine. They do not skip steps and they do not compromise quality to skimp short term money or time. They define changes as in scope or out of scope. They maintain professional commitment to design, standards of quality, and respect realistic timelines of delivery. They establish mutual expectations between customer and integrator for responsibilities.

Be wary of integrators willing to skip steps and agree to changes on a whim. Question how one integrator out of the group of integrators bid half the cost of the next lowest bid. Proper testing and consistent design prevent logarithmic increases in cost and timeline if changes need to be made late in the integration phase.

Defined Communication, Defined Ownership

A quality automation systems integrator sets designated communicators between the customer and integrator. They require informed backups capable of maintaining institutional memory and consistent delivery. They maintain project assigned staff to ensure that when you need to speak with the software engineer, designer, mechanical engineer, or project manager, that you are speaking to the same person in their designated role from the beginning to the end of the project. They create a framework for regular meetings, ad hoc updates, stages of delivery, and definitions of success and failure. They take ownership of the technical engineering while realizing your high-level concept requests. They take pleasure in educating the customer on everything from general automated engineering to the technical details of the machine.

Be wary of integrators that expect you to make specific parts selections, engineering choices, or technical decisions. The number one cause of scope bloat, delay, and runaway costs comes from poor communication and ambiguous ownership.

Workforce Engagement Plan

A quality workforce engagement plan separates effective custom machine integration from dust gathering machines. A quality automation systems integrator puts boots on the ground, interviews operators and related staff, and designs alongside workforce engagement. They inform the workforce about the improvements to the work environment, new job opportunities, training programs, and displacement or reassignment caused by the machine or robotic integration. They make clear the schedule, and they notify the production floor if there will be any percentage decreases in production during installation.

Be wary of an integrator that ignores workforce engagement. Your machine could miss simple practical improvements that would require the perspective of an operator to understand. A workforce has tremendous energy for enthusiasm if minimally engaged. They will redirect that energy to resistance if you lose that initiative to the wrong conclusions. 

Long Term Relationship

A custom automated system takes years of partnership, communication, and working together. Contracts signify a mutual agreement to financial terms, labor, and engineering. You will be asking each other for changes, updates, and cooperation on a formal and informal basis. Never sign anything you are not comfortable signing, have misgivings about, or disagree with. A quality automation integrator will take the time to work through any concerns or requests before any signed contracts. Our best recommendation is to take your time planning, considering, and approving the terms of the business relationship. A few extra weeks of work in the planning stage can foster a productive partnership and save months or years of frustration.

Now that you know the ins and outs of choosing the right automation partner, you’re ready to take the first step. Tell us more about your project, schedule a virtual meeting, or call (262)-622-6104 to set up a free virtual automation discussion with an automation specialist.