Price #1 Commercial Requirement among Users of Data Acquisition Hardware Solutions

Based on soon to be published research generated from VDC's 2011 Data Acquisition Solutions Market Intelligence Program in which VDC surveyed almost 600 end users, OEMs and other stakeholders involved in using, purchasing and/or specifying data acquisition solutions (i.e. data loggers, paperless recorders, Compact PCI plug-in analog I/O boards, etc) price was the #1 most often cited vendor selection criteria among hardware users.

Price remained the #1 factor among respondents using external chassis & modules and became the #1 factor among users of plug-in analog I/O boards, where price overtook application support as the #1 factor as compared to VDC's 2008 research. VDC asked survey respondents to select their top 5 most important factors (out of 16) they considered before selecting a supplier from which they would procure their data acquisition solutions.

However the remaining top 10 supplier criteria respondents selected varied by hardware platform such as external chassis & modules vs. plug-in analog I/O boards. In fact, the top 10 commercial requirement selections even varied among respondents of the eight different vertical markets under study as users in different market segments possess some unique requirements and/or perspectives on what is deemed most important to them.

VDC provided new analysis in the 2011 research asking software respondents to rate their top 5 most important factors when considering their vendor selection. Among software respondents the most important factor was receiving strong application support. Price was rated the 2nd most important factor among software respondents.

Clearly cost containment is a critical factor which users consider before investing in a data acquisition solution and suppliers need to make every effort to strip out as much unnecessary costs as possible from their data acquisition solution.

That being said there are other important considerations which users make when considering selecting a supplier from which to procure their data acquisition solutions. In many cases these other factors may play a more dominant role in a user's decision-making process than price, if the supplier can effectively frame a value proposition that may include concepts such as ROI, TCO or a valid cost/benefit tradeoff analysis. By selling on value suppliers can more effectively overcome any price objection; every sales person knows that you never want to sell on price alone.



Wireless Charging Could Empower Sensing in Industrial Applications

I saw an interesting article this morning about wireless charging that got me thinking about its possible use in industrial sensing. This technology is being developed by a MIT spin-off WiTricity and it's new partner MediaTek. The wireless charging they are working with is a big step beyond the inductive type charging plates that are currently on the market but, instead can charge devices at a distance. Obviously a cell phone that never needs charging and, perhaps, a much smaller battery geography would be a big deal on the consumer market but I'm thinking it could be a game changer in industrial settings.

Using wireless data transmission solves a lot of sensing problems particularly in equipment that has a lot of moving parts but that still leaves the problem of powering the device. Newer sensors with ultra low power demand and advanced long-life batteries solve some of this but, I suspect that they still leave some sense of concern that a dead sensor battery could idle an entire production line. Some of this concern could be alleviated by energy harvesting and/or solar technology but these are not ideal in all cases. But, if you could eliminate much of the battery size, combine energy harvesting and WiFi type power, you could have a really small wireless sensor that would be ultra-reliable. To me that's a pretty big deal.


Accuracy Remains #1 Technical Requirement of Data Acquisition Hardware Users

Based on soon to be published research generated from VDC's 2011 Data Acquisition Solutions Market Intelligence Program in which VDC surveyed almost 600 end users, OEMs and other stakeholders involved in using, purchasing and/or specifying data acquisition solutions (i.e. data loggers, paperless recorders, Compact PCI plug-in analog I/O boards, etc) accuracy remained the #1 most often cited hardware product selection criteria (rated #1 in 2008 VDC Research). VDC asked survey respondents to select their top 5 most important factors (out of 24) they considered before investing in a data acquisition solutions.

However the remaining top 10 product factors respondents selected varied by hardware platform such as external chassis & modules vs. plug-in analog I/O boards. In fact, the top 10 technical requirement selections even varied among respondents of the eight different vertical markets under study as users in different market segments possess some unique requirements and/or perspectives on what is deemed most important to them.

VDC provided new analysis in the 2011 research asking software respondents to rate their top 5 most important factors when considering their product selection. Among software respondents the most important factor was the compatibility with their operating system. Accuracy was rated the 3rd most important factor and was preceded by ease of use.  Users may associate accuracy as being an issue more relevant to hardware and thus place less emphasis upon it when considering data acquisition software.

VDC also asked respondents to rate their top 5 most important commercial requirements (out of 16) they wanted to see provided from suppliers of the data acquisition solutions from which they are considering purchasing. That information and some of its ramifications are saved for a blog on another day.



Are Hard Wired Surge Suppliers Missing the American Consumer Market?

In the recently published reports on hard wired surge suppressors I had estimated the consumer segment of the American market for Main Service Entrance (MSE) surge suppressors at a mere ~$4.5M but had projected a CAGR of ~14% as I expected them to catch on with homeowners.

Here's the thing though. As I see it, I don't think that suppliers and their channels are doing nearly enough to promote them. At best, I see a 10% market penetration but that is only in extremely lightning prone states/regions.

I recently decided that I would have one of these things in my own house. I realized that although I of course use plug-in/line cord surge in all the usual places like my home entertainment and home office, equipment, elsewhere they are impractical. In the mean time, appliances, hot tubs, saunas, and the like all have electronic displays, controls and/or panels. These things likely have some internal surge protection but I'm pretty sure it's only good enough to minimize warranty expenses. After that, these items are a high margin cash cow for the suppliers. I live in the northeast and we do ocasionally have severe storms and I live near the top of a hill so it got me thinking that I should install one of these MSE surge suppressors.

I went looking for them in both of the big orange and blue home inprovement stores with very poor results. If they have them at all, they are hiding them among other commodity type electrical circuit breakers and similar products. If you are lucky, there will be one or two MSE somewhere in the 6 or 7 orange and/or blue stores in your vicinity. I also checked orange/blue inventory in other more lightning prone zip codes and found similar results. The in-store sales personnel I met were not very helpful. They indicated selling some MSE surge but only infrequently when people upgrade their electric panels or, slightly more frequently, after they already got hit by lightning and saw the impact of not being protected. Finally, I was able to obtain an MSE suppressor but it took even more effort to make sure it was a UL 1449 3rd edition certified unit.

In closing, I'm wondering why I have not seen these things being promoted more. How much would it take to get them in the orange and/or blue store's weekly fliers? Perhaps a run of commercials or infomercials would help promote demand. Unless this happens, (and perhaps I'm missing it because I'm in the northeast), it might be problematic to get to the ~14% CAGR I estimated.


2nd Chance! Level Sensor Suppliers - Take the Strategy Survey - Get a Chance to win an iPad

We are looking for representatives from manufacturers of electronic and mechanical level measurement and inventory tank gauging systems to take a quick 5 minute supplier strategy survey. Last week we sent out an invitation with our practice update and a selected mailing. We got an excellent response in the first few days but there is still a chance to participate. We thought that a lot of people might have been on vacation so we will extend the survey for a few days more. In addition, those that complete the survey on or before Wednesday July 13th will also get two chances in the raffle instead of one.

In return for your time and participation, respondents of this survey will be entered into a drawing for an iPad.

If you really think about it, you get a pretty good chance to win an iPad which is valued at ~$500 where the pool of participants is 30-50 people. At a minimum, you are guaranteed something as all participants will also receive the aggregate tabulation of results in Q3/2011. This is the only release of this complete aggregate summary outside the actual reports.

If, you win and, for some reason, you can’t accept an iPad as a prize, an equivalent donation to charity or a discount on a future VDC Research Group purchase will be offered.

Take the Survey.

Please Note: The identity of all participants including the prize winner will not be revealed outside VDC Research group. All data will be used in aggregate and also in support of specific sections inside the process level and inventory tank gauging reports. All information provided by respondents that is used in the report will be cited as VDC estimates.

The survey will close soon to allow us to provide the results to the project's sponsors in our monthly update.


Landis & Gyr Acquired By Toshiba, Leadership of Burgeoning Smart Grid Opportunity is Driving Force

Back in May 2011 Toshiba Corporation acquired Landis & Gyr for the price of $2.3 billion in cash. The goal of the acquisition is to create the dominant market leader in the smart grid opportunity. The acquisition is designed to create a new growth platform within Toshiba specifically targeting the global Smart Grid opportunity, bringing benefits to both utility customers and consumers.

With over 8,000 utility customers globally, Landis+Gyr has been a pioneer in creating leading-edge smart metering, networking and service products to meet the needs of the utility industry. Toshiba will retain and enhance the Landis+Gyr brand and there are no plans for job reduction or restructuring as a result of this transaction.

Landis & Gyr is covered in VDC's Global Wireless Industrial Networking Products study and was identified as the leading provider of wireless routers serving smart grid opportunities worldwide. Although the wireless industrial networking business represents just a small fraction of Landis & Gyr's revenues, the acquisition further signifies the continuing need for companies to invest in technology, particularly networking, to further productivity, achieve real-time visibility, agility and operational flexibility.

Applications such as smart metering and other smart grid related applications are well suited to benefit from the use of wireless connectivity provided by routers and other networking products. Power Generation was the second largest consuming industry of wireless networking infrastructure products under study and is forecast to experience robust growth in shipments of such products over the next five years.

It is clear that PAC Man fever will continue to impact suppliers operating in markets and industry segments which are undergoing dynamic changes. Power Generation is one such industry and wireless networking infrastructure products are critical components which can help facilitate and channel such dynamic forces for the better.

A New Threat to Power Grid Stability - Jellyfish?

I am always on the lookout for things that will impact the power grid and, as a result, the market for power protection products. Therefore, last week I took note of the fact that a nuclear power plant in the UK had to be shut down as the cooling system filters became clogged with jellyfish. I thought this to be an unusual event that was not really blog worthy. If anything it was a little funny as I saw one web comment that 'mother nature must really hate these nuclear plants'. Which was noteworthy when you consider the happenings in Japan, the 2 plants in Nebraska that were threatened by floods, and a 3rd research reactor being threatened by fire in Los Alamos.

As it turns out, the jellyfish problem is not an isolated event as the news this morning mentions similar issues with conventional power plants in Israel. These plants use seawater to cool the turbines and it is taking a massive manual effort to keep them running because the jellyfish are so numerous. This situation looks to be ongoing and likely to increase and spread to other locations.

To me, this looks like another factor that will increase the need for power protection product but, at the same time, a huge opportunity for manufacturers of industrial cooling components that can make automated filter mechanisms that handle and clear jellyfish. Until then, utilities and power users will have one more thing to worry about.


Redundancy - Always a Good Idea for Process Control/Safety

I was alerted to an article related to level measurement. In this case, level measurements were being taken on a river where there was a nuclear power plant nearby. There had been a problem when one of the two level sensors making measurements had a problem and, as a result, they almost had to shut the power plant down. To me this situation underscores two important points:

1.) Process safety sensing can extend beyond the borders of the facility where the process is happening. In a power plant situation you want to know if the cooling water supply is at risk or, as in this case, there is a risk of flooding.

2.) Having redundancy in your process control and/or safety sensing loops prevents errors from happening. Sensor errors could lead to unnecessary shutdowns and lost productivity or, in the worst case, problems and/or undetected problems that cause damage and/or injury.

The article I referenced did not go into details about the sensors in beyond it being a "pressure sensor" measuring level. This could mean two hydrostatic (pressure) sensors being deployed to measure differential pressure or two independent sensors making the measurements at close proximity to each other. In either case, it does underscore the need for redundant sensing when critical processes are being controlled or safeguarded.

On a related note, be on the lookout for a set of surveys supporting our Process Level and Inventory Tank Gauging (ITG) market research that we will likely be deploying after the July 4th holiday weekend. There will be opportunities for Process Level and ITG suppliers and users to win significant prizes. Stay on the lookout for an alert blog here and/or a VDC or launch partner e-mail that announces them.


A Couple of Quick Thoughts on UPS Market and Products

I had some thoughts on the UPS markets this morning that I thought I might share. Both are driven from recent events.

As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) begins meetings this week looking at the events at Fukushima-Daiichi, they will no doubt look at the failure of the backup power systems to maintain cooling until a full and orderly reactor shutdown could occur. This led me to think about the role a Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) fulfills in this process. These UPS systems are used as a bridge between the power being restored by the primary system or the power generator. In the Fukushima case, the generators were affected by the tsunami and therefore it reduced the importance of whether the UPS worked or not. But, if that were not the case, I began to wonder if the UPS would have fulfilled its role. In a severe earthquake, would the batteries survive? If it were flywheel based, would the flywheel survive? Would all the breakers and connections between modules stay intact? Manufacturers that can provide and demonstrate this capability will likely find a growing market as the existing nuclear power plants have to be upgraded based on the recomendations from the IAEA's investigation and the work and findings from other similar organizations.

My second thought was around a story I saw this morning in the NY Times regarding the seizure of several racks of servers in a data center. At the time I write this, it seems that several "innocent" companies that had nothing to do with the FBI's case were taken off-line. This is not a new story as the risk of data seizure has always been there when a company considers outsourcing its data center. But, this case might be a market changer similar in that the move to consolidated "cloud" data centers might be slowed significantly and therefore the market for smaller 20kVA and under UPS systems supporting smaller groups of servers will be maintained at the expense of the larger units.

Depending on what happens in the aftermath of this FBI case, it could lead to changes in data center architecture where servers and infrastructures from certain business types would be concentrated in groups in accordance to the seizure risks. It remains to be seen if these business driven changes will drive changes in the supporting power products.


Wireless Sensor Networks and The Cloud Are Raining Data

Although I did not have a great deal of time to walk the floor and visit every booth to learn about all the new (and not so new) products and technologies exhibited at the Sensors Expo, I did glean the sense that wireless sensor networks and cloud computing are gaining traction as users increasingly embrace the benefits of wireless connectivity to obtain data and also grapple with what to do with all the data being collected, analyzed and managed.

Based on extensive research from VDC's Wireless Industrial Networking Products research we know about the many benefits and factors which are driving demand for wireless connectivity and sensor monitoring is an application well suited to benefit from the usage of wireless networks. Cloud computing is supposed to provide the user with greater performance capabilities, real-time analysis and data storage capabilities and the possibility for a 3rd party to manage part of, or all of, the data process of collection, analysis and storage. 

Companies such as Digi International and MicroStrain were highlighting offerings which leveraged both wireless sensor networks and cloud computing and there were several other companies that were highlighting a wireless sensor network solution leveraging an 802.11x network standard, an 802.15.4 (ISA-100, Wireless HART, Zigbee, etc.) network standard and/or a proprietary narrow band solution (2.4 GHz band, 900 MHz band, etc.)

VDC will be launching a new project on wireless sensor networks later this year and the impact of cloud computing and who manages all the data being acquired from the burgeoning use of wireless sensor networks will no doubt be part of the research discussion. We are very much interested in learning about what issues, questions and market forces are of greatest interest to the marketplace and welcome any feedback you can share or questions/issues to consider.

A discussion about for which applications users may choose to leverage cloud computing's capabilities is a blog for another day.