Choosing a robot integrator is like choosing a business partner. You must find one with the capabilities you need to be successful; one who understands your business and your integration goals. A successful robotic integration project rests on the ability of your partner to build a system that is customized to your needs, builds on a concept that is functional, and achieves your time and budget requirements. Finally, your robotics partner must be available before and after the sale to assist your company with automation support and guidance. Perhaps the best way to get started is with the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) list of certified robotic integrators.
Robot System integrators are not experts in every application. They will specialize in a select few. Most applications are very process intensive. Find an integrator with a track record of successful applications like yours. Do not overlook tooling experience. End of Arm Tooling gives your system functionality. A good integrator will understand the functional requirements of the tool and guide the toolmaker on design, payload, moment of inertia, and process requirements. Make sure your integrator designs and builds in-house. You don’t want a middleman.
Robotics is not a one size fits all. Make sure your integrator can customize the new system to your needs and your existing equipment. Customized integration is a skill that combines engineering with creative thinking.
Consider the concept of the system closely. You want to make sure that the process is balanced and that you are not creating one issue by solving another. How is the integrator utilizing the features and technology within the system? Are you able to shrink the footprint of the cell or take advantage of a collaborative application by utilizing Functional Safety? Is the integrator rehashing something that was done once 20 years ago without taking advantage of today’s technology? A good integrator is a creative problem solver.
Make sure the true cost of your robotic system is clear in the proposal. Find out what the actual deliverables are so you can compare proposals more effectively. Understand the payment terms for the system. An integrator might charge 30% down with the order and then a milestone payment when the system engineering is approved. And then other payments along the way. Discuss how the integrator handles engineering change orders.
Lead times to delivery fluctuate. Can the integrator deliver your system within your required timeframe? Make sure the integrator you choose is not back-logged with other customer orders.
In 2012 the RIA rolled out a Certified Robot Integrator Program in response to the needs of the industry. It is a benchmark for evaluating technical and robot safety as well as the overall business practices of integrators. The certification involves a rigorous process that includes an onsite audit, practical assessment of key personnel, safety training, etc. Ask your integrators if they are certified or working toward certification. Contact the robot manufacturer and ask if the integrator is part of their partner program and in good standing with the robot manufacturer. RIA Certified Integrator Program
Contact after the sale
Industrial Robotics is not an exact science. At its best, system integration is the result of intelligent design and engineering. Your system may need programming touch-up or new tooling after the sale. Down the road, you will need spare parts and technical support. Choose an integrator with a trained support staff that provides support before and after the sale.