Readers' Choice Awards

Jan. 11, 2011
Our 19th Survey! Control Readers Pick Their Preferences in More than 100 Process Automation Technologies
Welcome to the Annual Control Readers’ Choice Awards, our 19th edition. We’ve surveyed our readers, and we asked them, in a series of unaided (that means no preselected choices in dropdown boxes) surveys for their selections among all the solution providers they regularly work with. 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 This year's awards represent the collective opinion of over 1000 automation professionals.

The results still reflect a North American bias. However, each year we see more responses from automation professionals from outside the United States. This has made some clear changes in the standings.

For the third year in a row, we've broken out control platform awards by discipline. We've named them "Best in Control" (see Table 1, "Best in Control" Readers' Choice Awards by Process Automation Discipline), and each category represents end-user selections in the six basic process control disciplines: Continuous Regulatory Control, Batch Process Automation, Safety/Emergency Shutdown, Sequential Logic, Continuous Sheet/Web Monitoring and Control…and a new category for 2011, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). We've also broken out the top readers' choices by industry vertical (see Table 2).

If you compare these results to the 2010 Readers' Choice Awards (January 2010, Control, p. 34,, you can see some jockeying for position, with Invensys Operations Management appearing in several more categories, and Siemens Industry, Schneider Electric and GE Intelligent Platforms having a bigger footprint in process automation.

As you read deeper into the awards, you'll see that we have also asked our readers to rank solution providers of a wide range of instrumentation, software, control and infrastructure products. 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 service, but also has demonstrated those 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. We congratulate all of the companies on the list.

Elsewhere in the Control Room, Competency Reigns Supreme

In addition to the six basic process control disciplines, our readers ranked their favorite vendors in their core competencies, from advanced process control software to simulation software, and many competencies in between. While the top rankings in this table go to the large integrated suppliers, this is where smaller supplier companies, such as ExperTune, ControlSoft, Mynah Technologies and Kepware, shine. You don't have to be a behemoth in the market to produce products and service that attract loyal end users. The spirit of entrepreneur/engineer-driven, small, niche companies is still strong in the process automation marketplace.

The Operators' Best Friends

Software and systems competencies are fine, but operators have to have the means of seeing what is going on, understanding what they see, and easily controlling the process they're running. In this group of Readers' Choice Awards, we find companies that have consistently demonstrated expertise in hardware design and manufacturing. Some of these companies, such as Ametek Panalarm, Watlow Electric, Federal Signal and others, have been doing what they do for a long time. Emerson, GE, Honeywell, Yokogawa and Rockwell each bring over 100 years' experience in effectively communicating process conditions to operators.

Interesting changes in this year's list: Advantech took the Industrial Computer category, Invensys Operations Management surged in the Process Loop Controller category, and Rockwell once again took the Operator Interface Terminal and Panel Display categories.

It's All About Infrastructure

In order to connect the controllers and transmitters and final control elements in the field with each other and the control room, each process plant requires a sophisticated and significant communications infrastructure. These systems are the nuts and bolts that hold the plant control system together, and see to it that measurements and control signals get to the valves or drives they need to get to.

While there has been much ballyhoo about wireless over the past few years, the bulk of plantwide communications, especially for control, are still accomplished over wires. Rockwell again topped the Input/Output System category. Pepperl+Fuchs, Moore Industries-International, Belden and Emerson all reprised their finishes from 2010. Phoenix Contact edged out SolaHD in the Power Supply category, and also nipped by Rockwell Automation in the Terminal Block category.

The Wireless Infrastructure category showed the most change, as you might expect, with new names like Elpro Technologies (part of Cooper Wireless), ProSoft Technology, Phoenix Contact and GE MDS appearing this year. We'll likely see more players as the demand for IEC 62591 (WirelessHART—the only international wireless sensor standard) grows in 2011.

Going With the Flow

There are 10 flow measurement technologies commonly in use in the process industries. We asked our readers to rank the suppliers they felt epitomized the best in each of the most popular nine flow measurement categories and in flow switches. Flow measurement is hard on the best of days, and there are some applications too hard to do. The companies listed in this table have some of the most detailed applications expertise and domain knowledge of any suppliers in any category in the Readers' Choice Awards.

Emerson Process Management, FCI and Endress+Hauser dominate these categories, as usual, but it is nice to see the re-emergence of a proud old name in flow measurement, Brooks Instrument. Another old name has also re-emerged, Brodie International. Both Brooks and Brodie have storied histories, and at one time were both part of Rockwell and later, Emerson. You just can't keep a good flowmeter supplier down.

Our Level Best

Level measurement is undoubtedly one of the very earliest measurement technologies. The oldest existing level meter is the Nilometer in Egypt, which is well over 2000 years old.

Still, we have great difficulty with this measurement, and there are numerous technologies being used to make it.  We present our readers' selections for the 10 most popular continuous-level technology suppliers and the suppliers of two types of point-level switches. As you might expect, the two largest vendors of field instruments, Emerson Process Management and Endress+Hauser, dominated this list, but smaller niche companies, such as FCI, Magnetrol, Ohmart/Vega and the recently acquired ABB subsidiary K-Tek, also did well, thanks to their loyal following of end users. This is a set of categories where sheer bloody competence reigns.

The Heat (and Pressure) Is On 

As you might expect, the supplier of the most commonly used pressure transmitters and temperature transmitters overwhelmingly dominated this category. If you haven't guessed, it was Emerson Process Measurement that won every pressure and temperature transmitter category except Infrared Temperature Sensors and Infrared Imaging/Thermography. In a bit of a surprise, JMS Southeast took top honors in the RTD category, and Fluke Raytek/Ircon took the infrared categories. Fluke Raytek/Ircon is part of Danaher. Omega Engineering, Pyromation and Thermo Electric also made the temperature honor roll.

See the entire list.

A Process Analysis Primer

As quality and performance have become more important in the batch, hybrid and continuous process industries, online process analyzers have proliferated, gotten more robust, and less costly. In this table, we present the top honors in the online process analyzer group. This year, ABB surged to lead four of the seven categories of online analyzers. Emerson Process Management took two categories, while GE Measurement and Control took one.

Online analyzers are not yet to the level of pressure or temperature measurement in terms of simplicity, robustness and operator friendliness, but new operator interface designs by ABB and Emerson are clearly making themselves felt in the readers' choices.

Valves and Motors and Drives, Oh My!

Of course, all the control systems, I/O, operator interfaces and advanced control software in the world won't work if the final control elements don't work. This generally means a valve or a motor drive and a motor. As usual, Emerson Process Management's Fisher Valve division took the Control Valve category, with mentions going to Flowserve, the recent GE acquisition Dresser Masoneilan, and two European suppliers, Samson Controls and Metso Automation. In the Electric Valve Actuator category, Rotork Controls reprised its 2010 showing, while Emerson, Auma,  Flowserve and Limitorque rounded out the category.

Rockwell Automation took the Electric Motor Drive category, while Baldor Electric (even more recently acquired by ABB) took the electric motor category. This is an example of the sometimes North American bias of our readership, with Siemens taking second in both categories.

See the entire list.

Elsewhere in the Field

As always, last in our story, but certainly never least in the hearts of our readers, the final group of Readers' Choice Awards includes essential field instrumentation technologies that don't really fit in any other logical group we've discussed so far. These include "data acquisition"—which means many things to different people, apparently—enclosures, purge systems, fittings, calibrators, remote terminal units (RTUs), vibration instrumentation and weighing systems.

This year, Rockwell and Invensys led in the DAQ category, while perennial winners Pentair Technical Products (previously listed as Hoffman Engineering), Pepperl+Fuchs Bebco, Swagelok, GE Measurement and Control (listed last year as GE Energy) and Mettler-Toledo round out the pack. Fluke took the portable calibrator category once again.