Engineering impact on COVID-19

How are engineers applying what they’ve learned to help during the COVID-19 pandemic? See six ways automation and control engineering industry knowledge can help.

By Mark T. Hoske May 8, 2020

Engineers are responding in droves to respond to needs created by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemicControl Engineering’s section on Coronavirus, COVID-19 continues to show how engineers are applying skills to COVID-19 impacts and how the pandemic is influencing the engineering world. Nine pages of coverage in this issue is augmented by 40 articles online March 27 through April 28. The annual Control Engineering Career and Salary Report and career update section also provides advice.  

40 articles of COVID-19 coverage 

During the four weeks ending April 26, four weeks of Top 5 Control Engineering articles, only two didn’t directly pertain to the COVID-19 engineering response. Control Engineering’s 40 articles of COVID-19 engineering coverage, from March 27 through April 28 include: 

  • Control Engineering’s polls on COVID-19 show deepening impacts 
  • Electronics industry survey on COVID-19 impacts 
  • Coronavirus will force manufacturers to enhance automation, digitalization 
  • Bluetooth smartphone signals could automate COVID-19 contact tracing 
  • Robots and automation are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Several articles about masks and germ control 
  • Signs of hope for manufacturing amid COVID-19.   

Six ways automation helps during a pandemic 

Engineering support extends to automation, controls and instrumentation to help with COVID-19 responses.  

  1. Hands-off production:In general automation and controls enable production without humans, maintaining, quality, consistency,safety and throughput at high levels to help sustain critical supply chains. Sensors measure, send signals to controllers, which make decisions, and tell an actuator what to do. Secure networks transmit information, and software optimizes processes. Laboratory automation increases testing throughput. 
  2. Automation upgrades to separate humans: System integrators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are examiningdesigns of machines and lines to add separation between humans where possible by integrating more robotics (stationary, mobile, and collaborative), wireless secure human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and smarter software to lower risk.  
  3. Smarter supply chain management: Automation can help with part management, kitting, delivery, looking at where materials and parts are manufacturedand mitigating risk of future supply chain disruption. Some manufacturing locations may shift to mitigate riskwith reshoring initiatives; doing so creates opportunities to redesign and improve processes and apply more automation and controls to augment efficiencies in the new location.  
  4. Sensors and instrumentationand analytics: A myriad of measurements and data analytics go into a pandemic response. Appropriate applications of sensors and instrumentation, secure networks and data analytics present newopportunities for smarter responses.  
  5. Automated 3D printing: From maker-space help with personal-protective equipment (PPE) to rapid partcreation and replacement during supply chain interruptions, 3D design and manufacturing is helping;automation and motion controls also help with these applications.  
  6. Artificial intelligence applied to logistics support: Analytics software can be applied to track hot spots of need during a pandemic and anticipate logistics requirements, similar to rerouting resources during large-scale weather emergencies.

Last month, the “Think Again” headline said, “COVID-19 impact on engineering, engineers.” Thanks for helping me think again about how engineers are impacting COVID-19. 

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

KEYWORDS: Engineers, automation, COVID-19 

Engineers are influencing COVID-19 pandemic response. 

Automation, controls, instrumentation can help. 


How have you helped the COVID-19 pandemic engineering response, at home, at work, in your community, and beyond? 


Online learning 

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.