As we have seen for the past several years, the same names of vendors appear in each category. The most that happens is that one or another vendor will trade places and move up or down in the list in each category. As we say every year, the statistical differences between places in the category winners list are small enough that they are not truly able to signify a real change in brand strength or end user preference. Every vendor that is listed in a category is a winner, whether they are in first or last place in the tables.
Why Do the Same Vendors Win Every Year?
Every one of the companies listed in any of the categories has managed to produce for itself one or more powerful brands. Brands are not bought, although good advertising and marketing highlight the brand values of products. Brands are made by hard work on the part of vendors' designers, manufacturing, quality control, service, field technical support and the way that each product fits the requirements of the customers who must use the products to make their own products.
Vendors who remember that the end users aren't technology wonks, interested in the products for the products' sake, have better branding than vendors who get all involved in features and functions of their products. Vendors who understand that the end users want their products to work as transparently as possible and make the end users' working lives easier have the strongest brand values. It might be heresy to say this, but what matters is how well a vendor takes care of the customer, not necessarily how good its products are. Good products are merely the ticket of entry in the process automation industry. Customers expect the vendors' products to be good.
As we said last year, vendors ask regularly how to "win" the Readers' Choice Awards. The answer, as we have said before, is to spend lots of time and money providing outstanding service to your user base and communicating what you've done to the largest market grouping you can.
The vendors who appear in this survey every year have mastered the art of making good products and supporting them with very high quality field technical support. In so doing, they have maximized the values of their products' brands. Branding is about "walking the walk" and "talking the talk," and these vendors do just that.
Software Makes the Vendor
Every year, some of the same names make this list because they have demonstrated again and again that their software works and is supported reliably. These vendors have not only the product design expertise, but also the application expertise to assist their customers to use their software for what the customer really wants to do: make oil products or chemicals or food or ore or paper or — well, you get the point. One of the things this part of the survey points out every year is that branding isn't just for big vendors. This year, we see smaller vendors such as TiPS, Expertune, Control Station, ControlSoft and others in various categories, and a small company, Mynah Technologies, even winning the simulation software category (Table 3).
Seeing Is Believing
Ever since the days of the panel wall, end users have needed ways to see what was going on in the plant. We still see many of the same types of devices we saw 21 years ago in this category. Most have been updated, but some still look like they did in the 1990s and are still going strong. Some are changed beyond all recognition. Industrial computers are now common, where they were rare when this survey got started. Operator interface terminals are themselves embedded industrial computers. Recorders, once based on ink on paper are now most commonly video displays mated with dataloggers. Still, the companies you see here are some of the same companies you saw in the first Readers' Choice Award survey (Table 4).
It's All About Infrastructure
These days, it's all about data. But you can't use data you can't get. So manufacturers of infrastructure products such as I/O and terminal strips, wire and cable, and power supplies and signal conditioners should not be forgotten. A category that absolutely was not even thought of for the first Readers' Choice Awards is "wireless infrastructure," which got a mixture of votes for 802.11 infrastructure (Cisco) and wireless sensor networks (Emerson, et al.) (Table 5).
The Big Four: Flow, Level, Pressure and Temperature
For more than 100 years, the process industries have controlled by means of four basic variables: flow, level, pressure and temperature. Process automation professionals have strongly held favorites in each of these categories, but newer technologies are also used. There is no such thing as the "perfect instrument" here. That's why there are so many sub-categories in each grouping.
The Masters of Flow
You'd think there wasn't anything else to add about flow, but you'd be wrong. Every one of the major flow vendors released new devices in the past year, but each of the winners in this category proves that you need to provide the best product you can and support it the best way you know how. There have been some name changes, like Vega Americas, formerly Ohmart Vega. Some of the names are different, but many of the products are the same as in the first survey, 21 years ago (Table 6).
Getting on the Level
Level is a very tricky measurement, so the number of ways to make the measurement are many and technically quite difficult. There are some changes here. The biggest one is that we lumped all forms of radar level together, since the customers didn't seem to differentiate between non-contact and contacting radar level instruments. And ABB won the laser category, through its subsidiary formerly known as K-Tek. In the nuclear level gauge category VEGA Americas won again. The interesting story here is that just shortly after introducing its product into the United States, Endress+Hauser has already placed third (Table 7).