Top 50 Automation Companies of 2012

Major acquisitions and a real shift in focus for the automation industry going forward

By Walt Boyes

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In the past, such acquisitions have foundered on the reality—or even the perception—that there is too much overlap and not enough new capability. In this case, as Schneider CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire noted in an interview with CNN, there is very little overlap and many potential synergies.

Whether the acquisition delivers its anticipated benefits remains to be seen. Some Invensys executives, led by CEO Mike Caliel and software boss Ravi Gopinath, believe with Tricoire that the synergies will count more than any integration casualties and reorganizations will cost the combined organization.

Invensys has a huge installed base and long history, and has been engaged in an extensive and expensive revamp of its hardware and software offerings for the past five or six years. Much of this R&D effort has just come to fruition, for example, with the recent release of the Foxboro Evo combined control and safety system. Invensys also can point to a stable of industry-leading solutions through its Wonderware and Triconex brands, as well as industry-leading instrumentation, simulation and training, asset management and advanced process control capabilities. These complementary capabilities, together with new customers and distribution channels, represent clear growth possibilities for a combined company.

Changing Attitudes: Pervasive Sensing and the Internet of Things

The major automation companies that have field sensor or controller products have been talking about another sea-change that is coming to process automation technology. This is called, variously, ubiquitous data, Big Data, pervasive sensing, lick-'n-stick-sensors and the Internet of Things.

One contributor to this Big Data shift is the use of wireless (and considerably less expensive) sensors to pick up and transmit data that was not considered practical or cost-effective to collect in the past. Lots of data. Enough data so that we can use the high-definition mathematical models of process behavior in real time.

But as Emerson's Peter Zornio put it, "We have three issues to handle in order to really have pervasive sensing: First we need to do away with the wiring of the sensor, especially in hazardous areas or where the sensor is hard to get to. With WirelessHART, we've been able to do that. Second, we need to make the sensors themselves less expensive. We are beginning to do that with new types of sensors and housings. The one thing we need is to develop sensors and methods for seeing inside pipelines and vessels without the need to make more holes in them."

If Zornio is right, we have embarked on a whole new vision of how a plant is controlled and operated. This opens up a new world of applications for sensors and new ways of analyzing the data they present. And Zornio isn't alone.

Industry leaders from Cisco, Invensys, Siemens and Rockwell have talked about this very same vision in their user groups since the summer, and many have talked about it for a long time before that.

"The next few years will be the most exciting time in manufacturing in the past 50," says Invensys Vice President Peter Martin. "We are finally going to come into our own as automation professionals. We will be operating process plants with business values in real time." And we will have all the data we need to do it, too.

Top 50 National Automation Vendors

Honorable Mention - National Vendors

Top 50 Global Automation Vendors

Honorable Mention - Global Vendors


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