There are system integrators and then there are system integrators! Many times system integrators are rated on a good, better, best scale. As one engineer said to the other, “yeah these guys are good at this and these guys are good at that and they both suck at this.” Very misleading!
System integrators should be rated on Capacity, In house Engineering Disciplines and their Track Record. What is a System Integrator? In my world a system Integrator is a parts assembler, usually around a particular engineering discipline or multiple disciplines. Some are limited to modules, preassembled components and usually lack the ability to do any complex engineering. Basically, the ability to machine, fabricate and assemble parts into a working system with a prescribed function and little flexibility. A good example would be a simple conveyor moving parts from point A to point B limited to a speed range. There are many shops with this entry level rating of system integration. They have found a niche as a small conveyor assembler and shy away from projects other than those fitting into their “wheel House”. The next Level overlaps with the above example; a shop with the ability to assemble programmable preassembled parts such as a robotics integrator. Here again the limitations evolve around the engineering disciplines. When it comes to the assembly of robotics, the system integrator has 3-5 straight forward questions. What is the environment, envelopment of operation, cycle time, and end of arm tooling requirements? And how does one intend to feed parts to the robot and take parts away from the robot? Example; Pick and place application, purchase the correct robot from the suppliers catalogue, purchase a standard gripper, aka end of arm tooling from suppliers catalogue, assemble or purchase a simple conveyor from suppliers catalogue. Supply in house robot programing or have the factory tech meet you in the field during start-up.
Here is where it starts to get more challenging and multiple engineering disciples may be call upon to make the parts and components function as a whole system. A quick review, some system integrators are great at mechanical assembly, think extruded metal and preassembled components, other are excellent with applications around pneumatic linear and rotary motion. Then there are the electrical panel builders and programmable motor controls system integrators. You get the picture; each has an area of expertise and is reluctant to stray too far outside their comfort zone. Most of my experience is in the areas mentioned above. It seems this is where the market place is pulling our team and we are always looking for areas to expand our capabilities such as integrating FLIR thermal imaging cameras and vision inspection systems with robotics and process control systems, such a plastic forming and glass inspection. A quick note; all system integrators are assemblers rather than machine builders and all machine builders are system integrators. Original Equipment Builders OEMs and/or custom machine builders have large capacity with the ability to quickly expand, well educated in all engineering disciplines and come with a proven track record across many manufacturing applications. The Key is to define your application then search for the system integrator with the capacity, engineering requirements and a track record, showing they can deliver on their promises.