Answering the big question: ‘What If?’

Over the past 30 years, Plant Engineering's Product of the Year award has highlighted the innovative companies who dare to ask the tough questions.


If you analyzed 70 years of articles in Plant Engineering, you’d find we essentially write about three things: people, processes, and products. On the people side, we discuss training, safety, and worker development. On the process side, we look at operational strategy and how to use technology effectively.  

When it comes to products, we offer our readers the latest product developments, from the smallest sensor to the largest compressor or motor. We also offer some insight on how to more effectively use those products to achieve process goals. 

Plant Engineering’s New Products For Engineers Database now available at offers you a one-stop shop for all the latest products, sortable by product category. And every year at this time, we offer you the analog version of that digital list: the annual Product of the Year competition. 

Now in its 30th year, Product of the Year remains the most coveted new product award in the industry because the winners are selected by our qualified readers. We only allow people who buy or specify products in their manufacturing plant to cast votes, and we disqualify a fair number of votes each year from people who don’t meet that voting qualification. (I mention this both as encouragement to all of you who do vote and as a reminder to those folks who try to slip a few votes past us. We’ve been at this 30 years. Trust me—we check.) 

Product of the Year is one of my favorite issues because it’s all about continuous innovation, and that should be exciting to everyone in manufacturing. To the many companies who entered Product of the Year in 2017—we have more than 100 qualified entries—it’s an affirmation that they are always looking for new ways to improve their contribution to the manufacturing plant.  

These product innovations emerge each year from continuing conversations between product managers and plant personnel. It’s that conversation that leads to the answer to the biggest question every plant manager must face: “What If?” 

  • What if I could shave time off my production process? 
  • What if I could reduce downtime? 
  • What if my automation system showed me where there were weaknesses in my process? 
  • What if I had better insight into my plant assets? 
  • What if I knew where the leaks were in my compressed air system? 

Product of the Year’s goal is to highlight this innovation, hand out some really impressive trophies, but most of all, to answer that ‘What If?’ question. Regardless of which products our readers ultimately choose to receive the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards in each category, a review of all of these products gives plant managers a way to find the answers. 

In the day-to-day (sometimes minute-to-minute) operational mode most plants are in, it’s hard to find the time to take a breather, step back and see how things could be better. Yet that kind of evaluation is essential to improve, and continuous improvement has been at the forefront of Plant Engineering’s message to our audience for the last 70 years.  

This particular issue of Plant Engineering is a great time to stop, take a few minutes, and leaf through this issue to take a look at what manufacturing innovations await you in the coming year. These are the best new ideas in the market, from fundamental maintenance products to the latest automation innovations. Any of them can help your plant improve. All of them show the supplier community’s commitment to look for new ways to help plant operations move forward. 

Please review this year’s Product of the Year Finalists. Please evaluate these great new ideas against your own needs. And please vote. All of this helps you get better as a manufacturing operation.  

And it keeps you from having to answer the bigger question: “What if we DON’T improve?” 

Bob Vavra is the Content Manager for Plant Engineering at CFE Media.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
November 2018
2018 Product of the Year finalists, mild steel welding: finding the right filler, and new technique joins aluminum to steel.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Summer 2018
Microgrids and universities, Steam traps and energy efficiency, Finding help with energy projects
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
November 2018
Analytics quantify processes, Fieldbus networking and IIoT, Choosing the right accelerometer

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

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