Picking the right automation supplier might be akin to picking the right apple tree in a vast orchard. Done properly, it's not going to be by random choice. You'll look for maturity, a straight bearing that implies good roots, balanced branching that suggests a consistent product yield, and probably a prior good result that convinced you to revisit that tree when the next harvest was needed.
So, maybe that's a stretch, but we do know that partnering with an automation supplier has to be based on a user experience that almost always includes consistent quality; performance that meets or exceeds expectations; and dependable, available, and proper support when it's needed.
Those criteria are undoubtedly behind the voting preferences in this and every other year's Readers' Choice Awards results. It's fair to say that the automation vendors that made this year's lists must be those types of suppliers.
We've not changed the process for this award since we christened the Readers' Choice Awards in 2001. This year we sent questionnaires to more than 10,000 subscribers, who tell us they have buying influence or buying authority for industrial automation and control products. Automation suppliers are never eligible, so we didn't knowingly let any supplier vote. Voting is reserved for our machine-builder and system-integrator audience.
The voters receive an unaided ballot, which means we don't provide a list of vendors or product brands from which to choose. We list about 50+ hardware and software categories, and ask participants to name the companies that provide them the best technology value for products with which they have experience. This year we tallied 200+ eligible ballots. Once they choose the best product providers, participants rate service and support they receive from them. Only companies that receive at least 5% of their category vote are listed.
This Year's Roster
This year 83 individual companies, seven fewer than last year, made the listings in one or more of 58 product categories. Fifteen companies made the list for the first time or after a year or more absence, while 22 companies that made the 2012 list did not reappear this year.
Twelve companies (11 in 2012) won in multiple product categories. Rockwell Automation won or shared first place in 23 product categories, Emerson earned six category wins, and Cisco won in three categories. Winning in two product categories each were ABB, Advantech, Festo, National Instruments, Pepperl+Fuchs, Phoenix Contact, Siemens Industry, Thomson, and Turck.
As we've come to expect, many categories produce clear wins. Of the 58 categories, 39 had winners with margins greater than 10 percentage points. Close races with a winning margin of five percentage points or less occurred in 12 categories, and seven of those tight races ended in statistical ties among two or more companies.
Service and Support Ratings Slip Overall
Of those 83 individual companies in the product category listings, ballot respondents awarded service and support scores of 4.0 (very good) or better performance (on a 1 = poor to 5 = excellent scale) to 54 of them, a 65% rate that compared with only 53% last year, but 73% in 2011.
While a larger percentage of the listed companies reached or exceeded the 4.0 level, the overall distribution of these service recognition scores continues its trend downward. In 2010, 20% of the listed service scores were 4.3 or higher levels. By 2012, only 2% reached 4.3, and this year only two ratings out of 131 (1.5%) achieved a 4.3 score.
Service and support that landed in the 4.0 group represents 79% of all the listed service scores, compared with a 30% share in 2010.
Rockwell Automation received the top rating with a service score of 4.3 in the Electronic Drive and HMI Software product categories.
To be sure, every company earning a spot on the service and support list should be very pleased. You awarded 23 of those 54 companies with these great service marks more than once. Voters recognized Rockwell Automation service and support in 24 product categories, followed by Siemens Industry with 17 categories, and Phoenix Contact with six. Emerson received five service accolades, while AutomationDirect, Endress+Hauser, and Schneider Electric were each named four times. Belden, GE, and National Instruments each received three product category service nods, and ABB, Balluff, Banner Engineering, Bosch Rexroth, Festo, Hoffmann, Kollmorgen, Moxa, Omega Engineering, Pro-face, Red Lion Controls, Wago, and Yokogawa all made it twice.
With product categories listed alphabetically, here are 2013's sweet and shiny companies.