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Wago says it has a whole suite of software products that help the integration of the plant floor with the rest of the enterprise via OPC, DLL, Visual Basic or C programming. "Our suite of Ethernet based controllers further bridge this gap with Internet applications and protocols such as XML, FTP, HTTP, UDP, SNMP, SMTP, etc.," explains Norton.
SoftPLC does it the same way. "Interfacing to management systems is easy through interfaces such as OPC, SQL, XML and others," says Hollenbeck. "SoftPLC can also send e-mail messages for remote data acquisition/reporting, service calls and more. We can also provide web browsers with viewable live data without opening security holes in plant network firewall schemes, via our Java technology."
InduSoft has formed an alliance with Valeosoft, a vendor of asset management software. "We have begun a program that will align us with the best software manufacturers in the world," explains Ernie Roland, president. "Our core competency is in HMI/SCADA, not asset management, vibration analysis or supply chain management. However, our customers need that kind of software, and we want to make sure our software is compatible with it. Therefore, we are actively seeking out the leaders in various software categories and forming joint marketing agreements with them."
Suffice it to say that all second-tier hardware and software vendors have seen the light, and can provide links to virtually any enterprise packages you may need. They must do this, or they won't survive.
Pick Your Poison
There's no question that DCSs from the Big Boys are powerful, sophisticated systems that are supported by an army of experienced process control professionals. Their engineers understand your application and their worldwide sales and service capabilities will support you no matter where your plant is located. If you buy a DCS from a Big Boy, it will work and work well.
The whole point of this article is to point out that there are alternatives. Some second-tier process control suppliers have hardware or software that are equal to, and sometimes more advanced than what the Big Boys now offer. Second-tier companies also can integrate with enterprise software, just like the Big Boys.
Admittedly, few of the second-tier vendors can offer themselves as a single source for products ranging from field instrumentation and process controls to fieldbus architectures and ERP software, but second-tier company system offerings can interface to any of those products.
If there is a place where second-tier companies fall farther behind the Big Boys in any area, it has to be in product marketing. For example, although we polled all the second-tier companies listed in our Buyers' Guide that say they make process control systems, not everyone responded. You undoubtedly recognize the companies quoted in this article, because they are among the most successful. Their marketing departments also responded quickly to CONTROL's editorial queries, which may help account for their success.
A roundup of second-tier companies appears [CONTROL, March '04, p59]. As you will see, your possibilities range from component suppliers, where you essentially put together your own system, to full-line integrated hardware and software vendors. More information on these systems can be found in our Buyers' Guide (CONTROL, May 03) or via our on-line buyers' guide at www.controlmag.com.
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.