By Mark RosenzweigSelecting a vendor can be tough, especially today when funding is tight and just choosing an adequate supplier no longer suffices. Even if you regularly turn to a particular firm and are relatively happy with it, are you sure that company really provides the best technology? If you dont have extensive experience in a specific technical area, how do you choose?Several outfits with offerings in that area may appear on your employer;s approved vendors list. Hopefully you can gather some internal feedback on these suppliers and their technology. However, perhaps a different vendor is better, and you should be making a case to add it to the list. How do you know?When you want to purchase a television, dishwasher, car or cellular phone service, you can get more input. For instance, theres Consumer Reports. For many years I have been an avid reader of that magazine, which tests products and services. I even have visited the Yonkers, N.Y., test center of Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes the magazine, and was given a personal tour by a friend and chemical engineer, Steve Taub, who had worked there for ages.Getting a feel for how the testing is planned and implemented provides a real appreciation for the groups quest for impartiality. Thats why, I, for one, place more value on Consumer Reports opinions on best products than recommendations from other magazines, which provide more subjective ratings. In addition, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising and has no reason to favor one vendor over another.However, Consumer Reports can only test and analyze a limited number of samples of a narrow selection of products. So, the magazine often augments its internal testing by asking readers about their experiences with vendors; quality of service, the long-term reliability of specific brands, etc. The resulting tabulation of what lots of users think about a company and its products is invaluable, to my mind, and often helps tip my decision to a specific vendor.Up until now, you have not had access to what a broad spectrum of other professionals in the chemical industry think of vendors that serve our plants. That is changing, as of this issue, with Chemical Processings inaugural Readers Choice Awards. These are based on a survey of readers views about which suppliers offer the best technology. Hundreds of readers responded, providing input on more than 40 specific categories.While Chemical Processing does contain advertising, we took care to make sure that the survey had no inherent biases: Readers could respond with whichever firms they wanted to the open-ended questions. This made it a little tougher on Senior Editor Diane Dierking, who compiled the results, because some readers used the name of a division of a company or even a brand long retired. You should find the results, which start on p. 16, interesting and valuable.We aim to conduct such a survey each year. Our goal is to make it as useful as possible to you. So, please let us know what enhancements youd recommend for the next poll.Mark Rosenzweig is editor in chief of Chemical Processing magazine. E-mail him at [email protected].