Who Had the Nicest Ice in This Year's Readers' Choice Awards?

Readers Pick the Gems Among Automation Products and Suppliers

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By the Editors of Control

January 2013 IssueThis is the 21st Readers Choice Awards. In the 21 years we have been conducting this survey, technology has changed, the process industry has changed, our ways of working and our demographics have changed. Most of the ways we do our jobs are considerably different now than in 1991.

Twenty-one years ago, there were no smartphones, no tablet computers, no widely used Internet, no Wi-Fi or many other tools we take for granted as we do our jobs, such as OPC and virtualization. Twenty-one years ago, Microsoft Windows was still in its infancy, and many control systems were designed to run on Unix, or other, proprietary operating systems. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and products were nearly unheard of, while today they are the norm. Systems were isolated, and networks were rare. Manufacturing and maintenance data were transcribed manually, and recordkeeping was done on paper. Now only industry laggards work that way.

Twenty-one years ago, we were not working in a completely globalized process industry. Twenty-one years ago, a majority of process automation workers were not soon headed to retirement, with the average age falling into the 50s. Twenty-one years ago, it was unheard of to work remotely via computer. Now all of those things are true and commonplace.

Twenty-one years ago, our plants were run for years at a time to produce the products they were designed to produce. It wasn't necessary for plants to be agile, to be able to be reconfigured to produce new and different products during a single turnaround. Today that is also commonplace.

Some of the winners of the Readers' Choice Awards have also changed. Sometimes the names have changed, as acquisitions have taken their toll, but also companies have dropped off or been added to the list of award winners. In the past few years, as the pace of acquisition slowed, the names on the list began to be like the "usual suspects" in the police captain's raid order in the movie "Casablanca."

We have made changes in the survey, too. We've added categories, removed a few and changed how we present the data. We've also changed how we actually do the survey. When we started this survey, we did it by mail. Today, we do it by email, surveying our readers and asking them to state their brand preferences in over 100 categories of process automation equipment and software. We are proud of the progress of this survey, and we know how important it is.

Trust us, we get the phone calls from unhappy vendors.

We have surveyed our readers, and this year's results reflect the collective wisdom of hundreds of process automation professionals. The survey does have a North American bias, but as we have noted for several years now, the number of responses from outside North America continues to grow, and the survey results reflect some of those demographic changes, just as our industry itself does. We poll from the print magazine's readers, subscribers to our digital media and social media outlets, and we select for end users and integrators and engineers.

Why Is This Survey Important?
The survey we do annually and the Readers' Choice Awards that result from it are the only completely unaided brand preference survey in the process industries. As we have done for many years now, we pulled a random sample of end users from our databases, and we asked them to answer a series of unaided (that means they have to write in the answer, without "help" from a pre-selected series of names in a drop down box) to each of the questions in the survey.

This means that Control's staff has to make sure that we correctly count all the choices. This is a significant chore, because, thanks to acquisitions and name changes, it is harder than you'd think to figure out which company the end user really means. For example, there are over 21 ways to name an ABB product, without the use of the name ABB. Similar issues arise for nearly all the Top 50 (see our December cover story), or so it seems every year.

As we pointed out last year, this is an extremely important datum. Sure, it signals that the Control staff has the experience in the industry to be able to make those choices, but much more important, it says clearly that the persistence of original brands, such as Rosemount or Allen-Bradley, is maintained in the minds of end users even after two decades of name changes, acquisitions and the passage of time.

This is a private survey. That is, we select the participants, and we take great care to control the respondents to make the survey as accurate and unbiased as is possible.

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