Episode #31: Can I Mix And Match Products From Different Suppliers?

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The Motion Control Show

I recently read an article in a top trade magazine and they had a podcast as well about which is better: getting your motors and drives from one manufacturer or getting the best of the breed from multiple manufacturers.  Unfortunately, I really felt that they left a lot out and used a lot of marketing speak.  As a career Application Engineer, I really have developed a lot of insight into this question, as my team and I have to face it on a regular basis as we're coming up with the best solutions for our customers.  I'm Corey Foster at Valin Corporation, let's see what we can learn.

First off, a supplier isn't just a manufacturer; this is your distributor, too.  We'll use the terms “manufacturer” and “distributor” and for “supplier” and “source”, this will be some combination of the two.  If a manufacturer answers this question, they're only thinking of their products.  When a distributor answers this, they're going to think about all the products that they know.  Now, we distributors start with the products we know and that we use all the time, but we can and will include other products out of our normal portfolio, but only if we have confidence in them and confidence that they're going to work with the products that we want to use them with.  We don't want to get into hot water any more than you do, but we do have a lot more experience, usually, to know when we're walking on thin ice and when we aren't.  Episode 1 will give you a lot more insight into this.

By working with a knowledgeable distributor like ourselves in pulling together a solution, you can balance between using the best-of-the-breed products or products from one supplier.  And you can mix and match the best of the breeds because we know the technologies and the pros and cons, and we're going to be the ones that are supporting you.  That all being said, we also try to stick to one manufacturer at a time when we can.  There's really one main reason: it is because of the relative guarantee that they are going to work together.  We hate also having two manufacturers point at each other if there's a problem.  But when you have a knowledgeable distributor working on your behalf, we're the ones that are going to have to deal with that, not you.

I had an incident not that long ago where I had an infrared thermal sensing device that had a standard thermocouple output, and I was trying to use it with some electronics that had a standard thermocouple input.  Wouldn't you know it?  They wouldn't work together!  Two different manufacturers both said that they were standard.  I was able to get the thermal imaging device working with another PLC; it was no problem.  But, these two wouldn't work together.  And, you know, this was one of the most basic things that you thought would work together and it didn't.  So, whenever we're using different manufacturers, we really have to do our due diligence to make sure that they do work together because we get caught off guard by things all the time that you wouldn't think that we would get caught off guard by.

There are often times, though, where you have to use products from multiple manufacturers, and what I call the Building Blocks of Automation.  You can see more about that in Episode 2.  Unfortunately, there can be a lot of compatibility issues between them, so it really isn't usually worth the hassle if you can avoid it.  But if you can't, there are some things to consider.  What's worth more to you, your time or your money?  Roughly speaking, you're either going to spend your money or your time: your money, if you're paying for somebody else's time, or your time in doing that same work.  The variables can make one or the other more important to you.  The products that are designed to work together will work together more easily, but perhaps you can save a few dollars in hardware if you don't mind spending the time to make them work together and troubleshoot any problems that you have.  But then, you have to ask yourself whether that time is important and that delay in your project.  Maybe you're going to amortize the cost of the time over thousands of systems, and then it's absolutely going to be worth it.

Here are a few good reasons to look at using different products from different manufacturers:
  • Specialty products (i.e. motors used in hazardous locations)
  • Cost (if that cost is significant)

Here a few good reasons to not use different sources:
  • Guaranteed performance
  • Single source support
Those are two very important pieces not to overlook.

In future episodes, I'm going to be discussing many factors like types of motors, commutation, communication protocols that come into play in figuring out whether two products will work together or not.  If you don't know, you could end up trying to push a train underwater with a VW bug that has square wheels, and that doesn't sound like fun.  If you need any help, reach out to us at Valin.com or send an email here to this email.

I'm Corey Foster at Valin Corporation.  I hope this helps.

If you have any questions or are just looking for some help, we're happy to discuss your application with you.  Reach out to us at (855) 737-4716 or fill out our online form.