Hot topics in Control Engineering for 2016, 2017

Think Again: Control Engineering readers choose hot topics of 2016, and that online traffic points to key trends in Control Engineering in 2017. What can you learn from these top Control Engineering articles of 2016? New: See related articles of 2017 and top graphics of 2016.

By Mark T. Hoske January 11, 2017

The fundamentals of control engineering, automation, and controls dominated the hot topics in Control Engineering for 2016, with articles on proportional-integral-derivative (PID) and loop tuning, control strategies, and controller programming in the lead.

See leading graphics from the top 10 articles, as chosen by Mike Smith, Control Engineering art director, covering control strategies, education, neural networks, and other topics.

Review articles planned for 2017 related to the top 10 hot topics online in 2016. (Using online traffic and input from subscribers, Control Engineering sets the editorial calendar for 2017.)

Because using the calendar year gives a numerical advantage to articles posted earlier in the year, this article online also contains links to top articles from August, October, and December, to better cover hot topics posted later in the year. This online version also contains the top 10 articles posted prior to 2016 and links to hot-topic coverage of 2015. (For a near-real-time analysis of hot topics, Control Engineering posts the top 5 articles of the week on Mondays.) 

2016 articles: Hottest topics

Below are the hot control engineering topics of 2016, based on traffic at, January through December.

1. Understanding PID control and loop tuning fundamentals, July 26: PID loop tuning may not be a hard science, but it’s not magic either. Here are some tuning tips that work. 

2. Applying heat exchanger control strategies, Jan. 4: Inside Process: Integrating control schemes, such as feedback, cascade, and feedforward techniques, can satisfy the control requirements of even highly challenging heat exchanger temperature control applications. 

3. IEC 61131-3: What’s the acceptance rate of this control programming standard? Feb. 16: Cover story, automation upgrades: Although the IEC 61131-3 standard for control programming languages has been around for nearly 25 years, limited awareness of its scope and features has kept it from becoming a requirement in North America. 

4. Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey, 2016, May 11: Control Engineering research shows nearly a 5% increase in salaries among respondents to an average of $94,747; analysis of salaries by years with employer shows upward salary pressure for engineering new hires. Respondents continue to indicate they like their jobs, by more than 80% this year, but financial compensation is becoming more important, as the economy is seen as the biggest threat to manufacturing today. 

5. Ladder logic 105: PLC scanning, March 4: Understanding how scanning works in a programmable logic controller (PLC) is something that needs to be addressed for a user regardless of the program being used. 

6. The velocity of PID, Sept. 6: Inside Process: PID theory is best introduced as the familiar second order differential equation via the velocity form instead of the more traditional positional form. 

7. Process models facilitate feedback control, Feb. 1: Mathematical models of process behavior can be used to improve the design and performance of feedback controllers. 

8. Neural networks in process control: Neural network architecture, controls, Feb. 26: Inside Process: Neural networks have been used in process control strategies for years, but they’re still not commonly found in the industry. This technology has been applied in a number of fields with great success. With proper training to lift the veil from the technology, it can be more widely applied-without mystery-to solve some of the most nagging process control problems. This two-part series examines the process of producing a neural network application and includes tools to simplify the process. Part 1 of this 2-part series covers neural network architecture, control space, model range, data types, and dataset selection. 

9. Advanced process control and real-time optimization, Jan. 10: Advanced process control and real-time optimization are techniques that can improve a plant’s profitability and efficiency by maintaining a process at desired operating conditions while taking process constraints into account. 

10. Ladder logic 401: Data acquisition and analysis, March 22: A programmable logic controller (PLC) is designed to provide information on signal levels and can capture and analyze data. There are a number of challenges the user faces from a software and logistical standpoint. 

Hot topics in 2017

Choosing topics for the 2017 editorial calendar, Control Engineering uses input from online traffic, suggestions from subscribers, and from editors and content managers from six Control Engineering editions globally, more than 1,400 data points. Based on the hot topics above, the following 2017 topics also seem likely to be popular.

In this January issue, see topics on controller selection strategies. In February, learn about multivariable control and motor selection. In March, see articles on edge computing, Big Data, and industry standards. In April, read about artificial intelligence for automation and predictive and adaptive motion control. In May see the salary survey, which also covers engineering career trends. In the June issue, see sensor fundamentals. In July learn about controller programming efficiency. In August, examine when to use closed-loop control instead of open-loop control. Join the September webcast to gather case study knowledge from system integrators. In October, read about the Engineers’ Choice Award Finalists for 2018. In November, learn about automation reliability Finally, in December, read articles on simulation and the building blocks of process control.

More articles cover networking and information, control equipment and energy, and system integration. Other Industrial Internet of Things topics will be covered in four supplements, webcasts, newsletters, and related research.

Think again about lending your expertise: See all 2017 article topics, webcasts, and research study descriptions at

Top graphics of 2016

Leading graphics from the top 10 articles, selected by Mike Smith, Control Engineering art director, cover control strategies, education, neural networks, process control math, and advanced process control. Smith made the selections based on "graphic interest for presentation." To review all Control Engineering covers, which feature the best image in each issue as selected by Smith, go to

Top articles posted prior to 2016

The following represent the hot topics in 2016 among articles posted prior to 2016.

1. Open- vs. closed-loop control, 2014: Automatic control operations can be described as either open-loop or closed-loop. The difference is feedback. 

2. Fundamentals of cascade control, 2014: Sometimes two controllers can do a better job of keeping one process variable where you want it. 

3. Antenna basics, antenna types, antenna functions, 2014: Industrial wireless tutorials: What you need to know about industrial antennas, antenna functions, and antenna capabilities. 

4. What is medium voltage? It depends on application, industry, 2010: Medium voltage is far from uniformly defined, with specifications varying widely by industry, application, standards organizations, and other sources. 

5. Tuning thermal PID loops, 2012: When dealing with critical temperature applications, PID controllers are a common regulatory approach, but tuning these often requires a different strategy than other types of loops. Auto-tuning features can help if you understand them. 

6. PLC vs. PAC, 2013: These technologies continue to evolve, making differences harder to distinguish. Here are some thoughts on what does what, and how to choose between a PLC and a PAC for your next application. 

7. How to select a VFD, 2010: These technologies continue to evolve, making differences harder to distinguish. Here are some thoughts on what does what, and how to choose between a PLC and a PAC for your next application. 

8. Tuning PID control loops for fast response, 2014: When choosing a tuning strategy for a specific control loop, it is important to match the technique to the needs of that loop and the larger process. It is also important to have more than one approach in your repertoire, and the Cohen-Coon method can be a handy addition in the right situation. 

9. Tuning PID loops for level control, 2014: One-in-four control loops are regulating level, but techniques for tuning PID controllers in these integrating processes are not widely understood. 

10. Future of the PLC, 2014: PLCs are evolving and continue to be the best option for a variety of industrial automation applications. Greater programming flexibility and ease, scalability, more memory, smaller sizes, very high-speed (Gigabit) Ethernet, and built-in wireless are among evolving programmable logic controller features. 

Note: Not tallied here are large, multi-page award-based topics, perennial favorites such as Engineers’ Choice Awards showing the best products of the year, System Integrator of the Year, System Integrator Giants, and Engineers Under 40.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Assisting in annual traffic tally was CFE Media’s Joy Chang; Chris Vavra does the weekly and monthly tally.

ONLINE extra

This web version embeds links, more information about each topic, and tally of top 2016 Control Engineering articles that were posted prior to 2016.

See a similar hot-topics tally from 2015

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.