More wired than before

Readers of Control Design explain their preferences and help to identify the newest trends in the annual study on how you research, specify and buy your automation and control products.

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By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

A year ago, we asked our readers about changes they’ve made in researching, specifying and ultimately buying their machine automation products and services [“How You Find Your Machine Automation.”]

A clear result of the study was evidence of the move away from more-traditional distributor relationships and tradeshow pilgrimages to a wider use of Internet tools.

We wanted to pursue some of these findings again, as well as move into other areas to explore. We’ll use the findings to get a better sense of how to build editorial content that helps you with these issues. It also gives you an opportunity to see how your buying habits are evolving compared with your peers, and it might help tell the supplier community what it needs to do to better serve your needs.

We sent study questionnaires to a representative sampling of our readers, and received more than 300 responses.


Machine Builders Still Make the Choices
Last year our respondents said they make the primary automation choices for their machines about 67% of the time, with customers making the decisions about 28% of the time. That seemed high. We asked the same question this year and got similar results—65% said they make those choices for their machines.

We broke out the larger machine segments among the respondents and this year found that the semiconductor tool makers say they make the automation decisions 80% of the time, with customers having the say 12% of the time. The remainder is made up of engineering and design consultants.

Builders of printing presses and converting machines were second, saying they make the automation choices 77% of the time, builders of metalworking machines checked in at 75%, material handling equipment builders were next at 65%, and packaging machine builders registered 62%.

The system integrators in the study say they make the decisions for their machine builder customers about 51% of the time, with the machine builder taking the responsibility about 40% of the time.

Doing What?
We again wanted to ask what types of projects were being explored when our readers started doing their research into products and services.

Respondents tell us that they’re spending 44% of their research time on active projects for next-generation machine controls to be implemented in the next six to 12 months. Compared with 37% saying this last year, perhaps it’s a sign of increased optimism among builders and manufacturers alike as they increase time spent on optimizing the means of production. It also could be a reality check that manufacturers know they have to optimize to remain competitive in a global arena.

As was the case last year, the respondents spend 22% of their research time looking for alternative suppliers.

Research Methods

The Search Leads to…
This year we expected to see a modest continuation of the trend towards more primary use of web-based research tools at the expense of local distributors and tradeshows.

There was some movement in that direction, but not a statistically earth-moving shift by any means, and not at the expense of local distributors. Thirty percent of our study respondents say their most-used method of doing automation product research is searching vendor websites. Another 12% say their primary method is searching independent, non-vendor sites such as automation communities and portals like The 42% total compares with 40% in last year’s study.

Respondents reported that meeting/speaking with local distributors as their most-used method 26% of the time, up from 24% last year. Meeting/speaking directly with the suppliers’ technical engineers/product managers was named the most-used source by 21% of respondents.

The least-used method of doing product research is tradeshows, as named by 38% of respondents. Eighteen percent of the respondents identified those independent websites as their least-used method, and reading trade magazines was named least-used by 15%. Table I provides more detail.

Deal Direct?
We wanted to go a bit deeper into a finding last year that said our respondents clearly would like to have more direct contact with supplier technical people, but cited frustration caused by a lack of availability of these experts.

Figure 1 below summarizes what we found when we asked our participants to agree or disagree with various statements about the value, or lack thereof, that direct contact with vendor experts can bring.

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