According to the website of the Control System Integrators Association (www.controlsys.org), a system integrator is “an engineering organization that focuses on industrial control and information systems, manufacturing execution systems and plant automation that need application knowledge and technical expertise for sales, design, implementation, installation, commissioning and support.” A system integrator “takes a problem that may have some engineering input and that has general requirements and specifications and provides an answer that includes final project engineering, documentation, procurement of hardware, development of custom software, installation, testing and commissioning.”
Presumably, packagers who hire system integrators require such services, but what is it that packagers hope to accomplish with the help of a system integrator? Last year's Packaging in Automation study (www.packagingdigest.com/automationresearch) addressed that question.
Packagers, packaging OEMs and packaging integrators were asked to name the main reasons to automate a packaging operation. Not surprisingly, the most common reason a majority of the three groups cited was “to control labor costs.” Some responding to this survey offered specifics about how they responded:
“We developed a machine that reduces the workforce from 16 persons to four. The overall cost of the machines was lower than the monthly cost of the workforce replaced.”
“Within the last year, we replaced a manual, industrial bag-filling and palletizing line with automated baggers and robotic palletizing. Labor dropped from three to one person per shift.”
“We automated a small assembly operation that went from four operators to one and increased output by 225 percent.”
These respondents didn't mention if they'd employed system integrators for their labor-reduction projects, but automated baggers, robot palletizers and automatic assembly machines are all in a day's work for a packaging integrator.
For packagers, “gaining production efficiencies” was a close second among their reasons to automate.
OEMs and integrators agreed, but not nearly as much. Here's what some of the packagers said about achieving greater efficiency:
“We recently added case sealers to our fractional packaging line that save about 8 seconds per case, at 2 to 3 million cases per month.”
“We implemented software cycles for quick changeover, from beverage flavor to beverage flavor, and saved about 90 minutes of run time per day.”
Gaining a “competitive edge” is a top reason to automate, though packagers were much more likely to say so. When the integrators were asked what they thought their clients wanted most, only about half said “eliminate manual operations.” Slightly fewer said, “remove production bottlenecks.” These are low percentages, considering the packagers reported their top two priorities to be controlling labor costs and gaining production efficiencies.