Episode #1: What Is An Industrial Automation Distributor?

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The Motion Control Show

You've been asked to put together a custom precision gantry system or some industrial automation mechanical motion control system and you probably have no idea where to start because there's so much to do and so much information out there.  Let me help you narrow it all down a little bit and explain the differences between industrial automation manufacturers, distributors and integrators.  

First of all, knowing who and what your resources are, what kind of companies, what kind of people and what their knowledge bases are, will really help so you know what kind of resources you need and what kind of companies you can reach out to.  Knowing your scope of work is really important to understand, what you are wanting to do on this yourself versus what you are wanting to have somebody else do.  Using a variety of graphics (see video) that I like to use, I explain the difference between manufacturers, distributors, value-add distributors and integrators.  I also point out there is a difference between component or product integration and system integration.  

At the product level, you may be dealing with manufacturers’ representatives whether they are working directly for the manufacturer or are an independent company.  But, when you start working with multiple manufacturers on the same project, the value of distributors really becomes apparent as they know how to bring multiple products together.  When you start talking about the whole project including project management, programming, installation and commissioning, that is where integrators really come in.  

Looking at yet another graphic I like to use, we can appreciate that manufacturers have a deep knowledge of their products where integrators have to have a broader knowledge of products and technologies.  The distributors typically find themselves somewhere in the middle as shown.

Let’s look at an example.  Say you have a custom gantry that you need to put together.  Maybe it looks like this with an X-axis, X’-axis, Y-axis, Z-axis and Theta-axis.  Perhaps you just want to deal with it on the product level.  You’ll be tempted to just work with manufacturers, which is fine.  In the end, they aren’t the greatest and dealing with a lot of different customers and providing that local knowledge, but you may start there.  But, let's say you're talking to a manufacturer directly for the mechanics, but then you have to talk to a different manufacturer for the motors.  Then perhaps yet another manufacturer for the Theta-axis.  You’ll find talking to multiple manufacturers is cumbersome and that is really where the distributors can show their value with their applied knowledge of bringing it all together.  They may know all the products you need for the mechanics, motors and Theta-axis.  The next step is to think about who is going to bring all the products together.  That is really component or product integration depending upon how complicated the mechanical part of it is.  But, then the integrators really come into play with the software and managing the whole thing.  The programming makes a huge difference. 

You can see how, depending on what you want to do yourself versus outsourcing, you're going to be using different external resources.   Hopefully this helps you and gives you a good head start in knowing what sort of companies you want to reach out to for help, whether it be a manufacturer, a distributor, or an integrator.

Contact Valin today for more information at (855) 737-4716, or fill out our online form.