What to Look for When Working with a System Integrator or an OEM

13 min read

Industrial automation has become an essential aspect of modern manufacturing and production processes. Whether a company is looking for a System Integrator or a Machine Builder – synonymously called an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) – there are several factors that manufacturers should consider to ensure a successful project outcome.

This post has two parts: if you would like a refresher on whether to work with a System Integrator or a Machine Builder (OEM) for your next project, this article is for you.

“The comprehensive guide on when to work with a system integrator vs. an OEM” helps end users decide when to work with whom for the best results.

Good reputation and track record

Regarding capital investments, an automation partner’s reputation and track record matter. Industrial automation projects require significant time and investments, so having a reliable partner who can provide a long-term partnership is essential. A trusted and respectable company will ensure the end user’s total cost of ownership of the project remains low in years to come.

Website is a good starting point

A professional company realizes the importance of a well-designed website, as it is the first point of contact for potential customers. Understanding how to navigate a website can help end users sort out contenders, thus saving precious time and money. The following four web pages’ transparency and comprehensiveness are good indicators of the company’s credibility.

  • About the company: A comprehensive company information page should include the founding year, biographies of leadership and management, and the company’s core values.
  • Contact us: This contact form should be easy to use. This page also includes a physical address and map of the company’s headquarters or regional offices.
  • Testimonials or case studies: Quality content encapsulating the company’s engineering, project management, and relation-building capabilities. These contents can help end-users evaluate the potential partner’s track records and whether they fit the automation project well.
  • Update frequencies: Regularly updating the website with relevant content shows the company is staying on top of trends and developments in the industry.

Trade shows to assess credibility

Many System Integrators and OEMs/Machine Builders attend industry trade shows to reach potential customers. End users are encouraged to research which shows fit their industry. Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to establish a face-to-face connection with potential partners. In-person conversations will help build mutual trust and understanding.

Industry associations for reference

System Integrators, OEMs/Machine Builders, and component suppliers often join professional associations to showcase engineering expertise and increase networking opportunities. Browsing through these associations can aid end users’ search for potential automation partners. A non-exhaustive list of reputable associations and their focuses is provided below (in alphabetical order).

Association for Advancing Automation (A3): a trade association that represents companies involved in artificial intelligence, robotics, vision, and motion control technologies. Members may include technology (component) providers, System Integrators, and OEMs worldwide. Users can utilize its online search to learn more about each company’s capabilities. Additionally, A3 provides its members with various resources, including certification programs and networking events.

Control System Integrators Association (CSIA): a professional trade association supporting the growth and development of companies specializing in industrial automation and control systems integration. CSIA also offers a rigorous certification process that evaluates a company’s business practices, project management processes, and technical capabilities.

Material Handling Industry Association (MHI): the largest trade association focused on the material handling and logistics industry in the United States, with many system integration and logistic equipment vendors as its members. MHI regularly hosts events, conferences, and training programs to help members stay up to date on the latest industry trends and technologies.

Rockwell Automation: a leading provider of industrial automation solutions with a strong reputation for quality and innovation. Rockwell Automation’s comprehensive and user-friendly database categorizes System Integrators and OEM companies according to their technical capabilities and locales. Its annual trade shows and conferences are one of the sources to learn about cutting-edge industrial automation solutions.

Additionally, industry giants like ABB, Honeywell, and Siemens all have a partner program made of qualified automation companies.

The Association of Manufacturing Technology (AMT): a trade association that represents US-based companies involved in manufacturing technology, including OEMs, System Integrators, technology providers, and more. Alongside its online member directory, the association also offers a range of events and educational resources, including conferences, seminars, and training programs.

Industry-specific associations, such as the Technical Association of the Paper and Pulp Industry (TAPPI) or Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA), are good resources for finding qualified integrators and Machine Builders catered to specific industry needs.

Industry experience and expertise

The demand for industrial automation has increased over the past years thanks to the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies. The global industrial automation market is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over nine percent in the following six years. It’s crucial for manufacturers to partner with a professional company that is experienced and knowledgeable in the industry they operate.

Long company history

Companies with a long history in industrial automation have accumulated knowledge and experience in the field. They can offer some crucial benefits which a new start-up may lack:

  • Proven track record of successful installations: A long establishment can indicate the company has been financially sound through ongoing service contracts and many successful projects. Additionally, a company’s longevity can be directly linked to its ability to adapt to changing market conditions and technologies, which can be a valuable asset in deploying automation projects. Most importantly, a company’s long history can prevent installations from becoming orphaned or abandoned, providing end-users with continuous system support or component upgrades.
  • Experienced in managing complex projects: Whether a project will finish on time and how smoothly the transition will go can be directly attributed to an automation partner’s project management capabilities. Seasoned professionals perform as many off-site tests as possible and plan for unexpected challenges to minimize a plant’s downtime during installation. The difference between shutting the plant down for a week versus a few hours significantly impacts throughput and the bottom line.
  • Solid understanding of technologies used in the past and present: Brownfield projects often require an automation company to understand the legacy technologies used at an end user’s site. A younger company may struggle to find resources to integrate with legacy systems. Companies with a long history will likely have such knowledge, which will help them choose the right technologies or machinery compatible with the client’s current environment.
  • Well-established partnerships with technology suppliers: Some automation companies may opt to use a wide variety of vendors, while some choose to work with a selected few. An ongoing supplier partnership allows automation engineers to gain hands-on experience through repeated system deployments. By fully understanding these components’ capabilities, the engineers can troubleshoot efficiently and effectively without contacting the original supplier, minimizing production downtime.
  • Pre-training before installation: Experienced automation companies understand the importance of pre-training. Many Machine Builders or OEM companies often have a working model of the installation in their plants, providing users or operators training in a controlled environment. A trial or dry run with the machine allows the end users to learn from mistakes, ask questions, or provide feedback before the final installation.  

Reading case studies or solution pages can be an excellent way to understand a potential automation partner’s strength. It is also a good practice to reach out to these featured companies to learn about their past experiences with the System Integrator or OEM company the end user is considering working with.

Team members’ credentials

Industrial automation projects can be complex and require diverse skills and expertise, and having members with the proper credentials can help ensure that the project is completed with professionalism. For example, a Professional Engineer (PE in USA or P.Eng. in Canada) designation is highly regarded in industrial automation projects. PE is a credential awarded to individuals who have passed a rigorous examination in engineering knowledge and have met specific educational and experience requirements. In addition to demonstrating their technical knowledge and skills, PE is expected to adhere to a strict code of ethics, which requires them to act in their client’s best interests and prioritize the public’s “safety, health and welfare” in their work.

Alongside the PE credential, a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®)or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) should guarantee the project’s overall leadership and communication quality. Individuals on the team may also have joined relevant professional associations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), or American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which are all indicators of the team’s qualifications and suitability.

What should the end users be prepared for?

Defining project goal and project scope

An attainable project goal and clear scope help the potential automation partner understand the end user’s requirements, thereby shortening the appraisal/proposal stage. It is worth mentioning that a well-defined project goal also aligns with an end user’s business goal. The end-user also benefits from minimizing unforeseen costs, such as project overtime or scope creep. This article talks in-depth about how to set clear goals that align with the company’s strategic plan. To learn more about managing project scope effectively in an automation project, this article outlines ways to spot and tackle scope creep.

Managing employee impact

Any automation project will likely redesign the manufacturing process and can change plant operators’ daily routines. Fear of responsibilities being displaced or wage premiums diminished can cause employees to resist change and new technologies. Planning and working with change management specialists to address employees’ concerns benefits both parties. Furthermore, training programs that realign employees’ career paths can be offered to ensure they are upskilled to work alongside automation technologies.

Creating a project monitoring plan

A project monitoring plan is crucial for ensuring the success of an automation system. After installation, monitoring the system’s performance makes it possible to identify areas of improvement, detect issues early, such as equipment failure or process inefficiencies, and take corrective action before they impact productivity or quality on a larger scale.

A project monitoring plan also identifies the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to measure the system’s performance. Project managers and plant owners can use these KPIs to evaluate whether the installation is outputting results aligned with the project goal. Additionally, the KPIs should become the basis of data collection and analysis, which should identify any changes (positive or negative) because of the installation. Identifying positive impacts can help optimize the system’s performance over time and enable end users to refine the next project’s goals and scope for a successful deployment.

Understanding the ecosystem

The value chain that sustains the industrial automation ecosystem is comprised of many vendors. There are roughly three parties involved:

  • The component vendors, also called technology partners
  • The integration companies: System Integrators, OEMs, or Machine Builders
  • The end users: the manufacturing companies

Both System Integrators and OEMs source specialized components from technology partners according to the end user’s project needs. Components can range from machine vision cameras, lighting sources, robotic arms, conveyor belts, or HMI displays.

The integration companies wield the responsibility of vendor management, which may include sourcing, vetting, communicating, and collaborating with the technology partners both during and post-system installation. End users should try and direct most communications regarding the system to the integration company that provided the service. The benefit of this working model is threefold for the end users:

  • Single point of contact when a system needs maintenance or repair
  • The integration company may be able to troubleshoot without having to escalate to the component vendor
  • The integration company is best at pinpointing the problem source as an automation system may include many parts and or subsystems that end users are unaware of

Note that this ecosystem benefits from open communication and transparency and is not meant to be rigid. End users and technology partners are still free to establish direct communications in situations where they see fit.

Key Trends in Industrial Automation to Consider

Industrial automation is undergoing rapid changes and advancements, with several key trends emerging in recent years. One of these trends is the rise of Robot as a Service (RaaS) models, which offer companies the ability to lease robotic systems as a flexible and cost-effective alternative to purchasing and maintaining their equipment. Another important trend is integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into automation systems, enabling machines to learn from data and make more intelligent decisions.

Robot as a Service

RaaS builds on the popularity of SaaS (Software as a Service) and offers companies to rent robots by paying a monthly/annual or project-based subscription fee. This business model is especially attractive to small and medium-sized companies as it eliminates the high upfront costs of owning a robot. Since the subscription fees would also cover software (cloud-based) and ongoing maintenance costs, users can benefit from production flexibility, allowing them to scale up and down quickly. However, as with many subscription-based business models, the monthly fees can outweigh owning a robot in the long run. There are also concerns about cybersecurity as RaaS runs on cloud-based software applications. Finally, some users may find their production thwarted or limited as RaaS offerings generally have low customizability.

Artificial intelligence

It is worth noting that the “artificial intelligence” referred to in this article and many daily conversations is narrow AI (weak AI). Narrow AI is not sentient nor self-thinking and does not have self-awareness. This kind of AI is designed and used to solve a single task, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Apple’s Siri, or search engines. Conversely, General AI (Strong AI) is the all-knowing “personal assistant” often portrayed in movies and pop culture (think about R2-D2 or JARVIS).

Machine learning and deep learning are subsets of Narrow AI and have already been used to revolutionize many manufacturing processes. Machine learning allows machines to learn from data and improve their performance without being explicitly programmed. In other words, machine learning algorithms can analyze large datasets and identify patterns, trends, and relationships that humans might not be able to see. In industrial automation, machine learning is used in predictive maintenance and process optimization applications, helping organizations make better decisions, automate processes, and improve efficiency.

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning that involves training artificial neural networks to learn and recognize patterns. It is superior in processing images and videos as it uses multiple interconnected layers of neurons to break down complex patterns. The most used model is the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), which uses mathematical functions to learn and classify spatial hierarchies of features from input data. Deep learning has been used with machine vision data to recognize and categorize objects on a conveyor belt. Thanks to the ever-growing computing power, deep learning has become a powerful tool for solving complex problems.

Data ethics and bias in AI

AI models rely on analyzing a large set of data for accurate predictions. While the laws governing AI are still in their infancy, it is a good practice for end users and automation partners to be transparent about data collection and usage. End users should be able to opt out if desired. Additionally, though powerful, AI is essentially based on historical data. There can be biases inherent in the datasets, so trained personnel should still monitor and evaluate the outputs. End users are encouraged to discuss AI usage with their automation partners and establish adequate data management protocols.


System integrators and OEM companies are crucial strategic partners for manufacturers looking to launch greenfield or brownfield projects. Both system integrators and OEMs are experts in designing and implementing automation systems with varying degrees of customization. They also have the advantage over in-house automation teams in bringing best practices from other industries. 

This article provides guidance for end users (manufacturers) to vet potential automation partners. A partnership with an automation company should be considered as a long-term decision. Companies with a good reputation, track record, and industry expertise ensure that projects are continuously maintained. Additional preparations for end users include setting clear project goals and scope and having plans to manage employee impact and monitor the project. Most importantly, understanding that end users, automation companies, and technology providers form a unique ecosystem, with each party shouldering a particular set of responsibilities, can ensure all parties’ needs are met in the long run.

Finally, automation is no longer limited to big companies. RaaS has made it possible for smaller firms to lease robots. Integrating AI in industrial applications has been on the rise. End users should explore these options.

This post has two parts: if you would like a refresher on whether to work with a System Integrator or a Machine Builder (OEM) for your next project, this article is for you.

“The comprehensive guide on when to work with a system integrator vs. an OEM” helps end users decide when to work with whom for the best results.

About The Author - Terry Hermary

Co-founder of Hermary.

Terry is the customer-facing machine vision expert at Hermary with over 30 years of experience. With a background in electrical engineering, he specializes in developing 3D vision applications with system integrators and machine builders. He is passionate about solving unique automation challenges using 3D vision technologies. Over the past three decades, Terry and his team have established Hermary as the leading innovative 3D machine vision provider, revolutionizing industries from sawmilling to meat processing.


  • Co-founded Hermary Machine Vision in 1991
  • Patent holder of many 3D machine vision inventions