We here at The Motley Fool have already dabbled a bit in the world of industrial automation, having talked about companies like Switzerland's ABB (NYSE:ABB) and Germany's Siemens (NYSE:SI). Today we'll look at an American play on the automation and power transmission industries -- Rockwell Automation (NYSE:ROK).

The company's first quarter was solid enough to surpass expectations. Revenue climbed 10%, segment operating profits rose 16%, and income from continuing operations climbed 19%. Though reported free cash flow took a hit from a very large voluntary pension contribution, the underlying cash flow picture looked quite steady.

Looking at the two business units that make up Rockwell, we see that both performed soundly. Control systems, by far the largest, saw 9% revenue growth and 11% growth in operating income. Growth was much stronger in the U.S. than in foreign markets; that's a topic we'll return to soon. For the power transmission business, sales were up 15% and operating income jumped 57% for the quarter.

As industrial companies have reported earnings and hosted analyst days, we've heard more and more about increased plans for capital spending. After lots of lean manufacturing initiatives, margin-improvement programs, and flat-out mass firings, many companies now have the cash and the confidence to start upgrading their systems and machinery.

While that's good for Rockwell, it's not quite that simple. Companies like General Electric (NYSE:GE), Honeywell (NYSE:HON) and Emerson (NYSE:EMR) are also in the picture. Furthermore, we all know that a lot of the growth in manufacturing is happening overseas, but Rockwell is relatively stronger in the U.S. So while I'm sure Rockwell will have plenty to keep it busy over the next two or three years, the company needs to improve its overseas market share if it wants more sustainable long-term success.

Like Siemens, these shares have been marching steadily upwards since May of 2005 (aside from a little slide in the fall). Although I think there's a better-than-average chance that Rockwell can exceed expectations, I'm still more drawn to the likes of Siemens or ABB -- though none of these stocks are the bargains that they were earlier last year.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).