Caution: Automation opportunities ahead

Think Again: It’s easy to be overwhelmed with data when trying to analyze input to create actionable information. Gather, analyze, and discuss, and then do. Let’s help each other along the way.

By Mark T. Hoske October 13, 2015

Don’t be overwhelmed with data. Apply the control loop to your own agenda: gather data (measure), analyze, consider, and collaborate to create information (decide), and do it (actuate). Measure the results and repeat, explaining as you go.

Who’s involved? The recent "Power of Control Engineering" research report survey shows respondents have an average of 25 years of professional engineering experience, are an average 49 years of age, and about 60% of respondents have budgetary responsibilities. (Magazine subscribers all have buy or specify capabilities, with slightly different results.)

The average number of employees per respondent was 132 (27% had 500 or more), with each managing two people on average (21% managed 11 or more).

Other stats include influence on approved vendor lists, technologies specified, and what product they expect to evaluate in the next 12 months. On average, respondents are personally involved in recommending, specifying, buying, or approving 11 types of automation, control, and instrumentation technologies; control systems, programmable logic controllers, and motors and drives are most common. Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) make the top three when looking at the next 12 months. 

Knowledge to action

At Pack Expo 2015 in Las Vegas, many technologies were on display and integrated into packaging and processing machinery. Automation vendors discussed better integrated controls, communications, safety, easier configuration, operations, and predictive diagnostics to simplify maintenance. Many also discussed practical application of technologies, processes, and standards to help. These include easier and faster robotics, often integrated with advanced motion controls, larger more useful HMIs with many mobile connections, wireless monitoring, cloud applications, and easier software. These increasingly integrate and enable greater efficiencies from project inception, design, programming, simulation, testing, commissioning, operations, optimization, predictive maintenance, upgrades, and decommissioning… the entire lifecycle. Yes, easier, everyone says.

On the bus to the airport, I met a late-30-something engineer with his head and bag full of new information. He has just one other engineer working with him at a growing manufacturer of soap and shampoo.

We briefly talked about trends (such as digitalization, smart manufacturing, Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0), technologies (noted above), and the need to re-examine processes before applying technologies. In addition to choosing among many options, this engineer has to manage expectations of management, explaining, for instance, that buying a tank three times as large doesn’t by itself triple output. 

Opportunities ahead

The engineer paused, looked a little tired, and noted that choices are fewer and less complex during contraction.

I mentioned that growth is a great challenge to have and suggested seeking advice and help from an expert system integrator with experience in his industry by using the multi-parameter advanced search functions in the online Global System Integrator Database. Control Engineering research shows that it’s most effective to have a system integrator join a project from inception.

Think again, if options seem overwhelming. With your help, we’ll continue to help explain automation advancements and opportunities in print and digital editions, other digital products, webcasts, e-newsletters, six editions globally, content syndication, and connections to many experts who can help. Please email me suggestions or feedback on topics or ways to more effectively deliver content. We can do this, together.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.