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Who should spec an automation platform?:Sept.4, 2008

Editor's note: Several weeks ago in this newsletter, I published some thoughts on whether it's best for packaging machinery builders or their end-user customers to decide which controls platform should be controlling a packaging machine. I also asked readers for their thoughts on this subject and have published a few of their comments. Here's the last I'll have room for. It comes from Edwin H. Zimmerman, director of Technical Operations at The Apex Companies.

Your July 2 column broached an issue that we encounter frequently. We are a full-service design/build/integrate supplier of special automation equipment, not only packaging machinery.

Our smallest customers, who are typically packaged goods companies, and those still at the entry level in the world of automation, usually agree to whatever controls platform we prefer to use for their application. Our defacto standard is controls technology from Supplier A, so that is what they get—as long as the controls components support the process complexity and the memory requirements. Our larger customers, and those who have established their own internal standards, want what they want when it comes to controls components, and that usually means what has been used in their plants for a long time, whether it still makes sense or not. Their standard may well be controls components that have been surpassed as a result of developments by other controls components suppliers. But standards can be slow to change in a long-established company.

Sure, we'd rather use our standard instead of having to learn all the other platforms out there. But standardization by our customers is more advantageous to them than if they accepted whatever we and their other machinery suppliers want to use. Without standards, our customers would be saddled with a myriad of brands and types of controls platforms—a potentially expensive proposition.

I certainly have not done a scientific study on comparing internal standardization of controls platforms with relying on whatever the equipment OEM prefers to use. But my experience tells me that, if I'm a buyer of automated equipment that comes from a range of suppliers, standardization of controls wins hands down.

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