Despite what the movies, TV shows and graphic novels suggest, real superheroes are pretty hard to come by.
In fact, the real superheroes in Machine Builder Nation might be those machine builders who find ways to do extraordinary things with incredible, shrinking budgets and technology-averse customers.
But for the sake of finding a fitting visual image for our 2011 Readers' Choice Award winners, we'll call those suppliers this year's superheroes of the automation vendor universe, whose power to provide superior technology value is validated by the ballot power of our machine builder judges.
The template for this process hasn't changed since we launched Readers' Choice Awards in 2001. We sent questionnaires to about 15,000 subscribers who tell us they have buying influence or buying authority for industrial automation and control products. Since vendors aren't eligible, we didn't knowingly let any supplier vote. If we did find a vendor in the mix, we deleted it. Voting is only for our machine-builder and system-integrator audience.
We use an unaided ballot, which means we don't provide a list of vendors or product brands from which to choose. We include 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 250+ eligible ballots. Once they choose the best providers, participants rate service and support they receive from them. Only companies that received at least 5% of their category vote are listed.
Debuts, Returns and Departures
In 53 product categories this year, 98 individual companies made the ranking, compared with 86 from 51 categories in 2010 and 92 in 2009. Twenty-five companies made this year's elite list for the first time or after a year or more absence. Showing less churn than the past two years, the results excluded 13 companies that had been listed in 2010.
Thirteen companies, four more than in 2010, won in multiple categories. As has become almost customary, Rockwell Automation won or tied for first place in 21 hardware and software categories. Emerson earned five category wins, while National Instruments won in three categories. Advantech, Cisco, Fanuc FA America, GE Energy, Honeywell, Parker, Pepperl+Fuchs, Thomson, Turck and Yokogawa each won twice.
Many categories produced clear wins again this year. Of the 53 categories, 33 had winners with margins greater than 10 percentage points. Close races with a margin of five percentage points or less occurred in nine categories, identical to last year. However, seven of those tight races ended in statistical dead heats among two or more companies, compared with four in 2010.
Service Scores a Bit Tougher
When it comes to evaluating your suppliers' overall service and support, your response remained routinely generous. Of those 98 individual companies in the product category results, you awarded service and support scores of 4.0 or better (very good-to-excellent performance on a 1 = poor to 5 = excellent scale) to 70 of them, a rate all but identical to last year.
But contrary to last year's result, the distribution of these service recognition scores dropped. Last year, 20% of the listed service scores were at 4.3 and higher levels. This time it was only 10%, and no company scored above 4.3. In 2010, 30% of the listed scores were in the 4.2 slot. This year it represents 20% of the scores. As a consequence, awards in the 4.0 to 4.1 groupings made up 70% of all the listed service scores, compared with 50% last year.
You awarded the highest service score—4.3 this year—17 times to nine companies across 13 categories.
Every company earning a spot on the service and support list should be pleased. Some achieved great service marks more than once. The table on p44-45 lists those companies that voters say have terrific service/support in specific product categories. Voters recognized Rockwell Automation service and support in 23 product categories, followed by Siemens Industry in 16 categories, and Phoenix Contact in nine.
Emerson Process Management made the service rankings in six categories, while ABB, AutomationDirect and National Instruments each received five service accolades.
Banner Engineering, Endress+Hauser and Invensys each received four product category nods, and Omega Engineering, Omron, Pepperl+Fuchs and Turck enjoyed three each. Beckhoff Automation, Belden, Festo, GE, Hoffman, Keyence, Pilz Automation Safety, Rittal, Schneider Electric, Thomson and Wago each made it twice.
With product categories listed alphabetically, here are 2011's super companies.