How To Select a Systems Integrator
The following tips on how to select a systems integrator come from Perry West of Automated Vision Systems, Inc. He is an internationally recognized expert in machine vision with more than 22 years of experience in machine vision.
- Define the Relationship You Want
In some instances, you want an integrator who can address a single specific requirement efficiently. In other cases, the objective is to build a working relationship that will extend over time and many projects. Most integrators will work with you to develop the kind of relationship you want. However, if expediency is important, the integrator's resources may be more important than their geographic location. On the other hand, if you want a close working relationship, the integrator's location has more weight in their selection.
- Choose an Integrator Who Understands Your Industry
The integrator you pick should understand your industry, its processes, operating practices, and vocabulary. This should be demonstrated by completed projects in your industry.
- Pick an Integrator Who Understands Your Application
Your application may be unique, but the integrator you choose should be able to show you installations they have completed that address similar requirements to yours. For example, robot guidance and precision measurement are both established capabilities of machine vision, but there are different skills involved in each. An integrator who is strong in precision measurement may be inexperienced in robot guidance.
- Let the Integrator Propose the Solution
The integrator may work with several vision equipment suppliers, and is in the position to recommend the equipment that will ensure the best project. Steering an integrator to unfamiliar equipment can cause project delays while the integrator comes up a learning curve. Likewise, requiring an integrator to use specific equipment shifts some of the responsibility for success from the integrator to the buyer. However, if your plant already has installations using a certain brand of vision system and you want to use the same vision system if practical, pick an integrator who is strong in the application of that particular vision system.
- Ensure the Integrator Has the Skills and Resources Necessary To Execute the Project
Machine vision integration is multidisciplinary, requiring skills in optics, software, system design, electronics, process control, mechanical engineering, documentation, and training. No one person is strong in all necessary skills. The integrator you pick may outsource certain functions, like machining or even some of the design, but they should have the core skills and resources in-house. Ask about their technical team and the strengths of each member.
- Pick the Right-Sized Integrator
Large projects like a complex machine require the resource of a larger integrator. On the other hand, smaller projects, like the installation of a simple vision system, may be handled efficiently by smaller integrators. Check on the size of the integrator, including their technical staff and their production capabilities.
- Make a Background Check
Get and check out references. The best references come from your personal network of business acquaintances. But any integrator should be able to supply a number of references for you to check. Also, have your purchasing department get a credit report. This information will go a long way toward telling you if your experience with the integrator will be a successful one.
- Investigate How the Integrator Delivers Technical Support
Today, there are many ways in which a company might deliver technical support. Some of these include telephone, fax, e-mail, web sites, and even remote operation of installed equipment. A progressive integrator will have several channels of support. You should also check into the availability of support in terms of hours of operation and guaranteed response time.
- Look Into Documentation
Check the documentation your integrator provides with systems they deliver. Ensure both operation and maintenance instructions and procedures are clear and complete. Some integrators routinely supply fabrication and assembly drawings and bills of material; others do so only on specific request, and some will not supply this information.