One of the best parts about our jobs as control systems integrators is that we get the opportunity to learn something new every day. There’s always a new tool, new technology, or new trend we can apply to our work. Better still—we’re always learning from you, our clients. We learn how our clients are innovating with their products and processes. We watch you push the envelope of our technology and get to learn how some of our favorite brands and products are manufactured.
Having great partnerships with clients continues to be the biggest key to our mutual success. To allow for more successful projects down the road, here’s a short list of things we systems integrators would like you to know that will make our collaboration even smoother.
1. We’re still figuring this out, too. Things change fast. Sometimes too fast. Especially in the world of technology and automation. Someone has to be the guinea pig. The good news? We’re pretty good at this stuff, and part of our job is to perform discovery for vendors’ hardware and software. We do this every day. The bad news is clients sometimes get to go along for the ride. Someone has to be the first to try new versions. However, good integrators do their own in-house testing with new technologies before deployment. In addition, control systems integrators are often involved with vendors in the development of new products—both hardware and software. We’re exposed to these new versions before they’re released and we get to play with and try to break the new components prior to installing them in any of our clients’ facilities. And don’t worry, if the direction of your project is heading down the path of the cutting edge, we’ll be sure to make you aware. We love blazing new trails. And we love clients that blaze new trails even more. Let’s take that trip together.
2. It helps to get the right people involved early. Proper automation impacts more than just the manufacturing or processing lines. Understanding the business operating implications of installing or upgrading your automation is crucial. System data is readily available with current control systems. The ability to quickly acquire, display and analyze this data is one of, if not, the greatest benefits of modern control systems. We don’t want to run interference between plant level personnel and operations personnel, but we’re often forced to do so. That's why it's important to get the right team, the entire team, around the same table early. Higher quality products, greater repeatability, and more throughput are all fantastic and very real benefits of automation, but having accurate and actionable data removes the guesswork from business operating decisions.
3a. We wish you’d do your homework.The automation arena is huge. There are any number of different ways we could accomplish what you’re asking us to do. Having some idea of what you’d prefer would be very helpful. Give us a call or chat with your local distributor or vendor if you don’t know where to start digging. Standards are another great starting point, but start at a basic level. Choose a hardware or software platform you want to standardize on that’s reliable and readily available. No one knows your process and application as well as you do. If you know what you want to accomplish and have at least some idea of how you want to accomplish it, that will help steer your system integrator down the correct path much earlier in the conversation.
3b. We wish you’d stop doing your homework. Day in and day out, system integrators operate in the control systems arena; we are exposed to an unbelievable amount of data and information regarding options for control systems. We know the tricks and the truths, what works and what doesn’t, what lives up to expectations and what falls short. We push the bounds of the technology on a daily basis and know the limitations and proper applications. Clients can, at times, become their own worst enemy by trying to take their organization or a particular project down a path that may not make the most sense in the long run. We understand you have ideas and preferences and we will do our best to honor those, but don’t let tunnel vision turn you into your project’s own worst enemy. By involving a good systems integrator, you’ve got the experts at your fingertips. Keep an open mind and take advantage of that partnership.
Reid Vander Veen works in business development at Interstates Control Systems Inc., a Certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Interstates’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange by CSIA.