Experience is important. Experience ensures the right technology is applied in the right way. But how do you measure experience and what experience is important? No one says “This is completely new to us, but please give us a chance to learn on your dime.” On the flipside, you also want an integrator that isn’t afraid of some healthy stretching. Too many times I’ve seen integrators who are afraid to step outside of their comfort zone and continue to implement antiquated technologies that sacrifice the final system’s performance, and maintainability.
Experience falls into two categories:
The integrator may not have solved your exact problem before, but you want to see examples (and references) of how they’ve applied their core technologies in new and innovative ways. You want to see solutions that were innovative and cutting edge, while still being maintainable by an electrician or millwright at 2:00 AM (no science fair projects). They may not have solved your exact application before, but if they’ve stretched to solve other problems of similar complexity, then it shows a track record of success. You can gauge your application’s relative difficulty to what they’ve done. Talk to their references to make sure it is real.
Technology only gets you so far. The integrator needs to have application experience in your industry to put together a complete solution. Integration is about applying technology to solve a business problem. If an integrator doesn’t understand your business and its key drivers, how can they apply the technology correctly? If you’re looking to automate raw food handling, don’t use an integrator that specializes in robotic welding and expect it to be designed to the AMI Meat Safety Standards. I’m surprised how often this happens. Ask the integrator to show you completed projects within your industry. Ask them about key drivers for your industry (product quality, sanitary design, washdown, heat transfer/high temperature, validation, documentation, etc.). If they don’t know this stuff for your industry, that’s a big red flag.
Finally, I’ll bring it back to my #10 sign an integrator is the real deal. Ask them where they don’t fit. What technologies, applications and industries are outside their wheelhouse? Anyone who claims to do everything, is really a generalist that is great at nothing.