And in North America, we have unrest in the streets already, with some of those consumers without jobs, and who are unemployed or underemployed, showing their anger at the banks, at Wall Street and at the government for not being either willing or able to do anything to improve the situation.
Scary, huh? You bet. Now translate that to the behavior of manufacturing companies and the automation vendors who serve them.
Business news commentators have been saying that companies are hoarding cash. This absolutely appears to be true, and is true both in the asset owner and automation vendor categories. ABB, Rockwell Automation and others have amassed large stashes of cash. Some shareholders are arguing that this cash should be used for acquisition or increased dividends or, well, just use it. Companies, on the other hand, are clutching their cash because they are worried about the future. As an example, ABB made it through the 2009 recession in really good shape, partly because it had several billion dollars in cash on hand going in.
Should we all be worried? To a point, sure. But the dangers and challenges ahead for the economy are so massive that all we can do is what those of us who lived through it did during the hottest part of the Cold War—keep on doing what you're doing and try to get through it. Or, as the public service posters in London said during the Blitz, "Keep calm and carry on."
As individuals, we can take a page from the asset owners' and automation vendor companies' book. Pay down any debt. If you have a mortgage, do your best to refinance it, and if you can, adjust the principal. Pay cash, cut expenses and make sure you have money left over at the end of the month and save it.
The consumer-driven economy will have to adjust to the new consumer normal.
How Do We Do It?
Every year, we find more companies to add to the list. If you spot one we haven't listed and that should be, let us know. Even though we add companies and subtract the ones that have been acquired, we haven't greatly changed our methodology of analysis for the past several years.
Here's what we are including in our definition of the 50 largest companies:
- Process automation systems and related hardware software and services;
- PLC business, as well as related hardware, software, services, I/O and bundled HMI;
- Other control hardware components, such as third-party I/O, signal conditioners, intrinsic safety barriers, networking hardware, unit controllers and single- and multi-loop controllers;
- Process safety systems;
- SCADA systems for oil and gas, water and wastewater, and power distribution;
- AC drives;
- Motion control systems;
- Computer numerical control (CNC) systems;
- Process field instrumentation, such as temperature and pressure transmitters, flowmeters, level transmitters and associated switches;
- Analytical equipment, including process electrochemical, all types of infrared technology, gas chromatographs for industrial manufacturing and related products;
- Control valves, actuators and positioners;
- Discrete sensors and actuators;
- Automation-related software, from advanced process control, simulation and optimization to third-party HMI, plant asset management, production management (MES), ERP integration packages from the major automation suppliers and similar software;
- Other automation-related services provided by automation suppliers;
- Condition-monitoring equipment and systems;
- Ancillary systems, such as burner management systems, quality control systems for pulp and paper, etc.
What we are not including:
- Pumps and motors;
- Material-handling systems;
- Supply chain management software;
- Building automation systems;
- Fire and security systems;
- Processing equipment such as mixers, vessels, heaters, etc., and process design licenses from suppliers that have engineering divisions;
- Electrical equipment, such as low-voltage switchgear, etc.