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Engineers rank top global suppliers

Engineers rank top global suppliers

Design engineers worldwide enjoy a strong supplier base filled with companies that provide exceptional technology and services at competitive prices.

That's among the conclusions from the Second Annual Design News/Global Design News Best Global Supplier Survey. This worldwide study of the two magazines' readers shows that competition is so brisk that engineers in North America, Europe, and Asia cannot cite clear winners when it comes to price and innovation. However, in some product categories certain suppliers stand out, including Autodesk and SKF, whom readers of both magazines declared to be undisputed leaders in their respective technologies.

The survey went by mail to 6,000 engineers, half of whom who read Design News and half of whom read Global Design News, which circulates in Europe and Asia. "This is the first time we have sampled all the major design centers in the world," says Larry Maloney, publisher and editorial director of both magazines. "No other magazine in this field can do this."

Like last year, the survey asked readers of both magazines to rank companies in nine supplier industries by best technology, most cost-competitive pricing, and best customer service, and then pick an overall industry leader. The Design News research department then calculated combined results. While Autodesk and SKF were the clear leaders in CAD and bearings, respectively, the combined Design News/Global Design News results for the seven other technologies identified several companies in a statistical dead heat for the title of overall leader. Here is a closer look at the results by category:

CAD: Autodesk came in number one in a field of 13 suppliers cited by readers of both magazines. The CAD pioneer also emerged as the overall CAD-industry leader in last year's survey.

Autodesk started the PC-based CAD revolution to make engineers more productive. The company's latest product aims to make them more inventive. Called Autodesk Inventor, it's a 3D, feature-based, solid-modeling and drawing-production system that, says the company, enables adaptive design. It allows users to design the way they think and easily change designs without using complex equations and parameters, asserts Dominic Gallello, executive vice president of the company's Design Solutions Division. He says Inventor addresses the five major trends driving manufacturing processes: simultaneous engineering, leveraging intellectual capital, model-centric communication, the need for a common tool everyone involved in product development can use, and enterprise connectivity-the tying together of everyone on the design-manufacturing team.

Says International Data Group Analyst Jack Conaway, "Autodesk placed itself once again in the position of industry innovator with its Inventor product."

Engineered resins: DuPont and GE Plastics lead a field of 21 resin suppliers. The two finished in a virtual tie in the voting by Design News and Global Design News readers. DuPont also won the category last year.

Zytel DMX modified nylon resins are among the super-tough products DuPont is known for. The Zytel DMX ST601H reportedly measures up to the impact resistance of conventional super-tough nylons with no break during notched Izod tests at room temperature.T608H is said to offer up to three times the impact strength of standard nylon 66.

For its part, GE Plastics plans to apply special additives to its engineering thermoplastics to increase their vibration-dampening characteristics without any real change in modulus. The company plans to introduce the concept in its Noryl polyphenylene oxide. It will reportedly work with all types of Noryl, including glass-filled, unfilled, and flame-retardant grades. Additionally, the company will apply the vibration-dampening technology to Valox thermoplastic polyesters and Xenoy PBT/ polycarbonate and Enduran mineral-filled PBT.

GE Plastics also plans to push a new family of engineering thermoplastics that provide benefits beyond heat, impact, and chemical resistance, predicts John M. Brown, general manager at GE Plastics. The company's Visualfx resins, he says, will help engineers apply effects such as metal flake, diffused translucency, and color to products. "We believe the Visualfx thermoplastics will help engineers introduce more compelling new products and revitalize mature product lines," Brown says. Among applications: household appliances such as vacuum cleaners.

Fluid power: Parker Hannifin scored higher than the 10 other suppliers cited by readers of both magazines, but when considering margin of error it was in a statistical tie with Mannesman-Rexroth, Festo, Vickers, and SMC. Parker was the clear winner, however, in the Design News-only results.

Among Parker Hannifin's latest fluid power products is a fast-cycling, bench-mounted hose crimper called the Phastkrimp. It reportedly will crimp four-spiral SAE 100R12 hose through 1.25 inches, and six-spiral 100R13 through one inch, in both steel and stainless fittings.

Bearings: SKF made a clean sweep in a field of 10 companies in the combined Design News/Global Design News balloting, winning for best technology, most cost-competitive pricing, and best customer service as well as being declared overall industry leader. It also was the overall industry leader in last year's survey.

But, in the Design News-only results, readers in North America cited Timken and Torrington along with SKF as overall industry leaders. In the Global Design News-only results, readers in Europe and Asia ranked NSK and NTN Bearings as virtually equal to SKF for competitive pricing.

Among SKF's latest developments is the Explorer range of spherical roller bearings, which SKF says sets a new performance class. The bearings feature increased power density, longer bearing life, and higher bearing reliability. The high performance reportedly results from a combination of engineering design innovations, including an internal bearing design that is said to reduce stress concentrations considerably on both the macro and micro levels. The surface texture has been refined to maintain an optimum oil film between the contacting surfaces, SKF says.

Electric motors and drives: Siemens squeaked by General Electric and ABB Control, Inc., but the three were in a virtual dead heat in this category that included 30 companies cited by readers of both magazines. The three also tied for best technology, with Siemens again having a slight edge.

In the Design News-only results for this category, Baldor, Rockwell Automation, and Siemens joined General Electric in a four-way tie for overall industry leader, while Baldor held the lone position of most cost-competitive company.

Siemens says that its new Micromaster 6SE32 and 6SE92 variable-frequency drives are the first to integrate sensorless vector control with a Class A filter in such a compact size-5.79 inches x 2.87 inches x 5.55 inches with a weight of less than two pounds. Siemens says engineers can now mount several drives in a smaller cabinet.

Among Baldor's newest products are the Super-E motors. At 15 hp and above, they meet NEMA MG1, Part 31, for peak voltage when used with inverters. The company says it has added improved insulation materials to these motors, which now operate with inputs up to 1,600V peak. Helping the motors withstand the higher voltage spikes that sometimes come with inverters is a special Inverter Spike Resistant (ISR) wire.

Industrial controls: Siemens and Rockwell Automation led a field of 13 companies. The two also were in a virtual tie for best technology. But, in the Global Design News-only balloting, readers in Europe and Asia ranked Omron highly for its competitive pricing and customer service. One of the latest additions to Siemens' controls-products line is the SIMATIC S7-200 family of micro programmable logic controllers. Taking its cue from customers, Siemens says it added a litany of features and improvements, including a 300% increase in scan speeds (0.37 microseconds).

One of Rockwell's newest products is the ControlLogix multi-discipline controller. Three new motion instructions and two new axis types provide a wide range of motion capabilities, including indexing, gearing, position and time camming, and high-speed registration, the company says.

Among Omron's latest products are its D2SW subminiature sealed snap-action switch and its B3FS PCB tactile switch. The company claims to have the most comprehensive technical support system in the industry.

Linear technology: Thomson Industries, THK, and SKF were locked in a virtual tie in the 14-vendor category. Thomson's most recent product is the MicroStage Multi-Axis System. It consists of individual MicroStage linear positioning stages with what the company calls a unique linear bearing segment design. That design reportedly provides backlash-free, low-friction rolling motion without sacrificing load capacity or smoothness.

THK recently introduced its new caged ball technology, which the company says eliminates the heat associated with ball-to-ball friction. No ball-to-ball contact results in higher speeds and a longer product life. Grease pockets integral to the ball cages help to retain lubricant and minimize long-term maintenance requirements.

SKF's newest linear motion products include CATR 11 Actuators, compact units designed for light applications up to 100-lb loads. They're available in 12 and 24V dc and stroke lengths from 50 to 300 mm.

And, in other news...: In many cases in this latest survey, the overall industry leaders also ranked highly on other questions, according to the combined results. For example, Autodesk, the overall CAD leader, also grabbed most-cost-competitive honors. But, the company shared the spotlight for best technology with Parametric Technology Corp., SolidWorks, and IBM/Dassault.

In engineering resins, DuPont and GE Plastics also shared honors for best technology, and were joined by BASF and Dow for best customer service.

The two technology categories in the survey that had the closest results were computer-aided-engineering-analysis software (CAE) and computer workstations. For example, of 13 CAE vendors cited by readers of both magazines, eight were in a virtual tie for overall industry leader. They are ANSYS, Parametric Technology, Corp., MSC.Software, Algor, CoCreate, Ansoft, SDRC, and Structural Research and Analysis Corp. Readers of both magazines, however, agreed that Algor was the most cost-competitive company.

In computer workstations, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Sun Microsystems, and Compaq led the list of 12 suppliers readers cited in the voting for overall industry leader, and all five were within a few points of each other. Readers picked Dell, however, as the most cost-competitive vendor.

"The close results are an indication of the extreme competitiveness in those technologies, which sometimes blurs the distinction between companies," says Steve Johnson, Design News research director.

"Once again, our Global Suppliers Survey has shown the vitality and strength of vendors in all the technologies that design engineers rely on," concludes Maloney. "We look forward to next year's results."

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