According to Fortune Business Insights, the global industrial automation market, which was valued at $157 Billion USD in 2018, is expected to reach nearly $297 Billion USD by 2026. As smart automation and digital solutions take hold, the role of industrial automation system integrators becomes more important than ever. Systems are more connected and data sharing is critical for executing end-to-end process optimisation.
Systems integration is not simple work. Connecting a diverse set of applications and systems in a way that business requirements for speed and profitability are met requires the skill of experienced experts. Good systems integration also allows end users to continue to focus on their core competency of plant production safety and efficiency instead of dealing with the distractions of systems malfunctions. Having a trusted partner to implement these complicated solutions helps ensure success, delivers solutions benefits faster, and reduces overall project risk.
In hybrid industries, like specialty chemicals, food & beverage, and pharmaceutical, where automation systems address both process and discrete manufacturing steps, there exists the unique need to bridge information from these varied automation applications. Success in achieving a seamless automation integration in such environments requires partnering with consulting organisations and technology providers who understand the nuances of hybrid industries.
Steps to Selecting the Appropriate Hybrid Automation Partner
When we at Supertech, an automation systems integrator and certified Schneider Electric Master Alliance Partner and EcoXpert, are asked to engage in industrial automation systems integration projects, we start by sharing the insights we have gained over the last 25 years. Those insights, developed when working with customers to minimise risk and accelerate ROI, can be summarised in these three points:
1.A turnkey systems integration approach saves time and money – A capable systems integrator should be able to go beyond simply installing their automation system. The integration of ancillary components such as sensors, transmitters, on/off valves, control valves, erection material (cables, cable trays, junction boxes, tubing, steel and pipes for fabrication), with the automation system represents a critical success factor. Coordination between customer engineers and the systems integrator is needed to properly link the electrical, piping, mechanical, and civil engineering aspects of the project. An organisation that has extensive experience in deploying hybrid systems, under strict time constraints, represents an important differentiator when selecting a partner. Such a partner is capable of assuming turnkey responsibility of the automation solution, which will avoid time delays, save money, and shift the project management burden to the trusted systems integrator.
2. A high degree of staff engineer technical competence is required – As the complexity of automation systems deployments within hybrid industries increases, so does the required level of instrumentation and automation systems technical expertise. End users should determine solution provider competency levels by checking on the credentials of the engineers and by asking for references of jobs completed. A few of these references should be contacted and, if possible, visited to ascertain the quality of the engineering work. Look for teams of experts knowledgeable about the benefits surrounding the advanced level functions of batch, MES, and ERP integrations. In addition, every project has its challenges–timeline delays, payments delayed, frequent changes in system requirements, and technical complications to name a few. Find out how the solution provider has performed and supported the customer when these types of issues occur.
3. A systems integrator backed by a reputable global technology manufacturer lowers long-term risk – The longevity of the industrial automation systems integrator can also impact the level of success the end user will experience when implementing their automation solution. Although end users may be familiar with a global solution provider, for example, they may not be as aware of the regional systems integrator. However, the integrator tends to be the end user’s lead interface over the long term. At the manufacturer level, regional management can change quite often (every 3 years on average), but the leadership at smaller regional integrators tends to remain in place from 15 to 20 years. Such long-term relationships signify an in-depth knowledge of the environment and of relevant end-user applications. Therefore, end users who work with knowledgeable, long-term industrial automation systems integrators are subjected to less risk, fewer implementation delays, and lower project change order-related expenses.
Article by Chandrashekhar Limaye is the Director of Supertech Instrumentation Services (India) Pvt. Ltd
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