Systems Integration / Wireless

The Usual Suspects Win the Readers' Choice Awards!

The Question Isn't Who Won, but Rather Why Do They Win and How Do They Do It

By Walt Boyes, Keith Larson

RCA 2012Welcome to the 20th Annual Control Readers' Choice Awards. It seems to us to be fascinating that we've made it with this award survey for 20 years. We are pleased with the response of readers and vendors, and we know how important this survey has become because we get the phone calls. We've surveyed our readers and we are pleased to present the collective opinion of over 1000 automation professionals on over 100 process automation technologies.

The survey continues to have, as we noted last year, a North American bias, but the number of responses from outside North America continues to grow. As we have for the past several years, we surveyed not only the print magazine's readers, but also subscribers to our digital media outlets: email newsletters, webinars, podcasts and all of the other media you can find at

Why is this survey important?

This survey and the resulting Readers' Choice Awards are the only completely unaided brand preference survey in the process automation industries.

As always, we pulled a random sample of end users from our databases, and we asked them, in a series of unaided (they have to write in the names—no preselected choices in dropdown boxes) surveys for their selections among all the solution providers they regularly work with.

This means that Control's staff has to make sure that all the various ways to name an ABB or a Rockwell or an Emerson product are counted correctly. This is time consuming and requires significant knowledge of the history of the industry. Did you know that there are over 17 different ways to list what is now an ABB product, for example? One of the things this indicates is the persistence of original brands in the minds of the end users, even after name-changes, acquisitions, and the passage of time.

Since this is a private survey, we have control over the responses, and we take great care to make sure that the survey is reasonable and accurate.

RCA 2012What You're Going to See

For the fourth year, we've broken out control platform awards by discipline, and also by industry vertical. Each category represents end-user selections in the six basic process control disciplines (see Table 1: "Overall 'Best in Control' Winners by Application Type"): Continuous Regulatory Control, Batch Process Automation, Safety/Emergency Shutdown, Sequential Logic, Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring and Control, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). We have broken out the awards by the 10 industry verticals (see Table 2, "Best in Control" Winners by Application Type and Industry) that we serve: Chemicals Manufacturing, Electric Power Generation, Food and Beverage Manufacturing; Metals, Minerals and Mining; Oil and Gas Extraction, Petroleum Refining, Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences, Plastics and Rubber Manufacturing, Pulp and Paper and Water/Wastewater.

You will see, if you compare the current results to the 2011 Readers' Choice Awards that there has been very little change. ABB moved into the lead in Pulp and Paper; Rockwell and Emerson flipflopped position in Water/Wastewater, and other small changes.

Why Do They Win?

Too much should not be read into absolute position on these lists. To be mentioned in these Readers' Choice Awards at all, regardless of final position, means that the solution provider has not only consistently provided exceptionally fine quality products and services, but has demonstrated these capabilities to a large number of very loyal end-user customers. These are the suppliers who have consistently demonstrated excellence in customer service and responsiveness, and they all deserve congratulations for their efforts.

Branding, which is really what the Control Readers' Choice Awards are about, is made up of several components. One, as we've said, is "walking the walk." But high quality marketing and the concomitant sales effort by knowledgeable staff make up a very large component of the strength of these suppliers' brands.

We get asked fairly regularly how to "win" the RCAs. The answer, which the person asking the question generally isn't happy with, is to spend lots of time and money providing outstanding service to a large end-user base, and communicating what you're doing to the largest market you can. Sure, we'd like to sell more ads, but the fact remains that if you don't market your product, and provide outstanding service to your customers, you're hiding yourself and your light under the proverbial bushel basket. So that's how the usual suspects "win" the RCAs every year.

The Soft Side of Process Automation

These suppliers (Table 3) have consistently demonstrated expertise in software development and execution—and in providing applications expertise and high-quality customer service. Obviously, since this is a brand preference survey, the top awards usually go to the larger suppliers, but note the presence of smaller suppliers like PAS, TiPS, Kepware, Mathworks and Mynah Technologies. Good branding and the strength of a supplier's brand doesn't just reside with the major suppliers.

Seeing What's Going on Here

Operators have to be able to see what is going on in their processes, and they need highly effective and highly reliable ways to do that. The companies on this list (Table 4) are highly competent at hardware design and manufacturing, and many of them have been doing what they are being recognized for a very long time. Emerson, GE, Honeywell, Yokogawa, Invensys Operations Management and Rockwell Automation each have over 100 years' experience in effectively communicating process conditions to operators.

Connecting the Dots

We shouldn't forget that for the devices and software to be useful, somebody has to provide the information infrastructure. In Table 5, you'll see the essential infrastructure players. There's not much difference from last year in the basic categories here, except in the Wireless Infrastructure category where the responses mirror the survey done in our August 2011 issue: Emerson Process Management, Phoenix Contact, and Siemens Industry are all purveyors of devices that use the IEC62591-WirelessHART standard. Cisco, of course, owns the 802.11 space for networking. The only ISA100.11a supplier that made the list is Honeywell Process Solutions.

Keeping the Process Flowing

Table 6 shows the recognized masters of the flowmeter. From Coriolis to Open Channel, these vendors have the expertise to ease the deceptively simple process of specifying, designing and operating a flow measurement system. The recurrence of company names like Brooks Instrument and Badger Meter that have long and storied pasts shows just how important longevity and applications expertise gained from that longevity actually are. Of course, Endress+Hauser and Emerson Process Management dominate this category, because they are the number one and number two, respectively, suppliers of field instrumentation. There are other smaller companies, though, who shine, like Hoffer Controls, Sierra Instruments and Magnetrol.

Leveling the Field

Level measurement continues to be one of the most difficult of the basic measurements necessary to operate process plants, even though it is certainly the oldest measurement of this type known to us—as we've noted before, the oldest existing level meter is the Nilometer in Egypt, which is well over 2000 years old, and may be far older as a technology. Table 7 shows that, although Emerson Process Management and Endress+Hauser again dominate the category, there are other, smaller companies who shine too. Companies like Krohne, Vega, Magnetrol and its subsidiary Orion Instruments, ISE Magtech, MTS, and others continue to make the list because their design, manufacturing and above all application expertise continue to demonstrate what we said last year was "sheer bloody competence." End-users respect competence more than anything, especially at 3 a.m. when there's been a failure.

The Heat is On, and the Pressure Too

As always, Emerson Process Management won every category in Table 8, except Infrared Temperature and Infrared Imaging, both of which were captured by Fluke Raytek/Ircon, a division of Danaher. Smaller companies made the list in their niches, like JMS Southeast, Pyromation, BBP Sensors, and Omega Engineering (which was recently sold to Spectris, the large U.K.-based instrumention supplier). Moore Industries, Micron and FLIR also made the list.

Analyze This!

Process analyzers continue to proliferate throughout the process industries. Both online and at-line analyzers are being used much more often for quality and performance. In Table 9, we present the top honors for online process analyzers. ABB continued its streak, winning four of the seven categories in this group. Yokogawa also made a strong showing, as did Emerson Process Management. Smaller companies like Draeger Safety, K Patents and others continued to show that you don't have to be huge to be well-branded. You just have to both talk the talk, and walk the walk.

The Essential Elements

All the control systems in the world won't work if the final control elements aren't properly designed, installed and above all, working. Generally, this means a valve, drive and motor combination of some kind. Table 10 shows this year's results in these categories. As always, Emerson Process Management's Fisher Valve division took the control valve category, with mentions of Flowserve, GE Masoneilan and Metso Automation. The same companies took the pneumatic valve actuator category, too.  In the electric actuator category, Rotork reprised its top ranking from last year, while Beck joined the list. Metso Automation, Emerson Industrial Automation and Flowserve won the on/off valve category.

In electric motor drives, Rockwell Automation took the category, followed by ABB, Siemens Industry, Schneider Electric, Toshiba and Baldor Electric (a division of ABB). Baldor also took the electric motor category, which certainly reflects the North American bias of these awards. Second was Siemens Industry, which after over 100 years of manufacturing motors, has finally decided to trade name the product: Simotics.

Outstanding in the Field

In Table 11, we list the other indispensable systems and devices that process automation technologists need and use—but don't fit in any other logical group we've discussed so far. These include "data acquisition," without which no control system works, but which appears to mean different things to different users. There are enclosures, fittings, calibrators, Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) for SCADA systems, purge systems, vibration instrumentation, and last but certainly not least, weighing systems and load cells. This year, Rockwell, as usual, took data acquisition and remote terminal units. Hoke joined the instrument fittings category, while SKF and Shinkawa joined the vibration instrumentation group. Pepperl+Fuchs/Bebco was all alone this year in the purge system category.

We want to offer our congratulations to everyone who made the list, whether they were listed first or not. We believe that this Award listing accurately reflects the brand preferences of end-users in the process industries, and every company that is listed here is a real winner.