COMMENT: Speculate to accumulate

by Paul Gay

Investment in research and development has always been a cornerstone of the control engineering sector. But now that process control companies are being swallowed up by conglomerates, will the right level of investment be made into finding new products and developing new ideas?

Two announcements made this month will have a profound effect on the way we approach control engineering in future. National Instruments has come up with an interface system (see page 43) which will harness the power of the PCI bus, enabling PCs to handle large amounts of I/O at high speed. Traditionally this has been the realm of the PLC so system designers now have a wider choice.

A product launch from Moore Process Automation Solutions (previewed exclusively on page 14) could herald the end of the single loop controller as we now know it. Last December the company came up with the concept for a hybrid controller, which combines the functionality of a three term controller with the discrete control capabilities of a PLC. Surprising perhaps that one of the other, much bigger, process control companies hadn’t come up with the idea sooner. One can only assume that the conglomerates are saving research and development revenues so that they can afford to purchase clever ideas once someone else has proved they work.

It is interesting to note that Moore ploughs back 8% of its revenues into R and D spend – National invests as much as 14%. Long may that healthy investment level continue.