Panel Builder System Integrator

PB 27 JAE logo 400July 20, 2020

Eric Martin C.E.T., JAE Automation

The debate over whether to design a custom solution or purchase a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) product stretches back decades. And it’s not limited to the manufacturing sector. Across industries, the pendulum constantly swings from one side to another as companies seek out advantages and evaluate which approach is best suited for their business.

However, when it comes to automation technology, the answer, like many things in life, depends on the situation.

Each approach offers its own advantages and disadvantages, and the one that is best will depend on your unique requirements, specifications, and business strategy.

Understanding three approaches to automation technology

There are three distinct approaches that manufacturers can follow when implementing automation technology. The first is to purchase a COTS solution and install it as is, or with some light configuration and setup.

This approach works well if there is an existing solution in the market that meets your requirements. It’s often faster and more cost-effective to use an existing product, and it’s less risky as it’s already been proven in other manufacturing environments.

A stretch wrapper is a good example of a COTS solution. Stretch wrapping is fairly standardized and there are many vendors available, so choosing an off-the-shelf machine is likely appropriate in most cases.

That said, COTS solutions lack the flexibility, adaptability, and customization required for many of the more complex, unique, and emerging manufacturing processes. In these cases, a custom solution may be the best approach.

When designing and building a custom automation solution, manufacturers must factor in the additional time, budget, and uncertainty that comes with creating something from the ground up. Cost and schedule are less predictable, and there is a risk that the solution doesn’t work the first time.

But by going through the design process, manufacturers get a solution that meets their exact needs, specifications, and functionality. It’s possible to design entirely new ways of doing things and ensure that the new system fully integrates with both existing and future equipment.

And because the design company is less interested in commercializing the solution, in many cases manufacturers own the intellectual property. This is a significant advantage over a COTS solution if your process is proprietary and provides a competitive advantage.

Finally, it does not have to be an either/or decision. A hybrid approach that leverages off-the-shelf components or machines in a custom design may make the most sense. This allows companies to benefit from existing, proven, technology in a way that best aligns with their facility, process, and flow.

For example, an off-the-shelf box taper could be placed at the end of a custom conveyor system before the cases are put onto a pallet, stretch wrapped, and brought to the warehouse. From there, a fully integrated warehouse management software can track the location, batch number, and other relevant product information and send it to the company’s ERP system. This demonstrates how off-the-shelf components can be used in a custom system.

Asking the right questions when evaluating the right approach

There are a few basic questions you need to ask before diving in and making a decision.

What is our strategy and how will our facility look in the future?

Your strategy determines everything. From the requirements and specifications of your current project to the long-term direction of your manufacturing process and technology, a clear understanding of your strategy is critical before making any investment in automation. Together with your team identify why you’re investing in a new solution, what outcomes you expect to achieve, and how the change to your process will impact the rest of your facility.

Does a suitable COTS solution exist?

Once you’ve laid out your requirements and know how the new solution fits into your factory, you can determine if a suitable solution exists in the market. Knowing your requirements also allows you to accurately evaluate trade offs by making it clear what is a necessity and what could be left off if required.

Do we have budget and schedule flexibility?

As mentioned, a COTS approach offers more cost and schedule certainty, at least at the time of purchase. A custom solution, on the other hand, requires time and budget for design, building, testing, and implementation.

However, it’s also important to think about the total cost of ownership over the life of the equipment. Do you have the knowledge and expertise to configure an off-the-shelf solution, and what are the maintenance and repair requirements? What are the opportunity costs of implementing a solution that doesn’t quite meet your specifications, and would a custom solution generate a better return overall? These types of questions require a strong understanding of the true costs of your facility and of the competencies and skills of your team.

How does this integrate with existing and future systems?

Regardless of which approach you choose, the ability to integrate and communicate with existing and future systems should be a critical requirement of any solution. Some vendors have closed, proprietary systems that lock you in to their products, while others use open standards but require intensive integration effort on the part of the manufacturer. By considering not just what you have today, but also what you expect to implement going forward, you’ll be able to future-proof your new solution.

Choose the best approach for your unique situation

Some small and medium manufacturers are hesitant when it comes to custom automation design because they feel as though it’s only available to larger companies. However, a custom approach is well-suited to small and medium companies if it’s in line with the overall strategy and it addresses a specific business challenge.

With small changes, manufacturers can generate big returns and position themselves for future investments. By working with a trusted automation design partner, you’ll be able to identify which approach will generate the best return while helping you make things better.


Changing Scene

  • Prev
Attend this webinar to solve your automation challenges and become more productive.   ...
Safety, efficiency, and smart design are essential when designing panels and systems.   ...
Eclipse Automation had the pleasure to host Premiere Doug Ford, Minister Victor Fedeli, and caucus ...
The HARTING Technology Group continues to briskly advance the pace of digital transformation. “The ...
Spartan Controls and AltaML are pleased to announce they have entered into a formal partnership and ...
Omron Automation, a leading provider of industrial automation solutions, congratulates Taylor Fluid ...
On July 15, EPLAN Canada will host an Added Value Webinar focused on routing, wiring and production ...
Eramosa, a North American provider of SCADA, network, cybersecurity, operational technology, and ...

RS Components Launches New Season of the DesignSpark Podcast Tackling Technology With a Comedy Twist

RS Components DesignSpark PodcastRS Components (RS), a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions, has released a new series of its popular ‘DesignSpark Podcast’ which explores some of the hottest topics in technology through a mix of fun facts, exuberant stand-up, outlandish sketches and foot-tapping songs. The podcast offers educational information on each technology topic, with an entertaining comedy angle.

The new weekly podcast is co-hosted by technology expert Professor Lucy Rogers PhD – former judge on BBC’s Robot Wars and a DesignSpark blogger – alongside award-winning comedians Bec Hill and Harriet Braine.

Read More



JMP Solutions and Control Station Announce Exclusive Collaboration Focused on Optimizing Manufacturing Output and Efficiency

JMP SolutionsJMP Solutions and Control Station are joining forces to provide process and control loop audit services for manufacturing environments in order to identify and optimize problematic and underperforming control loops. The partnership leverages the complementary skillsets of JMP’s expert process engineering and project management competency combined with Control Station’s proprietary process analytics platform which, will work in synergy to identify and correct PID loop related sources of inefficiency and sub-optimal performance.

Read More



Proax Is Now a Distributor of HIWIN

PB-34-Proax-HIWINLogo-400.jpgProax are pleased to announce that they are now a distributor of the HIWIN product line, a leader in motion control and system technology. Their product offer includes linear guideways, ballscrews, actuators, linear motors, torque motors & rotary tables, crossed roller bearings and more. This addition comes in line with the enhanced mechanical team and product offering announced last year by Proax. This newly added line will be available to all Proax's clients throughout Canada since this is going to be implemented on a national level.

Read More

Cybersecurity and Manufacturing – Keeping Critical Information Safe From Attackers

JAE AutomationWe all know that we’re supposed to back up our data and secure our devices against attack. But too often we put it off until it’s too late. We’re busy, and we’ll get to it another day. And then, one day, we turn on our device, look for a file, and realize something is wrong. We’ve been hacked.

The thought of losing our files, pictures, and data is scary. Scale that up to an entire company and the consequences can be severe. Think about the amount of critical and sensitive information the typical manufacturing facility has access to. Sensitive customer records, design and engineering data, intellectual property, and industrial control systems for high risk manufacturing processes – there’s a lot to lose. 

Read More



Phoenix Contact Control Cabinet Classroom Ep. 6: How to Determine Supplementary vs. Branch Circuit Breakers

Phoenix Contact Control CabinetSometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between types of circuit breakers, especially since in appearance they look so similar. In this episode, the focus will be on the differences between two types of circuit breakers: Branch and Supplementary.

In the Control Cabinet Classroom video series, Phoenix Contact Product Specialists Zach and Karen break down some of the basics of control cabinet design, terminology and technology to be able to better understand and utilize this powerful solution.



Read More

Product News

  • Prev
The NaviTEK IE is a tester for commissioning, preventative maintenance, and ...
R. STAHL is authorized to certify customer-specific systems for installation in hazardous ...
Maplesoft™ announced the release of MapleSim™ Insight, a new software product from Maplesoft that ...
Yokogawa Electric Corporation announces the release of new pressure and temperature sensors for the ...
Branson™ GL-300 platform increases production capability and enables faster production start-up. ...
Omron Automation Americas launches the heavy-duty HD-1500 mobile robot with an exceptionally large ...
The superior safety of Eaton’s Arrow Hart ultra grip locking devices has been enhanced with colour ...
IDEAL Safe-T-Grip® Fuse Pullers are made of molded, tough, high-impact nylon for greater strength ...
As summer heats up Rittal will be announcing two new updated LCP product lines.     ...
As of April 1, Rittal has changed the portfolio of signal pillars to the latest LED technology. ...
Kerrwil Publications Great Place to Work. Certified December 2019 - December 2020

538 Elizabeth Street, Midland,Ontario, Canada L4R2A3 +1 705 527 7666
©2020 All rights reserved

Use of this Site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy Policy (effective 1.1.2016)
The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Kerrwil