System integration is one of the most complex and diverse aspects of manufacturing, especially in an outsourcing environment. While there are often a wide variety of solutions for components and subsystems, including complex items like high layer count PCBAs and custom integrated circuits, and a wide variety of fabricators and contract manufacturers are out there to build all manner of electronic and mechanical parts and subsystems, finding the right supplier to integrate everything together in a complex product is very difficult.
System integration is also highly dependent on the type of system, perhaps obviously, but this further strains the search for a good supplier, as all too often such suppliers might also be or become competitors. This is especially of concern with the so-called ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers), mostly Chinese, who absolutely do compete with their customers, either directly, via other customers, or covertly out the back door.
Productization of system integration is also a real challenge, since many of the quantitative tools that do help for subsystem manufacturing are not applicable for the very diverse world of system integration. The technologies used are diverse and varied, and for system integration it’s not just the pieces but how everything ties together. 1 + 1 + 1 = 39. Or something like that.
A fair amount of our work at Zebulon Solutions historically has been on relatively complex systems, ranging from petabyte network storage devices to electric vehicles to a (yes) liquor inventory management system. Perhaps because these are the types of products that by definition need extra help, and in part because once you develop a reputation in an arena, like attracts like.
And we even do a bit of system integration work ourselves from time to time, most recently building those liquor inventory management systems mentioned above. More on that to come.