Outsourced engineering, Part II

Is executing the design, startup, and support for your control, instrumentation, and electrical systems with internal resources always the right approach? Find out in this month’s installment of Machine Builder Mojo.

Dan Hebert, PEBy Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor

WE BEGAN a discussion last month [“Outsource Your Engineering?,” Sept. ’06] about whether it makes sense for machine builders to offload some or all of their machine control work.

Is executing these tasks with internal resources always the right approach for a machine OEM? We asked machine builders and system integrators about this choice.

Outsource Your Engineering, Part I
Last month, we relayed machine builder responses to this issue. This time we provide input from system integrators. The OEM Insight column on p. 74 presents an SI’s views on the subject.

Machine builders said they turned to system integrators when workloads were heavy, or when they encountered unfamiliar automation issues. The SIs agree this is a good approach.

“When automating a new machine, a machine builder can supply management to coordinate the efforts between their internal staff and the system integrator,” says Dave Stock, president of Innovative Control. “The payoff is achieved when the system integrator staff disappears from the machine builder’s cost line at the end of the project.”

Bill Pollock, president of system integrator Optimation, says machine builders often use their services when they run out of staff, and need help to meet schedules. “Our services allow our machine builder clients to make critical schedules without adding to permanent staff,” relates Pollock.

Worldwide 24/7 support is burdensome. SIs say they can help. “Our services include a 24/7 call center and field-service support,” says Martin Michael, vice president, sales and marketing, Advanced Automation. “We often embed diagnostic capabilities in the control system to remotely troubleshoot and expedite resolution of customer issues. We encourage and can assist our machine builder customers to market embedded diagnostics and support services as a differentiator.”

Machine builders and system integrators agree that outside help often is needed when a machine builder is asked to implement a non-standard control system. “Machine builders should look to outside system integrators for help with non-standard automation systems, or when customers need to integrate their machines into their existing computing systems,” believes Sergei Furduy, engineer at Concept Systems.

Michael has an opinion on projects such as integration of machines with MES. “A system integrator adds the value of seeing many different systems and clients, and can leverage this experience to continuously improve machine builder automation systems,” he believes. “Standards such as ISA88 and ISA95, which enable batch processing data management and MES interoperability, offer opportunities to make machines MES-ready.”

Machine builders always are on the lookout for new business. “Part of why we have a good relationship with machine builders is that we bring them opportunities,” says Jim Campbell, president of Viewpoint Systems. “We might visit a potential customer that needs an automated inspection system, and we would need a partner to provide part-handling capabilities. The machine builder would be subcontractor to us, whereas in the other scenarios, we’re the subcontractor to them.” Machine vision is a typical example of the former for him, while data acquisition is typical of the latter.

“Machine builder/system integrator relationships need to be based on a long-term strategy, not on an opportunistic one-off arrangement,” says Ray Bachelor, president, Bachelor Controls. “In a one-time deal without mutual commitments, it’s difficult to leverage efficiencies through work reuse. It’s important to have a cooperative business plan that serves both sides, and has some mutual accountability.”

That’s a key point. If you can’t figure out how to make each other more successful through the arrangement, then it probably isn’t sustainable. 

“Machine builder/system integrator relationships need to be based on a long-term strategy, rather than on an opportunistic, one-off arrangement.”

The SIs in this article make two important pitches as to why they can help with your machine control tasks: One hand can wash the other. They bring you jobs. You bring them jobs. Has that been your experience?
In either case, tell us why.
Are SIs better suited than you are to embed remote diagnostic tools?
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