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From Cutting-edge Control Systems to Lower Prices, Second-Tier Suppliers May Have Just What You Need
Everyone in the process industries is familiar with companies such as Foxboro/Invensys, Honeywell, ABB, Siemens, Rockwell Automation and Emerson. These six, the "Big Boys" dominate the control industry, fill the pages of control magazines with ads, and issue news and product announcements by the dozens. They are so big, some hold their own trade shows. And judging by the press releases we get nearly every day, they are selling multimillion-dollar process control systems around the world in record numbers. Recession? What recession? The Big Boys appear immune to it.
We picked these six as the Big Boys because they consistently ranked in the top five of the process control system category in our Reader' Choice Awards, or were among the top five on our TOP 50 Suppliers list. Most made both lists as well. Refer to our Jan. 2003 issue to see exactly how well each of these companies did on both surveys.
Lost in the Shuffle
Virtually lost in the shuffle are the second-tier process control system suppliers. We define "second tier" as all process control companies except the six named above.
While some second-tier vendors market their products nearly as well as the Big Boys, others meekly hold up their corporate hands and whisper, "Hey, we sell control systems, too." While the Big Boys lobby the media and their customers with professional, powerful marketing communications, several second-tier companies had to curtail their marketing efforts over the last few years, laying off their PR folks, cutting their ad budgets and limping along, trying to survive in these tough economic times.
Are offerings from the second-tier companies just as good as those from the Big Boys? Of course they are. The best evidence of that surfaced in 2003, when Foxboro Invensys announced its new A2 process control system. It was a control system originally developed by Eurotherm, a second-tier company that Invensys acquired. Eurotherm had been trying to peddle its system with only modest success. When Foxboro's marketing machine took over, sales skyrocketed.
It shows the power of good marketing and the value users attach to a name like Foxboro. It also shows that there are some very good hardware and software systems out there that you should be considering for your next process control system.
Back in 1998, Ken Wright, fuels specialist at Conoco Phillips in Bartlesville, Okla., needed to replace the legacy control system in the company's catalyst lab. Although Honeywell was the Conoco Phillips's principal DCS (digital control system) vendor at the time, Wright didn't think a big system was what he wanted.
"Are offerings from the second-tier companies
just as good as those from the Big Boys?"
"We reconfigure test cells and controls on a regular basis, so we need a lot of flexibility," says Wright. "A big DCS would require us to shut down eight or more of our 40 test cells just to reconfigure one of them. Instead, we ordered a control system from Opto 22. Now, we can reconfigure controls without shutting anything down."
Wright reports that the Opto 22 system has been trouble-free since 1998, and they have steadily added to it over time. In fact, they recently ordered enough control equipment for six more test cells.
What's in a Name?
The value of a legendary brand name is immeasurable. Some of the Big Boys have been around since the dawn of time, installed tens of thousands of systems, spent billions of dollars in product development, and have worldwide networks of sales and service organizations. This is very important to many end users, like Thomas Badura, electronics project engineer at a plastics company in Sheboygan, Wis.
"As an end user in a smaller sized company, I feel the benefits of long-term commitment to, and support of a control platform, outweigh the advantages to constantly pursuing the latest technology," says Badura. "This is an attribute we look for in a controls supplier. Our company generally does not require extremely high end or exotic control strategies. Accordingly, the standard, established systems offered by the big boys fit our needs."
10 Years of Second Tier
The Flying J refinery in North Salt Lake City installed an Opto 22 Control System in 1993, and it has been running ever since. It was one of the first PC-based control systems ever installed in a refinery.
Other end users don't have time to search out the smaller players. Ed Bullerdiek, control group leader at Marathon Ashland Petroleum, says Marathon is a big company, so they look at the big players. "There are a lot of big players, and not a lot of time, so you limit your list when you are looking."
ControlGlobal.com is exclusively dedicated to the global process automation market. We report on developing industry trends, illustrate successful industry applications, and update the basic skills and knowledge base that provide the profession's foundation.