In my September column about the 2007 Readers' Choice Award results that we just released, I mentioned a few things I noticed that were a bit different from previous years. Nothing earthshaking, but a discernable uptick in the number of second and third-tier automation suppliers, many of which are based in places other than North America.
That's consistent with a demographic shift we've seen in our readership, as our overseas digital subscriber base grows and we now have as many visitors to ControlDesign.com from the rest of the world as we do from the U.S. and Canada.
It surprised me to find a few more references to Indian and Chinese companies that I had to look up because I'd never heard of them. Do you know Wuxi Xinge, Zhejiang Automation, or Maxthermo? They make programmable controllers. Fuzhou Canwell is a gear motor supplier. Pyramid Controls in India, one of the few I did recognize, showed up, but they have an established relationship with Rockwell, Siemens, and other globals.
I'd really like to know how many of you are finding overseas sourcing to be an attractive and growing alternative. Is this still just an aberration or has there been an increase in activity?
But let me get to good stuff. The more interesting thing that came of this was the sidetrack this discussion took as I've mentioned it to builders and suppliers. Some raised the notion that counterfeit automation components now are leaking into the North American market at an increasing pace.
I remember an issue or two in Europe a few years back when there was a dustup over RoHS issues and some components that looked and quacked like Schneider Electric products, but really weren't. I hadn't heard much about this in the U.S. until I began mentioning the Chinese companies receiving votes in our results.
Then you hear the story of a machine builder or SI getting a call from a distributor he's never heard of with control component pricing that seems too good to be true.
Another wondered if the growing controls marketplace on eBay could provide cover for the unscrupulous component peddler.
I think it's time to set an editor loose on this issue to see where it leads. It might be just careless whispers and misinterpretations. It might be bigger than we suspect.
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Something tells me there's a story here.