2017 - 2018

Matchmaking for Automation System Integrators

Vance VanDoren – 12/15/1993
Automation system integrators provide a variety of services for industrial automation and controls projects from panel construction to complete turnkey installations. There are systems integrators for process control applications, material handling, machine vision, robotics, and virtually every other automated industry. Systems integrators can be found operating as independent engineering firms as small as a single consultant or as large as the multi-national Johnson Yokogawa Corp. (Newnan, GA). Other systems integrators function as departments or subsidiaries of automation equipment vendors, distributors, architect/engineering firms, and software companies.

A recent survey by VDI Research (West Lafayette, IN) has identified more than 500 systems integrators that provide a broad range of custom engineering services for clients requiring third party assistance with new and retrofit automation projects. However, the automation systems integration industry is still in its infancy. VDI Research reports that the average systems integrator is less than 17 years old and realizes just $1-5 million in annual sales.

Promoting the industry
Promotional tools appropriate for the systems integration industry are also just beginning to develop. A 1991 study "Marketing Opportunities for an Emerging Industry - Control Systems Integration" from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) reports that control systems integrators in particular have not enjoyed the exposure that display advertising, trade shows, and other traditional product marketing techniques offer the more established automation equipment industry. As a result, systems integration is still a relatively obscure facet of industrial automation. According to Tony Diaz, systems integration specialist at Raytheon Engineers and Constructors (Philadelphia, PA), prospective clients typically aren't aware of the scope of services available from a systems integrator. Wayne Ralph, president of the Delta Group (Cincinnati, OH), finds that many of his new prospects aren't even clear on the meaning of "systems integration" or the types of companies that provide integration services.

Nonetheless, automation systems integrators have been able to generate increasing interest in their new industry by adapting some of the traditional product marketing techniques to the promotion of engineering services instead. Raytheon, Kenonic Controls (Calgary, AB), Walsh Automation (Montreal, PQ), Advanced Control Technology (Albany, OR), and Topro Services (Denver, CO) all exhibited at ISA '93 in the Systems Integrator Showcase sponsored by the Industrial Computing Society. A special automation and systems integration pavilion will also be featured at IMTS '94. Many systems integrators use direct mailings to reach prospective clients, and virtually all use old fashioned word-of-mouth advertising to generate new and repeat business. As Glenn Johanson, Kenonic's vice president of business development puts it, "Every project is a sales tool for the next one."

Unconventional methods
Systems integrators have also begun to attract attention by less conventional means. Walsh Automation uses traditional magazine advertising, but not for displaying the software products that complement their engineering services. According to general manager Dick Hill, Walsh's most recent ad campaign was designed to appeal to the end user who needs more than a collection of computers and components for his automation system. Thus, the Walsh ad attempts to show the quality of their products and the value of their services symbolically by displaying an icon of craftsmanship - a Stradivarius violin.

DCS systems integrator FeedForward, Inc. (Atlanta, GA) forgoes display advertising altogether. Principals Stephen Woodworth and Richard Jackson observe that the key to developing customer relations is to actively seek new projects rather than to wait for prospective clients to respond to conventional promotions. "We have to locate them - they won't locate us." says Jackson. FeedForward personnel participate in various computer user's groups and attend both commercial and academic conferences in order to demonstrate their engineering skills and to identify new prospects.

This active marketing philosophy has motivated many automation systems integrators to establish strategic partnerships with automation equipment vendors. Typically, the vendor helps the integrator identify upcoming automation projects that may require third party engineering assistance. The integrator in turn facilitates the vendor's equipment sales by offering the client the help he needs to make it all work together. For some of the smaller systems integrators like HALF, Inc. (Baltimore, MD), such joint sales efforts comprise the bulk of their customer contacts. According to founding partner George Lampadarios, HALF relies on vendors to bring his company in on projects that exceed the client's in-house engineering capabilities. Conversely, Lampadarios finds that without the introduction provided by the vendor, some of his clients would be unaware that systems integration services are available at all.

Vendors join in
Some of the larger automation equipment vendors have also developed their own systems integration divisions that derive much of their business and most of their publicity from the parent company. Bailey Controls (Wickliffe, OH) has recently expanded their installation services division with the advent of BESCO - the Bailey Engineering Services Company. Bob Holland, Bailey's marketing manager for installation services, notes that BESCO participated in the Bailey booth at ISA '93 and uses Bailey's existing sales and marketing groups to develop customer relations. But even though Bailey has been providing installation services for more than a decade, many clients are still surprised to learn that Bailey offers other integration services through BESCO.

Honeywell Industrial Automation and Control (Phoenix, AZ) has taken a different approach to the automation systems integration market. According to Paul Christopherson, director of applications and software, Honeywell has integrated their service offerings with their product line to create a single source supplier concept called TotalPlant. "Services don't just come along for the ride - they are part and parcel of what we do", says Christopherson. Field sales personnel formerly represented individual products and treated the associated engineering effort independently. With TotalPlant, Honeywell account managers can address all of the client's automation needs and bring in the appropriate product and service specialists - even third parties - as needed. Honeywell promotes the TotalPlant program with all of the traditional marketing tools plus a series of technical and business seminars to help selected clients understand the integrated systems approach to factory automation.

Siemens Industrial Automation (Houston, TX) has developed a unique concept for providing automation engineering services - the "virtual integrator". In addition to their own engineering services, Siemens can provide financing, management, and an overall structure for a project that involves local systems integration firms chosen by the client or recommended by Siemens. "This is a rather new approach [to factory automation], so few customers know to come directly to us", says Stanley De Vries, application specialist for Siemens. Instead, most of Siemens' projects result from contacts initiated by their direct sales channel, their distribution network, or their third party integration partners.

The missing link
The automation systems integration industry continues to grow, and individual integrators have developed a variety of techniques for identifying prospective clients. Less attention has been given to the development of tools to facilitate communications in the reverse direction when it is the end user who is looking for a systems integrator. Several publications and trade organizations have produced guides to their respective segments of the industry including control, manufacturing, robotics, and instrumentation systems integration. However, a comprehensive reference work enumerating the systems integration services available throughout the industrial automation industry has been lacking - until now.

The 1994 Control Engineering Register of Industrial Automation Services lists more than 500 engineering firms that provide their time, talents, and technology to help clients implement industrial automation and control systems. Listings for the 75 featured systems integrators include descriptions of the services that they offer plus data tables specifying the industries they serve (IN), the areas they serve (AR), their engineering specialties (SP), and their corporate affiliations (AF). Separate indexes for each section of the data tables are provided to help readers match their needs to integrators that can meet them. A computerized cross reference covering all 500+ companies in the Automation Register database is also available.


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