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Get the Job Done for Less
Process control systems from second-tier suppliers such as Wago may not have Glamorous three-CRT operator panels, and may not include everything from field instruments to asset management software, but they get the job done.
Some second-tier companies have hardware and software that will, figuratively speaking, run rings around established DCSs, because they are using the most modern CPUs with faster processing speeds and the latest software, such as Windows Mobile or CE 3.0. For years, the Big Boys have realized that second-tier companies jump ahead in some areas, so instead of developing the products themselves, they snapped up technically advanced companies such as Moore Products, Wonderware and Intellution. This is a trend that's likely to continue.
"The lack of innovation at the DCS companies has accelerated," says Russ Agrusa, president of Iconics. "Just look at ABB, Invensys and Honeywell. They continue to farm-out innovation to consultants and India in a cost-cutting effort. There is complete lack of leadership and vision, and no effort to keep the innovative expertise that put them on the map in the first place. Their only hope is to purchase the innovators and then squeeze their juices till they are part of the corporate culture. Where is the Bill Gates of Rockwell, Siemens, ABB and the other stegosauruses?"
The second-tier companies are often way ahead of the DCS dinosaurs in applying technology. For example, Iconics offers a report generation and asset management package that performs the same functions at a fraction of the price of similar systems from DCS vendors. Opto 22 has a proven Ethernet-based system that costs a fraction of a DCS vendor's network. Indusoft has HMI/SCADA software that runs on PCs, PDAs and Smartphones (picture cell phones). And National Instruments has advanced data acquisition hardware and software. When the Big Boys need that kind of technology, they just acquire the company that has it.
Some of the second-tier companies are giants on different turf, and are just now turning their attention to the U.S. process control market.
Schneider Electric, for example, is a giant in power distribution and discrete automation, but almost off the radar screen in process control. As we reported in our January issue (In the News, p16), they have taken aim at process control and intend to build their market share.
Yamatake is a giant control company in Japan but, until three years ago, was tucked under Honeywell's wing. "Yamatake has been supplying valve equipment and process controls for nearly 100 years," says Russ Kirkman, marketing manager. "We have only been operating in the USA under the name Yamatake for about three years. Previously we were partnered with Honeywell, who had been private labeling our control technology since the 1950s. That makes Yamatake one of the Big Boys, I guess."
What about the service that so many users demand? Some second-tier companies pride themselves on it. Mike O'Connor, Product Marketing Manager at Sixnet, says, "As a small company we feel we are much more responsive to our customers, especially OEMs. For example, when you call Sixnet you always get a live person and not voicemail. We also love to work with OEMs, big or small, to supply them with a solution that meets their exact needs. We provide a completely different experience"more down home, you could say"than what you typically get with the Big Boys."
"When a problem occurs in our company, the programmer immediately drops everything to fix it," says SoftPLC's Hollenbeck. "We e-mail the fix ASAP, with no case numbers, no waiting on hold for an hour, and no talking to someone who can't respond"you get an expert on the first contact. For example, we had a customer doing a chemical processing system call in a problem on Friday. By Saturday morning it was fixed and e-mailed to them."
Hardware and Software
FieldPoint hardware and LabView Software can deliver process control, data analysis and information handling capabilities in a single platform.
It was a magnificent achievement by the Big Boys, and gives them an apparent leg up on the second-tier suppliers. Few, if any, of the second-tier companies can offer such an elaborate enterprise integration scheme.
As Opto 22's Hougland essentially put it, the argument from second tier suppliers is so what? Who needs that much complexity? Instead, Opto 22 offers standard interfaces to standard enterprise software packages.
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.