Staying Power

Feb. 11, 2003
The difference between popularity and excellence

For sturm und angst in my world, its hard to beat our annual Readers Choice Awards. For 11 years now, weve done our best to get experienced users, people who have the necessary perspective and wisdom, to judge, without prejudice or penalty, who makes the best stuff in process control.

Every year when we publish the results, some companies cheer, others remain silent, and more than a few call us to question our methods, take issue with the results, or threaten to cancel their advertising programs.

On the one hand, its great to be able to point out that its not our fault: These are not Editors Choice Awards. You want to complain? Go talk to your customers, or, more likely, other vendors customers.

On the other hand, while wed like to believe the fraction of readers who send in their ballots are, on average, equally familiar with all the available choices, not unduly biased towards the brands in their plants, and uninfluenced by advertising, marketing, or distributors free lunches, we know better. The awards are arguably nothing more than a popularity contest. Its entirely possible for the best technology in any category to be known to only a few readers and end up being ignored by the awards.

And whats wrong with that? Our North American readership lives in democratic societies where our choices of everything from what to buy to who shall lead and where we should wage war are tremendously influenced, if not entirely determined, by popular opinion.

Sure, there may be better options out there. But if few people understand them, no one tells us about them, or theres no local dealer, theyre not going to win a popularity contest. They may not even register on our radar screens.

But popularity can be a fickle thing. Fall behind in technology, produce one unreliable model, cut back on customer service, or even just slip out of the public eye for awhile, and pretty soon nobody will think of you as a leader. Perhaps a more meaningful measure is staying power¦being first in the minds of more people, year after year.

This years Readers Choice Awards are studded with companies that have topped their categories for four or more years. In the flow and level measurement categories are Emerson/Rosemount for Magnetic Flowmeter, Pressure Transmitter, Resistance Temperature Detector, and Temperature Transmitter; fellow Emerson Process Management division Brooks Instrument for both Positive Displacement and Variable Area Flowmeters; Fluid Components Intl. for Thermal Mass Flowmeter and Flow Switch; Panametrics for Ultrasonic Flowmeter; Ametek Drexelbrook for Electrical Property-Based Level Gauge; Siemens Milltronics for Ultrasonic Level Gauge; and Mettler-Toledo for Load Cell/Weighing System.

Among the instrumentation categories, four or more-time winners are Emerson/Rosemount Analytical for pH/ORP Analyzer; Emerson/Fisher for Control Valve; MSA for Ambient Gas Detector; Omega Engineering for Thermocouple (this year a tie); Raytek for Infrared Temperature Sensor; Bently Nevada for Vibration Instrumentation; and Fluke for Calibrator.

In the control and software categories: Rockwell for PLC, PLC Software, Operator Interface Terminal, and Input/Output System; Wonderware for Human-Machine Interface Software; Emerson Process Management for Calibration Management Software; Autodesk for Design and Documentation Software; ExperTune for Loop Tuning Software (this year a tie); Intellution for SCADA Software; Ametek/Panalarm for Annunciator; Hoffman for Enclosure; Bebco for Purge System; and Yokogawa for Recorder (this year a tie).

For all its possible flaws, our Readers Choice Awards methodology, like government by democracy, is still the fairest system going. Though it may take awhile, the best ideas, finest engineering, excellent marketing, and impeccable customer service will prevail. And once it does, it tends to stay at the top.

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