Six factors for choosing a control system integrator for a mobile machine system

Companies looking to choose a control system integrator for a mobile machine system should be able to work with hydraulics and electrical controls and have good working relationships across the board.
By Wade Wessler and Chris Vrettacos, Cross Company April 17, 2018

Courtesy: Cross CompanyThere are many reasons to implement a new control system on a mobile machine. However, companies first have to ask: "Is my machine right for a control system and will the market I serve accept it?"

In addition, companies need to consider how the people who operate the machine will adjust and react to a new control system. Just because a competitor is doing it this way does not mean it is the right thing to do. If you have gone through this exercise and you still feel like this is in your company’s best interest, it might be time to bring in a control system integrator.

When to work with a control system integrator

There are several questions that should be answered prior to making this decision. 

  • Do you have the engineering expertise to implement a new control system?
  • Do you have the engineering capacity to do this?
  • Has anyone on the team ever worked with Tier 4 diesel engines?
  • Do you have anyone on your staff that can write programmable logic controller (PLC) code?
  • Do you have any human-machine interface (HMI) design experience in-house?
  • Has anyone on your team ever controlled proportional valves?

If the answer is "no" to these types of questions, then a company should consider working with a competent system integrator.

If you have made the business decision to pursue help integrating your mobile machine control system, companies need to identify the shortcomings of your existing system (controls, hydraulics, and/or electrical), and what value they want to add to your machine. Having a clearly defined objective will save a lot of money when it comes to developing a working prototype and production machine.

Six factors for selecting a control system integrator

Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaSo what matters and what doesn’t? These six things should be at the forefront when choosing a control system integrator:

1. Hydraulic and electrical control experience

To properly design a machine, and understand how it should function, companies need someone that knows the entire machine, not just a PLC programmer. They need to understand how all of these components work together and how to optimize all of their features.

2. Good relationships with major suppliers, component mastery

Why is this important? Well, when issues arise and support is needed, those relationships are critical to finding time-sensitive answers to problems. This should be coupled with the knowledge and understanding of how things are supposed to work. An example of this would be proportional valves and their intricacies.

3. Personnel breadth and depth

Does this company only have one or two engineers on staff that can provide support? What type of help can you expect when they have limited resources. What is the knowledge base of this support staff? What is their availability, do they travel extensively? Look for an integrator with a team of engineers that can support your needs.

4. A partnership approach throughout the machine’s lifespan

Look for a company that is committed to your success. If someone is contracted to write PLC code versus an integrator/component supplier, will they have an incentive for long-term continued project success? Will they be there for you when software and/or field support is needed, and component support? Do they have the systems in place to archive your software revisions? You need someone that is committed to being a partner, not someone who is just a programmer.

5. Willingness to provide constructive criticism, opposing opinions

Because a good system integrator has experience, they can share thoughts on the design of your equipment, and make recommendations. Expect push-back from them based on those experiences.

6. Prior like-job experience

Ask for a resume of projects that they have done if is there anything similar to what you are asking them to do. This might be a bit of a challenge due to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), but companies should be able to get a good idea on their comfort level with equipment types.

Wade Wessler is the Cross Company mobile controls product manager. Chris Vrettacos is a Cross Company controls engineer. This article originally appeared on Cross Company’s Mobile Hydraulics & Controls’ blog. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.