As noted here last month, Rockwell Automation enjoys almost universal brand recognition among packaging system integrators. Fifteen other automation product vendors have also been cited under “product experience” by more than half of the integrators listed in the Packaging Integrator Guide (go to the Resources tab at www.packagingdigest.com).
Not surprisingly, 13 of those 16 top automation vendors have established system-integrator partnership programs to capitalize on their popularity. They offer their partners special training, pricing discounts, technical support, marketing services and sales support in return for whatever business their partners can steer their way.
Rockwell Automation says it expects its best partners to “target annual Rockwell Automation purchases to exceed 75 percent of discretionary automation purchases,” in markets that Rockwell serves, according to the Solution Provider overview at www.rockwellautomation.com.
“Discretionary” is the key qualifier in that statement. Integrator partnerships aren't exclusive relationships, and vendors understand that an integrator doesn't always have a choice in what products clients buy for their automation projects. Packaging Digest's Automation in Packaging Study (www.packagingdigest.com/automationresearch) indicates that nearly all integrators responding to the survey reported that their clients accept their recommendations of alternate automation brands at least sometimes (41 percent), if not always (57 percent).
Conversely, more than half of the respondents also claimed that someone else actually decides which automation components are to be incorporated into projects: Generally the packager; the equipment vendor; or the packaging machine OEM. Even when they do have a say in the equipment selection, only 16 percent of the respondents cite a vendor's partnership program as a factor in their decision. Packagers are even less enthusiastic about their integrators' vendor partnerships.
Only 8 percent of the packagers who responded to the first phase of the Packaging in Automation study cited “affiliations with preferred vendors” as a top criteria for choosing an integrator. Automation vendors still see integrator partnerships as a chance to leverage other delivery organizations that complement their own knowledge and expertise. Rockwell Automation's Mark Moriarty explains, “As our customers find new ways to enhance machines or processes, engaging an experienced solution provider who has the proven experience early in the development continues to pay the greatest dividends for all involved.” Wonderware's Scott Kiser points out that choosing an integrator is no longer a “casual date” for a packager, “it's a marriage.” Clients say they want integrators certified by Wonderware on Wonderware technology. What the training integrators get out of them is a way for sponsoring vendors to meet clients' technical needs, even if those clients don't know it.