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Main Automation Contractor and the Future of Manufacturing

A new level of partnership between manufacturers and automation solution providers aims to fill the engineering skills gap.

One thing is certain, the world of automation moves at a dizzying speed.

The evolution of technologies like laser scanning, laser welding and non-contact encoders has been remarkable. Where will 3D printing take us? How will graphene impact the products we use? While technology promises to continue to evolve quickly, what can’t be said with any certainty is what the automation world will look like in 10, or even five, years from now.

Couple this with the fact that many manufacturers have reduced engineering staff in an effort to run leaner and it begs the question: How will manufacturers capitalize on what automation has, and will continue, to offer?

As manufacturers have cut engineering staff, automation solution providers have continued to up their game—specifically to fill the gap created by fewer staff engineering resources at their clients’ sites. This shift has resulted in the emergence of many world-class engineering companies focused on the automation space, as evidenced by the continued growth and interest in the Control System Integrators Association. The CSIA is a global, not-for-profit trade organization that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration and promote best practices.

As manufacturers have cut engineering staff, automation solution providers have continued to up their game to fill the gap created by fewer staff engineering resources at client sites.

This shift has also led to a new level of partnership between automation solution provider and manufacturer, one we call “Main Automation Contractor (MAC).” With the appearance of the “Main Automation Contractor” role in automation projects, there has been a move away from the traditional client/vendor relationship where everything is looked at on a project-to-project basis. Now it is more common to have automation solution providers at the planning table, helping define and implement an automation roadmap and often looking forward as much as five years.

In essence, the MAC works side-by-side with the client to understand their business drivers and unique manufacturing processes and brings the automation expertise to the table. The commitment made by the MAC is to stay current on technology developments and maintain a focus on emerging technologies their client could benefit from. In this fashion, the MAC is acting as the controls and automation engineering arm of the manufacturer.

The value of having a MAC involved in the planning process is in defining standards that best fit the manufacturer and support their business needs. These include, but do not need to be limited to: network architecture, data access, reporting, hardware, programming methods, and human-machine interface (HMI) look/feel standards.

MACs also serve a vital role in project implementation by ensuring adherence to standards throughout the design phase and working with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to drive the standards in the systems they provide.

This type of standards adherence offers significant advantages from a total cost of ownership standpoint as well as in positioning the manufacturer to take advantage of automation technologies as they emerge. We can’t fully predict where automation technology will be in 10 years, but manufacturers can ensure they are the best positioned to take advantage of what comes next by working with a MAC.

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