System integrators offer a broad range of material handling equipment and system design, installation, and integration services for a multitude of projects. These include retrofits, expansions, upgrades, and more. But, because not every company has the means to routinely undertake a greenfield facility project, its internal operations and project managers may be less familiar with how to successfully partner with a third-party system integrator when developing a new parcel sortation, fulfillment, or distribution center from the ground up.
In this post, I’d like to share a few best practices for how to best leverage a system integrator’s expertise to ensure the smoothest, most successful project – from initial concept to final commissioning.
First, let’s discuss what system integrators offer. A system integrator’s objective is to help its customers solve complex distribution or operation challenges. This is achieved with an optimized system design that ultimately delivers a competitive advantage. To do this successfully, the integrator takes a holistic view of the customer’s supply chain by ideally utilizing a data-driven approach. This is of particular importance when creating a greenfield design for a new facility in order to achieve the defined project objectives.
A typical engagement begins with both a distribution strategy assessment and an operational assessment and results in one (or more) high-level operational designs, each with a business case proposal. Further evaluation and discussion between the customer and the system integrator of the options and their pros and cons lead to a final approved design that best matches the customer’s stated objectives. Those might include improved customer service, reduced inventory, shortened delivery time, and/or lower overall handling costs.
Once a design is selected, the system integrator will develop a more detailed and refined plan, ideally vetted by design engineers who ensure that all the material handling equipment in a facility-whether manual, semi-automated or automated-works together as a unified, integrated system. In addition to engineering, the optimal systems integration partner will also provide complete documentation, equipment purchase (including hardware and software), installation, testing, commissioning, and support.
Working with a System Integrator on a Greenfield Project
Partnership is the key to working successfully with a system integrator. The more data provided to the integrator in advance of the design development process, the better the overall solution. Today’s parcel sortation, fulfillment, and distribution centers require data-driven systems that provide management with critical information to optimize DC operations. In order to develop the optimal solution, system integrators need as much information as possible from customers.
For companies not sure where to source this information, the first place to start is with an existing enterprise resource management (ERP), warehouse management software (WMS), or other inventory or order management system. The majority of these systems can generate lots of data that the system integrator can use to understand current operations better. This information, along with future requirements (usually based on sales forecast), allows the system integrator’s design and engineering team to develop alternative solutions with associated business cases.
The partnership shouldn’t stop at just providing data. The ideal system integrator will invest the time and resources to understand each customer’s unique challenges, exchange ideas, and identify risks to ensure the best possible solution. To further maximize the value of a system integrator, customers should involve them with their real estate team, general contractors, software and systems personnel, and internal project managers. This allows the joint project team to work together to meet deadlines and reduce costs.
Correspondingly, the system integrator will appoint an internal project manager to act as the point of contact from conception to completion of each project. They will also take responsibility for hiring specialized companies to provide installation labor, freight, and services necessary for the construction and installation of the project.
Upon approval of the project design, the system integrator will develop a project timeline that includes steps and services tailored to the customer’s unique needs. A typical engagement might include all (or some) of the following steps and deliverables:
- Planning Kick-off: Data exchange to include details about current and forecast inventory, volumes, throughput, dimensions, orders, and more
- Operations Review: Decision drivers, material flow diagrams (MFDs), future expectations
- Concept Layout and Review: Square footage requirements, block diagrams, high-level presentation materials
- Description of Operation: Labor estimates, summary of processes, throughput, etc.
- Investment and Business Case Development: Material handling equipment and system cost estimates, detailed equipment listing, auxiliary equipment requirements
- Implementation Roadmap: Scope, schedule, and budget with executive summary and recommendations
- Implementation: Installation, testing, commissioning, and turnover
In addition to establishing a strong, collaborative partnership, both sides should commit to a high degree of communication, as well as agree to overshare information throughout the entire process. Only through openness and transparency can the risk of misinformation, missed milestones, and budget misunderstandings be reduced. This allows the customer to remain focused on their business while the system integrator takes accountability for the greenfield project’s design and implementation.
The Importance of Engaging an Unbiased System Integrator
To ensure an optimal system design, it is important to work with a system integrator who is unaffiliated with a specific material handling equipment or automation brand. Unlike a distributor who often sells products from one or two manufacturers or a manufacturer who sells its own equipment, system integrators are typically brand agnostic. This means that the integrator offers the best solution, regardless of equipment supplier, because there is no incentive to sell a specific piece of equipment.
They instead maintain a network of distributors, manufacturers, and subcontractors that allows them to provide the best solution for each customer, no matter the level of automation required. Because they are unaffiliated with a specific brand, independent system integrators tend to be better informed about new and emerging technologies through these connections.
This ensures that the final system design is achieved without bias to a specific technology but rather employs the best fit technology for the operation based on the customer’s unique requirements and constraints. It also yields a holistic solution that meets both today’s objectives while allowing for flexible adaptation to meet changing business needs in the future. Finally, the ideal systems integrator will stand behind the implemented solution to confirm it meets the business case requirements.
Looking to Partner with a System Integrator? Consider DCS.
In addition to providing data-driven system designs that are brand agnostic, a system integrator should deliver expertise, accountability, and transparency. At Designed Conveyor Systems (DCS) we’ve designed thousands of systems and maintain extensive networks that allow for flexible solutions and lead times. DCS invests time with each customer to learn their unique challenges, gain an understanding of their current operations, and-most importantly-forms solid partnerships to provide customers with the right solution. Further, we stand behind every solution to ensure all business case requirements are met and each project has a financial impact.
Want to learn more? Connect with us.
Todd Jones, Vice President Project Delivery, firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd Jones serves as the Vice President of Project Delivery for DCS and brings 15 years of experience in Material Handling. Todd provides leadership and coaching to the Project and Site Management teams. He also ensures the continuation of DCS’s history of delivering projects on time with satisfied customers. Todd has spent the last 22 years living in Atlanta, Georgia. When he is not working, he enjoys scuba diving, hiking, and cooking with his family.