When mapping out a new machinery or system project it is critical that the correct decisions are made before beginning design. The choices of products, vendors and service providers can make or break a project before it even gets off the ground.
In my publication Mastering the Machine I discuss many of the details of how a project is planned and documented including the proposal phase. When a larger service provider or machine builder is deciding how to approach a proposed solution to a manufacturing problem, they rely on their experience with certain products and vendors and other similar projects they have done in the past. Major brand vendors and distributors often call on these companies to show them the latest and greatest innovations in their industry, whether it be controls, mechanical components or techniques. “Lunch and Learns” are often held to introduce innovations to Applications, Project and Design Engineers.
Smaller machine builders and integrators often don’t get quite as much attention from vendors and may have to seek out information themselves. Trade shows and regional seminars can often provide an opportunity for people in the industrial arena to see products first hand, I have discussed some of these events in previous posts on the Automation Fair and Automate 2015.
There is a lot of information on the web also, but it can be difficult to wade through the millions of sites for the information that is needed. Everybody claims to be the best at what they do and have the highest quality, lowest cost, coolest features or whatever. The sites that rank the highest are also not always the best either, many larger companies have deep enough pockets to pay for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) which can artificially inflate the number of people that visit a site.
My major point in Mastering the Machine is that you can often save a lot of money on a project by either doing part of a project in-house or using separate providers for different parts of a project.
But how do you find the vendors in the first place? Smaller service providers often don’t show up on web searches, sometimes because they don’t have a website beyond a basic presence and sometimes because they just get lost in the weeds. Some of the best engineers and contractors are so busy already that they don’t need to advertise. Small machine builders are also often booked up for months or years ahead of time, especially if they are good at what they do, so they don’t feel the need to advertise much.
At the top of this page is a tab called “Resources”. Under the tab I have provided three subsections containing Controls Hardware and Software, Mechanical Hardware, and Machine Builders and Integrators.
While the hardware and software vendors are easy to find, the machine builders and integrators are less so. I posted this section originally in 2011 and added a few more in 2013, people have also pitched in to provide a few more. I am very grateful for any suggestions you may make. I have also written a few posts on some of the larger machine builders and controls manufacturers including Wright Industries, ATS, Allen-Bradley, Siemens, Automation Direct and others.
Here in my home state of Tennessee I know a lot of the smaller machine builders and integrators. I have worked with them or for them and can vouch for their strengths and weaknesses. I started a small group called TAII, or the Tennessee Association of Independent Integrators, in order to give some of these smaller contractors (primarily in controls) a way to network with each other and also a way to refer companies to people I know something about. I would really like to find a way to include smaller companies and independent integrators from other areas. For example, I have been looking for people to help on a project in South Florida but I can’t seem to find anyone from down there. Amazingly, when I looked on the Automation.com website for integrators I was able to find almost 40 companies listed for Tennessee but only two in Florida. I am sure there are more, but it has been difficult to find controls guys local to Miami.
While I am at the Automate 2015 show week after next I will be researching machine vision vendors for a project I am about to be involved in. I will make my results known on a future post or page along with a brief synopsis of each exhibitor. I will also be learning about any machine builders or integrators exhibiting and adding them to the Resources tab.
When I start a project with a new customer, especially one who discovered me through Mastering the Machine or my book, I like to be able to recommend machine builders, integrators or vendors based on first hand experience. I know all of the integrators on the TAII tab, I know something about all of the products I have featured on this site (mostly PLCs but also Misumi and various extrusions). I have also worked with or for Wright Industries, Evana Automation, Mid-South, ATS, Automation Tool and NAS. I have also worked on machines built by a lot of other machine builders, but don’t know as much about their methods and procedures. I am hoping to eventually expand the resources section of this site so that I can make more informed recommendations on both products and service providers, but I could use some help from others. If you have first hand knowledge of the way a machine builder or system integrator manages their projects I would like to hear from you. Also if you know of good local resources (controls or mechanical contractors or small systems houses, panel shops or other industrial service providers) please let me know. It could be of great value to companies looking for solutions.