Last month's column considered the question of who decides what equipment is selected for an automated packaging project. Not surprisingly, only 20 percent of the system integrators who contributed to PD's Automation in Packaging Study (www.packagingdigest.com/automation research) claimed that they decide on the type of packaging equipment themselves. Most (69 percent) reported it's the subject-matter experts—the packagers and end users—who make that choice.
A low percentage of integrators reported that they decide which automation components to incorporate into a project. Though system integrators are arguably the subject-matter experts when it comes to automation, more than half of them claimed that someone else makes that choice—generally the packager, the equipment vendor or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Still, it's interesting to note what criteria system integrators use when choosing automation components when they do have a say in the matter. The product attributes they said they value most are: Reliability/performance (according to 55 percent of the integrators surveyed); price-to-performance value (45 percent); and quality/durability (39 percent).
The most common answers to the question, Which brand-related characteristics are most important when evaluating automation vendors? were: Technical support (53 percent); previous experience with the vendor (41 percent); and vendor reputation/longevity (49 percent). For both questions, multiple answers were allowed. A less formal survey of integrators attending the Control System Integrator Assn.'s conferences of 2007 and 2008 yielded similar results. They generally agreed that technical support is an important component of their relationships with the vendors they patronize, but basic hotline support isn't good enough. Integrators know that they're good engineers, so by the time they've resorted to calling for technical support, they've already exceeded the expertise of the typical hotline staff. They want direct access to the engineers who developed the product in question.
Knowing they are able to get technical answers right from the source can be a determining factor when integrators decide whether or not to pursue high-risk or unfamiliar projects. Risk reduction is even more important to the clients. By the time a packager decides to hire an integrator, they've decided they can't implement the proposed automation system themselves. Integrators, in turn, want to reduce risk by choosing reliable products from supportive vendors. Which vendors make the grade?
This wasn't addressed directly by the “Automation in Packaging” study, but the Packaging Integrator Guide (accessible via the Resources tab at www.packagingdigest.com) gives a clue. Ninety-one percent of the integrators who claimed a brand preference on their listing forms cited Allen-Bradley as a favorite, followed by Siemens and Rockwell Automation (76 percent) and Rockwell Software (73 percent).