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2021 Readers' Choice Awards

Jan. 21, 2021
Readers vote for their preferred suppliers in more than 80 process control and instrumentation technology categories

Many things have changed since we mounted our first annual Readers’ Choice Awards program 28 years ago. Back in 1993, we simply tacked a paper ballot to the cover of the physical magazine and asked you to mail or fax it back to us. Today, our process is both easier for you to participate in—and more secure. If you’re on our email newsletter list and hail from an end-user company or engineering firm, late last year you were sent a unique, one-use-only link to an online ballot where you voted for your preferred suppliers.

But one thing that has remained constant over all these years is that all votes cast are write-ins. We don’t presume to offer a list of nominees from which to choose. Rather, process control and instrumentation professionals from all corners of the U.S.—and, increasingly, the world—take the time to enter the names of up to three preferred suppliers in a broad range of technology categories. (For more information on voter demographics, see sidebar above.)

Sure, write-in ballots make interpreting and tabulating the votes more of a chore for us, but in the end it’s you, the readers, who benefit from an unbiased reference list of those suppliers most favored by your peers. Our hats are off to all of the suppliers who made the grade in this year’s voting, and a hearty thank you to all the readers who took the time to make their voices heard.

Top of the ballot

Our first group of Readers’ Choice Awards isn’t so much a set of product technologies as it is a set of fundamental control domain competencies—ranging from batch automation to SCADA (see list of “Process Automation Discipline” winners). Not unexpectedly, the readers’ vote is concentrated among the “Big 7” global leaders in process automation systems technology: ABB, Emerson, Honeywell, Rockwell, Schneider, Siemens and Yokogawa.

There is, however, room in these listings for the occasional specialist, notably HIMA in the domain of Safety/Emergency Shutdown and AVEVA in Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition. AVEVA’s presence in the listings resulted from Schneider Electric’s spin-off of its industrial software businesses into this separate, independent entity, which is still majority owned by Schneider. Since last year, GE notably slipped from these listings following the sale of its industrial automation business to Emerson.

Packaged expertise

Closely aligned with the process automation discipline awards are those in the category of Application Software. Here, again, a significant amount of market presence and customer preference is focused among the global discipline leaders (see list of “Application Software” winners).

Technology specialists that made these ranks included Beamex and Fluke in Calibration Management, Autodesk in Design/Documentation, AutomationDirect in PLC Programming, and AspenTech in Modeling & Simulation. In the category of OPC Connectivity, Honeywell-owned Matrikon OPC earned top honors, followed by PTC on the strength of its Kepware acquisition.

Neles, latest home of Expertune software technology, earned a nod in Loop Tuning. The AVEVA corporate entity also made the list in Human-machine Interface, SCADA and Simulation & Modeling on the strength of last year’s Schneider divestiture of its software businesses.

Party platforms

A further step adjacent to the core process automation disciplines are the hardware devices that provide a local platform for control, compute and visualization—notably annunciators, panel displays, loop controllers, recorders and industrialized PCs (see list of “Visualization & Control Hardware” winners).

As with application software, the global process automation majors earn their share of allegiance in this arena. Notable exceptions include Ametek, whose Panalarm annunciators have long set the standard in the category. Ronan Engineering also made the list in the Annunciator category.

Dell earned top honors for its Industrial PCs, and was joined by Advantech and Pepperl+Fuchs in the top five. Meanwhile, Red Lion squeaked into the Panel Display rankings along with Endress+Hauser in Recorders.

Process variable primaries

Instruments for measuring the primary process variables of flow, level, pressure and temperate are of course the workhorse sensors of the process industries. Indeed, the accompanying three listings include a total of 32 different technologies for sussing out these important variables in a broad variety of challenging conditions (see listings of “Flow Instrumentation,” “Level Instrumentation,” and “Pressure & Temperature Instrumentation” winners).

The leaders here include instrumentation heavyweights Emerson and Endress+Hauser, which win or rank highly in the most categories, but ABB, Krohne, Siemens, Schneider and Yokogawa also show a following in multiple categories.

Again, a range of specialists have managed to hold out against the majors in this realm, including Badger for its Positive Displacement flowmeters, FCI for its Thermal Mass flowmeters and Brooks Instrument for its Variable Area rotameters.

In the level realm, ABB carries the day in Laser technology, while VEGA Americas is top of the charts when it comes to Radiometric (nuclear) gauges. Meanwhile, Orion Instruments is number one in Magnetic Level Indicators, while its corporate sibling Magnetrol leads the pack in Mechanical Level Switches.

Finally, in the realms of pressure and temperature sensing, Emerson carries the day in all but infrared technologies, where Fluke reigns supreme.

Online analytics

In the category of process analyzers, Emerson ranks highest in all but one category, Humidity/Moisture analytical instrumentation, where Vaisala takes top honors. Other high-ranking suppliers include ABB, which ranked in six of seven analyzer technologies and Yokogawa (five of seven).

Ambient gas specialists MSA and Draeger also ranked highly in their niche, and Baker Hughes Digital Solutions made the Humidity/Moisture list for the first time through its acquisition of Panametrics from GE.

Final control favorites

When it comes to final control elements, Emerson takes top honors when it comes to control valves and actuators. Other high-ranking valve-makers include Baker Hughes (Masoneilan), Flowserve, Samson and Neles. Control Valve Actuator specialists Rotork, Auma and Limitorque also made the grade in this group (see listing of “Final Control” winners).

In addition to control valves, electric motors and drives increasingly act together as final control elements across the process industries. Here, ABB Motors & Mechanical (Baldor) retained top honors for its Electric Motor technology, while Rockwell Automation ranked highest in the category of Electric Motor Drive. Other top ranking motor and drive providers include Siemens, Schneider, WEG, GE Industrial Motors, Nidec and Yaskawa.

Essential infrastructure and role players

Our final two groups of Readers’ Choice Award winners include foundational contributors to the wired and wireless automation infrastructure, as well as role players that serve important process automation functions but frankly just didn’t fit cleanly in any of the other award groups (see “Automation Infrastructure,” and “Elsewhere in the Field” listings).

Input/output (I/O) modules, along with terminal blocks, signal conditioners, intrinsic safety barriers and power supplies, work seamlessly together to reliably gather, condition, digitize and distribute the electronic signals required to run a modern process facility.

In this arena, Rockwell Automation was ranked highest for its I/O Module offering, while Pepperl+Fuchs received top votes for its Intrinsic Safety expertise. Meanwhile, triple-threat Phoenix Contact placed first in the Terminal Block, Signal Conditioner and Power Supply rankings. Belden placed first when it came to Wire & Cable, and Emerson led the field in Wireless Infrastructure.

Winners in our last group of other essential product technologies (see “Elsewhere in the Field” listings), are primarily specialists in their respective domains. Two notable exceptions are Schneider, which got the nod in the category of Data Acquisition Systems, and ABB for its Remote Terminal Units.

Leadership in Instrument Fittings went to Swagelok, Portable Calibrators to Fluke, Weighing Systems/Load Cells to Mettler Toledo and Vibration Instrumentation to Baker Hughes (Bentley Nevada). In the arena of field enclosures, Rittal for the first time beat out nVent (Hoffman), and Pepperl+Fuchs (Bebco) carried the day in enclosure Purge Systems.

This year’s Readers’ Choice Awards represent a diverse an increasingly international mix of voters from across the process industries. The tabulations represent the voices of nearly 1,000 process control and instrumentation professionals from end-user and engineering firms. The figures above summarize their industry and geographic make-up. Those individuals who worked for systems integration and engineering services firms were asked to choose the end-user industry that most closely represents their work.

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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