In today's instrumentation and control market, a Systems Integrator is generally an engineering-based firm with special skills and experience, niche-oriented, with a focus on a particular manufacturing or process market, or in the boiler and utility market.
For many years, the systems integration function was often handled by an equipment manufacturer or by the Fluor Daniels, Bechtels, and Brown & Roots of the world, i.e., the constructors or engineering contractors. Typically, these firms built a processing, manufacturing or utility plant from the ground up.
Later on, system integrator firms evolved. The big difference between constructors and systems integrators is that the systems integrators concentrate and specialize in the sales, service and integration of instrumentation and control systems, instead of building plants from the ground up.
Due to the increasing complexity of control systems and their components, a thinning of in-house engineering staffs, scheduling problems, project definition difficulties and concern over the installed cost of a new system, specialized systems integration companies have become a valuable resource for utility and process plants, world wide.
On new systems or for a control system retrofit, a Systems Integrator will assume total responsibility for defining and providing the hardware, design engineering, installation supervision, calibration, start-up, commissioning, etc. They also process the knowledge and experience to integrate new equipment into a working system.
Though they do specify hardware, they don't manufacture it. However, they can provide all the services a large manufacturer can provide. A Systems Integrator can provide individual devices or completely engineered systems, from all major equipment manufacturers.
A Systems Integrator will be very objective in supporting their clients needs and is not dependant on any manufacturer or in agreement with any manufacturer to sell or promote the sale their equipment solely. This objectivity is an invaluable asset to their customers plant. Your Systems Integrator will bring together the best instrumentation or mix of controls, which will be guaranteed to be compatible, meet your process control requirements and achieve your economic goals. Like most control systems, your system will be comprised of instrumentation from more than one manufacturer and your Systems Integrator will accept total responsibility, from the sensor to the final control element. There is no finger pointing on their jobs.
A few of the more experienced Systems Integrators can also provide calibration, troubleshooting and maintenance support on all manufacturers equipment, from pneumatics to microprocessor-based controls. These seasoned Systems Integrators and I&C Service companies will understand the complete system and the hardware, as well as the control strategy. A strong knowledge of both components is essential for quality support.
A good integrator or service company will totally understand your process when they are recommending or selling equipment to your plant. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable in assuring you receive the right equipment for the job. Their instrumentation and process savvy enables then to verify that the correct equipment is being ordered.
Systems Integrators and I&C Service companies essentially provide solutions to your control and measurement problems in the form of quality service and/or equipment. Integrators and I&C service companies add value to the equipment they sell.
From several places. They purchase directly from manufacturers, distributors and manufacturers representatives through resell, quantity and OEM agreements.
Regardless of who provides equipment, the manufacturers warranty is always in force. At a minimum, this is usually one year. However, the more experienced Systems Integrators, with field service engineers, will provide on-site warranty, which includes quick replacement, return handling, documentation completion and follow-up to insure proper credit.
In many cases, when service contracts are utilized, extended warranties are provided by the Systems Integrator. Another valuable service that Systems Integrators provide is diagnostic service support 30 days prior to the warranty period ending. This way, potentially problematic equipment is replaced under warranty, providing peace of mind at the start of the non-warranty period.
A manufacturers' representative organization typically consists of sales people representing a number of noncompetitive control equipment companies. In most cases, the sales person is very knowledgeable on their equipment. In all cases, the sales person will seek to sell or provide you with equipment manufactured by companies that they are representing. There is no room for objectivity.
The Systems Integrator, because they are not tied to any manufacturer, will be very objective in recommending equipment and will always choose the best equipment for the job. In emergency situations, the Systems Integrator will have the knowledge and ability to recommend and provide alternate equipment.
There can be potential problems for customers that have several plants over a large geographic area. A manufacturer will assign specific geographic areas to each of their representatives and this becomes their sales territory. Situations can develop where several plants are going to different representatives for the same hardware, creating responsibility issues and confusion. A Systems Integrator can be a single point of contact for all plants, providing tremendous continuity and no duplication of effort.
If the type and model of equipment is known and desired by the customer, the value added services provided by each organization will have to be reviewed and evaluated.
Remember, manufacturers' representatives rarely have service organizations to back up the equipment that they sell. Even if the manufacturer has its own service organization, there is a high probability that their service group will not be able to respond in a timely manner to a plant problem because of their distance from the facility and because manufacturers service groups will not typically support a rep for free. Systems Integrators also expect to be paid for their work, but if they have sold you the equipment there will be a solid responsibility to support you in a less economic driven manner, e.g., warranty, goodwill, reduces rates. In addition, System integrator service rates are typically 20% to 60% less than the manufacturer's rates.
Also, Systems Integrators, because of their troubleshooting, maintenance and repair skills, will be your trusted advisers in providing you with the correct equipment. In many cases, they have been the ones who have fixed your control problems or responded to an emergency in the middle of the night. They also understand the importance of a quick response when you are in trouble with a problem, supporting you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Yes, this type of situation is common and precisely fits another type of support a Systems Integrator can provide. Since the Integrator is not bound to supply a certain manufacturer's equipment, they can secure equipment from anyone who will be correct for the job. Moreover, because the Systems Integrator's organization is comprised of service engineers, their technical expertise is a valuable tool in specifying the correct equipment.
This alternative type of support makes the Systems Integrator's utility very high for your organization. The Systems Integrator can dramatically reduce the amount of time required by your organization to secure equipment. They can be a one stop shop.