Automation distributors and system integrators come in many flavors. And it’s that rich combination of offerings that provides such a broad array of tastes for anyone’s appetite.
Another smaller distributor that Strauch mentions is Taylor Ellis’s group at South Coast Controls, which specializes in building panels. “She supports bigger integrators like DWFritz and the like, and her component partners are Rockwell Automation, Fanuc and Festo. She supports local industry. She builds panels that can be found across the nation. She is super busy, but I can also call up Taylor or email her and say, ‘I am looking for this kind of valve, but don’t know what it’s called,’ and describe it. Then she takes a look and gives a suggestion. Of course, it will be the best. This is customer service.”
Progressive Machine & Design (PDM) in Victor, New York, is a larger integrator that makes whole assembly lines, notes Strauch. “These guys specialize with corporations to build assembly lines that work for specific manufacturing processes,” she explains. “What do they have in common with the other two I have mentioned? Customer service.”
PMD can get on assembly lines remotely and troubleshoot, says Strauch. “This allows large companies to work with them on the transition of ownership between the installation, site-acceptance test and after-machine warranty,” she notes. “This is a different business plan than an integrator building small machines or doing machine tending.”
Other pieces in the integrator-distributor puzzle include large automation-component companies that have their own divisions or networks, expanding their own capabilities with the ability to offer more than just components. “The big guns—Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Emerson, ABB, Beckhoff—these are conglomerates that own components, have sponsored integrators and distributors and provide services themselves, broad services, as well as specialized services and software,” notes Strauch.
“They are also doing the research for the industry,” adds Strauch. “Most of the time, they will refer you to integration companies that have met their standards of installation and are representing them. For instance, Control Associates in Allendale, New Jersey, installs Delta V. Keep in mind, that the distributed control systems integrators have different purposes than machine builders. They are more software-intensive. They are the ones that will be doing the digital twins.”
Also, integrators and suppliers can be found in groups based on the industries they support, notes Strauch. “Automation Group started in the food industry in middle California, and they have stayed to their roots, supporting Blue Diamond Almonds and the wine industry. Control Associates supports the pulp-and-paper and chemical industries with their DCS services. AdEdge Water Technologies builds for water filtration and water industry services. They were bought out by a larger group, ChartWater, because companies want these types of integrators in their portfolios to provide broader services for their customer bases.”
Another type of integrator has emerged with software-based services—Corso Systems, headquartered in Chicago, focuses on supervisory control and data analysis (SCADA) and manufacturing execution systems (MES). “Some of these companies may get hired as subcontractors on big installs, as partners to machine builders that do not do the data side,” explains Strauch. “This is the difference with the operational-technology (OT) emergence. Automation Group is expanding in this arena based on the business developments and their customer needs.”
The onset of artificial intelligence in the controls industry has spawned another type of integration company. Kelvin AI, founded and headquartered in San Francisco, is applying artificial intelligence to control systems, and tackling specific industry needs, notes Strauch, referencing, for example, oil and gas, in which Kelvin is developing a system that can do predictive analysis. “They are pushing for sustainability, based on analyzing the huge amounts of data that is passing through real-time systems,” she says.
“Overall, all these companies are integrators, and they all have distribution channels supporting them. Customers need to choose integrators based on what they wish to accomplish,” asserts Strauch.