The Control System Integrator Association (CSIA atwww.controlsys.org) has announced that its membership has reached 300 companies, one-third of which have achieved certified member status. The CSIA’s certification audit looks at an integrator’s business procedures to assure an end user that the integrator actually has defined procedures and has documented them thoroughly.
Hiring a CSIA-certified integrator is a safe bet, but certification isn’t the only criteria to consider when choosing an integrator for an automation project. Familiarity with the packaging industry is an obvious plus. Here are some additional questions to ask a candidate:
• How long has your firm been doing integration work in the packaging industry? Many integrators can transfer their skills from related industries, but there’s no substitute for direct experience.
• Are your engineers knowledgeable about the specific applications involved in our project? Virtually all automation engineers know how to program a PLC, but do they know how to configure a checkweigher or a metal detector?
• Can you demonstrate successful completion of past projects? Don’t just read references the integrator provides. It’s wise to contact their previous clients directly.
• Are your engineers up to date on the latest technologies and standards? Many vendors offer certification programs for engineers who can demonstrate a thorough understanding of a vendors’ products.
• How far into our plant’s business systems can you integrate information flowing to and from the automation system? Some integrators are better at extracting and presenting useful information.
• Do you have the necessary strategic partners for this project? System integrators affiliated with some vendors can get special training, support and product pricing.
• Do you have experienced engineers and project managers who are available to commit to our project? The best personnel won’t do you any good if they’re assigned to someone else’s project.
• Do you have resources local to our plant(s)? Some tasks can be undertaken from afar, but having an integrator nearby is handy.
• Is your project methodology suitable for our project? Be wary of integrators who think they have a one-size-fits-all solution.
• What kind of documentation and training can you provide? Automation is useless if no one knows how to use it.
• Can you assume complete turnkey responsibility for the entire project? Some specialized integrators can only address specific tasks.
• Will you be available to handle follow-up work? CSIA certification is an indicator of an integrator’s potential longevity.
Steve Clouther of the ARC Advisory Group contributed to this list.