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CSIA sets system integrator standards

April 4, 2001
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The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) has introduced "an important management tool" to help manufacturers evaluate and select control system integrators for their automation projects.

Control system integrators typically upgrade plant process control systems by retrofitting new equipment, such as the human/ machine interface (HMI) shown above, to integrate "islands of control" so the operator can better govern the process. Based on a "Best Practices and Benchmarks" audit, CSIA's new Registration Process was developed in conjunction with Fortune 500 firms and other manufacturers who use system-integrator services; control vendors who often team with these firms; and CSIA members. According to Robert A. Zeigenfuse of Advanced Automation Associates, Inc. (AAA) and chairman of CSIA, the Registration Process will "simplify what has become a daunting task of identifying, interviewing, qualifying, evaluating, selecting and managing control system integrator firms."

Control system integrators work in all sectors of manufacturing -- from automotive to food processing -- with skills "that range from consulting, design and programming through building, testing, installation, commissioning, field service and training," said Robert S. Sokol of AAA, chairman of CSIA's Best Practices & Benchmarks Committee. Sokol estimates the annual market for system-integrator services at more than $2 billion and growing. It's risky if not impractical, Sokol observed, for manufacturers to select a control-system integrator based primarily on sales volume, years in business or size of facility. "There is too much at stake with today's demands on ROI and operational performance to simply use generalized evaluation criteria," he pointed out. "Systems integrator" has typically been a vague term, he added. CSIA Registration "will help differentiate the real players from the pretenders."

The Registration Process audits companies against "Best Practices and Benchmarks" covering: general management; project management; business development; financial management; quality management; human resources and professional development. In addition to defining "what has been an amorphous community," said Sokol, the Registration Process provides integrators with measures for continuous improvement of their own businesses. Control system integrators who pass the audit are authorized to display the CSIA Registered Member logo, which will become recognized as "a professional criterion," said CSIA Executive Director Norman O'Leary.

Control systems integrators who successfully complete CSIA's "Best Practices and Benchmarks" audit are authorized to display the CSIA Registered Member logo. Founded in 1994, CSIA has grown from an original 18 to 118 system-integrator members and is affiliated with the 600-member National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) for administrative guidance and support, said O'Leary. Almost all work in food manufacturing as well as other industries. Vendors are associate members. CSIA members are listed on the association website at www.controlsys.org

Most control system integrator work involves upgrading plant process control systems and integrating "islands of automation" so the operator can better govern the process, O'Leary continued. A control system integrator can be an engineering firm, a contractor or an A/E firm.

According to Stephen M. Goldberg, regional manager for Matrix Technologies, Inc. and chairman of the CSIA Marketing Committee, equipment testing is a major reason for employing a system integrator. "Process modeling and simulation to pre-test the control system speeds startup and minimizes downtime," Goldberg pointed out. Integrators are typically more familiar with the latest software developments and current automation technologies, he added.

CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks, the precursor to the Registered Member program, was published in 1997. Coming from CSIA, said O'Leary: A publication on how to select a control system integrator, and another on project management including "how to specify and estimate project costs."

For further information about CSIA, phone (800) 661-4914, fax (888) 581-3666 or call-up CSIA's website.

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