Service offerings expand from automation distributors

06/22/2013


Automation distributor types: Logistics vs. projects

Frank Hurtte

Some distributors specialize in making the transaction easier; others have a more hands-on approach to selling. Courtesy: River Heights Consulting, Control EngineeringWhat we have observed is an evolutionary split in distributor services. One type of distributor became an expert in the logistics of the moving parts and providing just what the customer wants without heavy investment in technical services. These distributors provide the same products but work to make the transaction side of buying easier. They have invested in websites, automated part number selection schemes, and industrial vending machines (over 21,000 installed in 2012). Examples include Grainger, MSC, Fastenal, and AutomationDirect. They have no local level expertise (except phone support) and depend on customers knowing precisely what they want and offering a lower price point for the product.

The other branch of the distributor evolution contains distributors who have opted for a more hands-on selling approach. They are serving customers by assisting in selection of products, maintaining the products, and pushing forward—things like drive start-ups, programming assistance, architecture layout, troubleshooting, and in some instances, project work.

These distributors have developed services like training, control architecture design, and communications layouts, which often exceed others in the market. Why? They are forced to learn about new technologies ahead of engineering firms and systems integrators because they play the role of trainers to that group as well.

Further, distributors often find themselves on the front lines of “proving things work.” A customer calls and says, “the DeviceNet connection doesn’t work like you promised.” The distributor then goes out and troubleshoots to prove the system works, often discovering undocumented issues along the way.

- Frank Hurtte is the founder of distributor River Heights Consulting. www.riverheightsconsulting.com  

Integrators and distributors can work together

The number of distributors getting into the system integration business has been on the rise in recent years, as indicated by the percentage of system integrators that also offer distribution services. Courtesy: Control Engineering Automation Integrator G

Todd Carswell

Maintaining a good relationship with our main distributor has been an integral part of our success. Twenty years ago we looked to our distributors to carry a parts inventory and that was all. Because of this attitude, a lot of big distributors (and even some smaller ones) in the 1990s moved to centralized warehouses with very little inventory at the local level. In some cases, they closed down their supply house and opened a sales office only. Some went so far as to cut back on their technical staff as well, relying on the manufacturers to supply technical support.

Today, some of the distributors still have this mind-set. Ours has gone the other direction, and because of this, they receive the bulk of our electrical purchases. On the inventory side, they’ve not only raised their inventory levels at the supply house to meet our demands, they also manage and run our inventory here. This saves a tremendous amount of time on our side.

We also look to them for our technical needs. The local branch has specialists for variable frequency drives (VFDs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and other areas. These people spend a lot of time helping with design questions and service questions and setting up training sessions, at their shops and at ours.

- Todd Carswell is vice president of technical services at system integrator Vecoplan LLC. www.vecoplanllc.com 

Automation distributor services

Distributors can offer a range of assistance from traditional logistics through integrated services. Courtesy: River Heights Consulting, Control Engineering

The services provided by modern automation distributors can be arranged in a hierarchy where each level builds on the levels below. Higher levels also involve more technical skills and greater involvement with a client’s automation projects.

1. No fee-based services. Customer technical needs other than manuals and front line questions are pushed to manufacturers.

2. Limited fee-based services, typically centered on classroom training and custom modifications of product

3. Classroom training, one-on-one engineering assistance, drive start-up, system wide layouts

4. Training, troubleshooting, start-up, and product specific programming; piecemeal project integration

5. Training, troubleshooting, start-ups, complete project integration.

Key concepts

  • Distributors can go beyond offering the latest technologies to provide buying, installation, start-up, and other services.
  • Automation distributor services build on each other
  • Integrators and distributors can work together 

Consider this

Are you getting what you need from your distributors? If not, why not?


<< First < Previous 1 2 Next > Last >>

Anonymous , 01/28/14 11:47 AM:

In our case the distributors competes directly with us to the common customer and using a competitor to build the panels, and yet has knowledge of our cost thus having the advantage.
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.