System integrators defined

Automation system integrators are the engineering firms that manufacturers turn to for help connecting the disparate components of their automated factories. System integrators provide the time, talents, and technology required to turn a plan into a functioning automation system. But exactly what engineering services constitute "system integration" and which engineering service providers qualif...

05/01/2004


Automation system integrators are the engineering firms that manufacturers turn to for help connecting the disparate components of their automated factories. System integrators provide the time, talents, and technology required to turn a plan into a functioning automation system. But exactly what engineering services constitute "system integration" and which engineering service providers qualify as "system integrators" is subject to some debate.

The Control and Information System Integrators Association (CSIA, www.controlsys.org ) defines an integrator as an independent, value-added engineering organization (or a profit-loss division thereof) that focuses on industrial control and information systems, manufacturing execution systems, and plant automation systems that require application knowledge and technical expertise for sales, design, implementation, installation, commissioning, and support. CSIA members provide products and system integration services for projects involving process, discrete, supervisory, and batch control as well as robotics and data acquisition.

Typical system integrators

For the purposes of the Automation Integrator Guide, Control Engineering defines system integrators by what they can do for their clients. Any engineering firm that can design, construct, install, and commission a multi-component industrial automation system qualifies.

The Integrator Guide reveals that the industries most often served by automation system integrators are food and beverage (55%), continuous and batch processing (52%), chemicals and petrochemicals (49%), and material handling (48%). The products they use most come from Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley) (77%), Wonderware (57%), GE Fanuc Automation (56%), and Siemens Energy and Automation (55%). Integrators who join professional organizations are most often affiliated with the Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society (30%), the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (21%), and the CSIA (14%).

Not-so-typical integrators

Control Engineering 's definition of "system integrator" also includes several kinds of engineering firms that typically do not refer to themselves as such. Panel builders, for example, are system integrators if they can install and connect the control equipment they assemble. Similarly, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can be considered system integrators if the machines they build involve automation and control devices. Many panel builders and OEMs also offer programming services, a key element of any integrated automation system.

Even many of the automation industry's product vendors and their distributors have application engineering departments that qualify as system integrators. They may demonstrate a distinct preference for their own products, but if they can solve a client's automation problems and implement those solutions, they're listed in the Integrator Guide.

Larger, general-purpose engineering firms, such as architect/engineers and design/construction firms capable of building entire factories, have also gotten into the system integration business in recent years. Virtually all modern factories are automated to one degree or another, and if the company building the factory also builds the automation system, they're a system integrator.

On the other hand, there are engineering firms that style themselves as system integrators but don't meet Control Engineering 's definition, primarily because they serve other industries. There are computer system integrators, automotive system integrators, information system integrators, and so on, not all of which are involved in the industrial automation industry. Control Engineering also excludes software houses that are focused exclusively on programming services.

For more details about the 1000+ system integrators listed in the Automation Integrator Guide, log on to www.controleng.com/integrators . Users can register for free and search for integrators that serve particular areas and industries, offer specific engineering services, or work with particular vendors' products. Integrators not yet listed in the Integrator Guide can sign up for free via the link in the online guide or directly at www.integratorguide.com .





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