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Automation Rises at Pack Expo 2011

Automation World editor-in-chief Gary Mintchell talked with more than 35 exhibitors at the most recent Pack Expo Show and came away with these impressions.

In addition to the following blog posting, a video of Gary discussing trends is also available online at It covers modular I/O, motion buses, modularity, EtherCat and the OMAC packaging group.

The so-called “off year” Pack Expo event, held in Las Vegas Sept. 26-28, featured many automation suppliers. This is not really a show automation vendors target for new product releases—although there were a few—but all featured ways in which their products and solutions fit the packaging machinery industry.

In “the more things change, the more they stay the same” department, once again I went from booth to booth of automation and controls suppliers who predicted the imminent demise of Rockwell Automation as the dominant North American supplier to packaging machinery manufacturers.

If you look purely from a product point of view, they have an argument—and they all made it forcefully. There is no doubt that such suppliers as Beckhoff, B&R Automation, Bosch Rexroth and Schneider Electric have capable products. The question is more one of sales and marketing. How do they convert perennial grumbling about Rockwell Automation’s pricing or products into actual sales? To date, I have not seen much movement. But…you never know. This might be the year where someone puts a dent in the market share.

The main disappointing thing to me (since I am a proponent of fierce competition) is that Bosch Rexroth and Schneider Electric spokespeople talked to me about automation, but I bet that their PR machines go quiet on the subject again, just as they have for many years. They just don’t make the concentrated push that you’d expect from major companies with competitive products.

Looking at other automation technologies, the integration of motion and logic continues pace. Ethernet is everywhere. Mostly I saw EtherNet/IP (ODVA) and EtherCat (Beckhoff). In terms of suppliers adopting EtherCat, that technology appears to be gaining momentum. But the latest market figures I’ve been shown do not verify that observation. But B&R showed the power of Ethernet Powerlink and in other conversations, a spokesman for CC Link told me that technology had significant marketshare in Asia and they expect growth in America.

OMAC, formed as an end-user organization promoting control interoperability and standardization and re-formed as a joint vendor/user organization promoting interoperability, was seemingly resurrected from the ashes at this event. Under vigorous leadership of Nestle engineers who foresee great benefits of suppliers and machine builders adopting the PackML series of specifications, several meetings were held, new committees were formed and the energy and enthusiasm of the new direction and leadership was evident to the few journalists who attended the press conference following. It sounded good. Hope they find their way.

Gary Mintchell,, is Editor In Chief of Automation World.

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