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2020 Readers' Choice Awards

Jan. 28, 2020
End users recognize excellence in process control technologies

Whether you’re trying to land on the moon or simply to produce a high-quality product in an efficient and timely manner, you need expertise, endurance and the right stuff—instruments and controls you can rely on to get the job done.

Control’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards surveys asked end users to name those companies. As usual, about 1,000 respondents weighed in on which suppliers provided the best technology, this year in 10 overall product categories and more than 80 subcategories. The respondents include both U.S.-based and international readers of Control's print magazine and its ControlGlobal.com website. Each was allowed to vote for up to three vendors in each category and discipline, and their first-, second- and third-place votes were weighted to yield a ranking of positions in each subcategory.


Top guns

First up, the Best in Control categories are broken down into six automation disciplines. These platform categories are dominated by the largest companies in process automation, with little change in rankings from year to year.

But this year, ABB rode to third in Continuous Regulatory Control, second in Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring & Control, and fifth in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). Honeywell Process Solutions notched up to fourth in Safety/Emergency Shutdown and fifth in Sequential Logic Control. Schneider Electric rose to third in Batch Process Automation and to fifth in Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring & Control, where Yokogawa climbed to seventh and we welcome OSIsoft onto our list of elites.

We use industry demographic information provided by our respondents to also tabulate that information by 10 vertical industries, summarized in the table, Best in Control by Discipline and Industry. Here, Food & Beverage Manufacturing promoted Rockwell to the lead in Continuous Regulatory Control and SCADA. In Plastics & Rubber Manufacturing, Siemens won Continuous Regulatory Control and SCADA. Electric Power Generation elected Schneider Electric as its favorite for SCADA; Metals and Mining chose Honeywell for Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring and Control; and Oil & Gas flowed to Emerson Automation Solutions for SCADA. Water & Wastewater Processing picked Schneider Electric for Safety/Emergency Shutdown; and Pulp & Paper Manufacturing, Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring & Control, went to Valmet.

Intelligence in software

Software powers the control system’s brains and communications, so it’s no surprise that many software category winners are the same companies we saw at the top of the equivalent platform categories. This year, ABB showed the greatest number of advances, notching up in Advanced Process Control, Asset Management, Calibration Management, Design/Documentation and PLC Programming, as well as new or returning status for Loop Tuning. Emerson Automation Solutions took first places in Alarm Management and Calibration Management, and rose in OPC Connectivity.

Siemens improved its standings in Human-Machine Interface and PLC Programming software, and is a fresh or returning name in Alarm Management. Schneider Electric (with its Wonderware, Foxboro, Invensys and Triconex brands) picked up in the Advanced Process Control and Simulation categories, and Honeywell, through the strength of its Matrikon subsidiary, topped the list for OPC Connectivity.

Mission control interfaces

Software needs a place to run and a way for operators to run it. That may be in a centralized control room or various locations across the plant—either way, you often need pieces from this eclectic collection of specialized hardware.

This year was quiet on the interface front, with only Schneider Electric rising in Panel Display, and ABB and Moxa new or returning to Process Loop Controller and Industrial Computer, respectively. As always, the Industrial Computer category collects many votes for Dell and HP, reflecting either support for non-industrial PCs or the rising tendency for computational power to be allocated to servers. Though commercial equipment falls outside our definition of Industrial Computer, if that’s your style, they may be your winning brands.

Level cruises

It seems so simple to automate the elementary tasks of looking at a sight glass or dipping in a stick, but level remains an area where instrumentation based on the simplest principles (like some things float) competes with nuclear radiation and microwave radar to provide the least expensive, most reliable and exactly appropriate way to deal with fluids from flammable hydrocarbons to sticky foams, clumping solids and elusive interfaces.

Again, the big suppliers have acquired a broad selection of technologies and their system-sized influence has made certain brands and technologies sometimes seem like no-brainer decisions. This year, a notable change is ABB’s rise to first place in Level Gauge, Magnetostrictive, where we also see Endress+Hauser as a new or returning brand.
Smaller companies continue to offer some less known alternatives that might work better in certain situations—even savvy field instrument engineers seldom have a more challenging selection than a new level application. New and returning winners include GE Masoneilan for Level Gauge, Float/Displacer; Magnetrol for Level Gauge, Non-Contacting Radar; and Krohne for Level Gauge, Ultrasonic; as well as Siemens for Level Gauge, Guided Wave; Level Switch, Ultrasonic and Level Switch, Vibration. There are no losers on these charts.

Flow stays subsonic

Flow is obviously defined by ever-changing volumes of liquids, gases, slurries an other materials moving through pipelines and vessels, but measuring them accurately depends on managing them carefully and consistently. This is as true for the latest ultrasonic and Coriolis flowmeters as it was for the earliest vortex and turbine flowmeters.

Not surprisingly, the consistency required by flowmeter technologies translates to the organization and performance of the many companies that develop and supply them. So, even though there are many providers, the specialists in each flowmeter technology tend to remain at the top of their respective heaps for years at a time. But this year, Emerson Automation Solutions took first place in Open Channel Flowmeter. Schneider Electric is new or returning for Coriolis Flowmeter, FMC Technologies for Turbine Flowmeter, Krohne for Vortex Flowmeter, and Omega for Flow Switch.

Temperature and pressure under control

Keeping pipelines, vessels and other process equipment running within optimal ranges requires more than flow and level devices, and that's where the best pressure and temperature components come in—and keep on winning end users’ votes year after year. This year, some brands shifted a peg or two but the most notable change is seeing ABB new or returning in Temperature Transmitter.

hose shifting rankings include rises by SOR in Pressure Switch, Endress+Hauser in Resistance Temperature Detector, Emerson Automation Solutions and Williamson in Infrared Temperature Sensor, and United Electric in Temperature Switch.

Analyzers find their space

Because process equipment running properly isn't worth much if the products they're producing aren't within specifications, control engineers and operators must also keep a close eye on the quality and characteristics of those products as they progress through their applications. Cue the analyzers, which are themselves gaining new, intelligence capabilities, and often moving out into the field to more closely monitor their processes and products.

Of note for 2020, Emerson Automation Solutions took first place and Schneider Electric broke into the Process Spectrometer category. Endress+Hauser and Ametek are new or returning to Humidity/Moisture Analyzer and Process Chromatograph respectively.

ABB bumped up in Density/Concentration Analyzer and Stack Gas/Emissions Analyzer; Draeger rose in Ambient Gas Detector; Ametek and Emerson Automation Solutions notched up in Humidity/Moisture Analyzer, and Mettler Toledo gained a position in Process Spectrometer.

Final elements do the heavy lifts

Control systems are the ultimate authority in most applications, but they depend almost entirely on the valves, actuators and motors in the Final Element category to get their orders carried out. Consequently, end users in this sector don't appreciate surprises, and they rely on and vote for suppliers who are always on top of their game.

This year, we see Schneider Electric and Apollo new or returning to the lists for Electric Valve Actuator and On/Off Valve respectively, while GE Energy and Flowserve notched gains in Control Valve, and WEG climbed a rank in Electric Motor.

Infrastructure brings it all together

Field instruments, analyzers and countless other components require extensive networks of cables, connectors, power supplies, safety devices and wireless solutions, which form the avenues for them to get their data back to PLCs, DCSs and other analytical entities to enable optimal decisions.

While many process automation product categories have seen extensive consolidation through mergers and acquisitions, infrastructure remains dotted with independent, medium-sized companies that haven’t been bought, including Pepperl+Fuchs in Intrinsic Safety, Moore Industries for signal conditioners, and Phoenix Contact in power supplies and terminal blocks.

This year, Schneider Electric is new or returning to Input/Output System, Signal Conditioner and Wireless Infrastructure, while Weidmuller and Turck broke back into power supply and Wire & Cable, respectively. Phoenix Contact gained a position in Intrinsic Safety, and as did Moore Industries in Signal Conditioner and Lapp in Wire & Cable.

Elsewhere in the field

Here’s our collection of essential field equipment, instrumentation and devices that don’t fit into another major category. Here, Schneider Electric completed its surge this year by taking the lead in Data Acquisition System and Remote Terminal Unit, and showing up in Enclosure. As you can see above, ABB also made inroads, has upped its standing in here in Remote Terminal Unit, and is new or returning to Enclosure. Honeywell Process Solutions’ and Hoke’s positions improved respectively in Data Acquisition System and Instrument Fittings.

Thanks again to all the process control professionals who completed the surveys and chose the winners of the 2020 Control Readers’ Choice Awards.

The best and the rest

Determined solely by readers’ fill-in-the-blank responses, the awards you’ll find on these pages name the vendors that provide the best technology in categories from software and systems to instrumentation and final control elements. If you’re not sure which ultrasonic flowmeters are the best choice, what valve actuators provide the finest control, whose SCADA package leads the pack, or where to turn for excellence in any of our categories, the Control Readers’ Choice Awards arm you with a quick reference to the preferences of your peers.

As you review this year’s winners, remember that the fill-in-the-blank format of the survey means every supplier has an equal chance—the choices are not limited to a selection of entries determined by vendors, editors or other people who are not practicing process automation professionals.

On the survey, we ask end users to vote only in those categories where they have personal experience. A vote for a specific company should mean the respondent has found its products to be better than other companies’ in that category. While we ask respondents to write in the name of the company, some write in the names or numbers of specific products or software packages. We do our best to recognize and translate these responses into parent company names.

Every vendor named in the accompanying tables has been designated as offering the best value by a significant number of respondents. Since more respondents have experience with companies that have higher installed bases or market shares, the results are inevitably biased toward the larger companies. Furthermore, there are certainly small companies that don't make the list, no matter how excellent their technologies, just because they are relatively unknown. If you have a favorite smaller supplier, consider yourself fortunate and don't be concerned that they aren't in our Readers' Choice Awards.

We’ve done our best to get experienced automation professionals, people who have the necessary perspective and wisdom to judge, without prejudice or penalty, who makes the best stuff for process control. We express our heartfelt appreciation to the hardy respondents who took the time to share their valuable wisdom by selecting our winners, and we congratulate each listed vendor on being recognized in our Readers’ Choice Awards.

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