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Palletizing Robot for Distribution Center Automation

Choosing Between a Robotics Integrator or Manufacturer

Jason Nowak | 13 June 2011

I've been in the industrial robotics industry for nearly a decade and during my career, I've had the opportunity to work for both integrators and for a manufacturer of industrial robotic arms.  One of the questions that I've had many clients ask me over the years is whether they should buy a robotic solution directly from the manufacturer or from an integrator. Of course, there is no easy way to answer such a question, so when I come across that type of situation, I like to look at both the pros and cons to make a final decision.  So let me throw out some of the big ones and you can decide for yourself.

Pros of using an integrator:

  • Experience - Most robotic integrators are not jack-of-all trades.  They usually specialize in one or a few areas of expertise and become the experts in those areas.
  • Depth - Since integrators aren't tied to any particular robotic manufacturer, they are able to help you select the best product mix for your application.  Whether you need palletizing robots, machine tending robots, or a custom End of Arm Tool (EoAT), an integrator can provide you with the best combination of equipment to fit your application and budget.
  • Partnerships - Many integrators have one or more preferred vendors in each product category, so they will get volume pricing discounts. Plus, they have alternative vendors to choose from should problems arise (i.e. long lead times).
  • Support - Larger integrators have professional support and sales people in your local area.  Some even have regional offices that can handle simple problems, and bigger problems are usually taken care of within a day or so.
  • Training - As part of buying a robotic solution, there is usually some amount of customer training that goes along with operating the system.  Since nearly every system is somewhat different, receiving training on how to use it from the people who put it together is very beneficial.

Pros of buying direct from the robot manufacturer:

  • Single source support - Some people like the idea of dealing with one company--the robot manufacturer (i.e. ABB, Fanuc, or KUKA).  They feel that if something goes wrong, they won't have a bunch of vendors pointing fingers at each other.
  • Large company - Most robot manufacturers are large companies or divisions of larger parent companies.  For some, working with larger companies provides peace of mind in knowing that company will be around for years to come.
  • Multi-faceted - If you have multiple automation projects you're trying to tackle, such as material handling and welding, you might be able to find a manufacturer that has standard solutions for both, which reduces the need to bring in additional companies.
  • Standardization - Although standardization doesn't always offer the best solution or cheapest price, it can cut down on the number of support personnel and training you have to do for your people.

The Bottom Line:

As you can see, there are many different situations to consider when deciding between a robotics integrator or manufacturer.  There is everything from support, to training, to the projects you will be trying to automate.  It has been my experience that companies who have the most success at industrial automation, standardize on one brand of robot, and they get their solutions from large companies that have extensive experience with the project they are working on.  It is also important that whatever company you choose, whether integrator or manufacturer, they should offer you support every step of the way.

How about you?  What have your experiences been with this topic?  Did you go with an integrator or manufacturer?  How did it work out for you?  What went well?  What do you wish you had done differently?

Author: Jason Nowak

Jason is a Bastian Solutions Senior Consultant based out of St. Louis, Missouri.  He has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Missouri S&T and an MBA from St. Louis University.  Jason has been providing manufacturing and distribution design and integration leadership across various industries for Bastian Solutions’ clients for over 15 years, helping clients develop strategic initiatives and lead successful system implementations.    

Comments

Terry B. says:
8/28/2018 10:08 AM

Nice article Chris. Gives me a lot to think about when I'm buying my next set of robots here in Cleveland, OH.

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