The march toward open machine controls continues, as controller-maker GE Fanuc Automation Corp. bought Total Control Products Inc. for about $100 million.
Total Control, based in Melrose Park, Ill., is known for its industrial operator interfaces, automation software and personal-computer-based controls. GE Fanuc of Charlottesville, Va., makes programmable-logic controllers for machinery, including injection molding presses.
Total Control, which went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange in early 1997, announced the deal Nov. 23. GE Fanuc Automation is paying $11 per share — a 27 percent premium over the $9.50 share price of Total Control the last trading day before the announcement.
``Total Control Products' portfolio of open-control and operator interface products will greatly expand the systems we offer for the factory floor,'' Joe Hogan, GE Fanuc Automation's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.
The plastics machinery sector is moving steadily to open-architecture controllers — devices that not only run a molding machine, but can be tied in easily to a plantwide monitoring system, other types of controllers or even the Internet. In October, at the K'98 show in Germany, Milacron Inc. showed an injection press with Milacron's new Internet-linked Xtreem controller. Controls maker Barber-Colman Co. announced it is replacing its old dedicated Maco controllers with the Maco DS, which runs on Windows NT and incorporates Wonderware operator screens.
GE Fanuc Automation now offers products for both the Windows NT and Windows CE platforms. In recent years, Windows NT has gained the lion's share of attention, but CE has some advantages in certain applications, said Bill Thompson, an analyst who covers machine controls. Total Control's current strategic emphasis is on Windows CE, said Thompson, of Automation Research Corp. in Dedham, Mass.
Windows CE was developed as a small, inexpensive way to link pocket-size personal organizers to a PC. By embedding the cheaper Windows CE into a machine controller, GE Fanuc could make the screen layouts look and work the same way, on both the controller and a PC used for supervisory software, and use the same tools to Thompson said.
ARC, an industrial automation market research and consulting firm, called Total Control ``an excellent fit'' for GE Fanuc's PC-based control business, Cimplicity.
Founded in 1983, Total Control has enjoyed big sales increases in recent years. For fiscal 1998, ended March 31, sales totaled $60.6 million, a 49 percent increase from prior-year sales of $40.8 million. The company turned a $4 million profit in 1998, after losing $1.5 million in 1997.
Analysts who cover the company predict 15 percent average annual earnings growth during the next five years.
GE Fanuc Automation is a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Fanuc Ltd. of Oshinomura, Japan.