Hot topics in Control Engineering for 2018

Think Again: Engineering salaries and career tips, neural network advances, ladder logic, cybersecurity, and autotuning were among top articles posted on the Control Engineering website in 2018.

By Mark T. Hoske January 14, 2019

Hot Control Engineering topics posted in 2018 include engineering salaries and career tips, neural network advances, ladder logic future role in automation, industrial control system cybersecurity, and proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controllers autotuning control, as identified by the most visited Control Engineering articles during 2018.

See the top covers in 2018 as chosen by Mike Smith, Control Engineering art director, on the topics of factory automation controllers, digitalization, and discrete sensors.

Hot topics among articles posted prior to 2018 serve as technology tutorials for those seeking skills and knowledge on cascade control, open and closed-loop control, antenna basics for industrial wireless communications, PID and loop tuning, and three-phase motor operation with single-phase power, among other areas.

Review articles planned for 2019 at and contribute your expertise to next year’s hot topics. Especially of interest will be September, Control Engineering’s 65th anniversary, looking at how the past continues to influence where we’re headed.

Top 10 Control Engineering articles posted in 2018

The articles posted during 2018 at with the most clicks during 2018 follow. This metric obviously favors those posted earlier in the year. At the bottom of this article online, link to the top article rankings for articles posted later in 2018.

1. Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey, 2018; May 15

Career Update 2018: Engineers are getting paid more and a greater percentage expect to get increases in 2018, but the technical challenge and a general feeling of accomplishment remains the highest factors for job satisfaction.

Engineers seek benchmarks for their rewards based on multiple criteria.

2. Processing a neural network’s mind and its ability to process language; Jan. 7

MIT researchers have developed a technique illuminates the inner workings of artificial intelligence systems that process language, which could improve overall efficiency for machines.

Research outside industrial automation continues to interest readers as it may advance machine efficiency in future applications.

3. Ladder logic’s future role in automation; July 3

Nine considerations when selecting a programming language. Ladder logic is favored by manufacturers in discrete industries, but as technology and automation evolve, its usefulness compared to other IEC 61131-3 programming languages and PC programming depends on application complexity and other factors.

Among programming for automation and control, ladder logic remains in the lead, though in some applications, other languages may provide greater usefulness.

4. Understanding industrial control systems security basics; April 6

It’s critical to implement an in-depth cybersecurity plan to help protect industrial control systems (ICSs) against a cyber attack. Identify threats, vulnerabilities, standards, and documents.

ICS security remains a concern, and methods to identify concerns remain of interest.

5. Pros and cons of autotuning control: Part 1; June 1

Proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controllers that can automatically select their own tuning parameters sound good but face challenges.

Automation effectiveness applied to PID (closed-loop control) depends on “dynamic behavior of the controlled process, the performance objectives specified by the operator, and the operator’s understanding of how tuning works,” as the popular article explains.

6. Ladder Logic: Fault detection and messages; Feb. 22

In ladder logic, faults are used to capture abnormal circumstances and each cell or station in a program will usually have its own fault routine and can send messages to a human-machine interface (HMI) or programmable logic controller (PLC).

Tips on gault reporting in ladder-logic programming provide guidance on how to report abnormal circumstances.

7. Comparing ladder logic and object-oriented programming; July 12

Many young automation professionals are comfortable with object-oriented programming (OOP), but ladder logic remains the standard for industrial automation applications. See advantages and disadvantages of OOP and ladder logic.

Looking at how OOP and ladder logic address different applications provides help for control programmers.

8. Implementing a cybersecurity strategy for cloud-based SCADA; Aug. 14

It’s critical to have the proper framework and cybersecurity measures in place to help prevent cyber attacks for cloud-based deployments of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Use of cloud-based SCADA systems requires attention to cybersecurity in ways that can differ from on-premise software systems.

9. Three major VFD trends; Jan. 4

Variable frequency drive (VFD) development is shifting focus away from general-purpose motor controls that are already meeting market demands toward reduced installation costs.

VFDs designs save time, space, and mitigate harmonics, all particularly useful for many motor control applications.

10. Process control sensor types and applications; Mar. 4

Taking accurate, reliable measurements of process parameters that matter is the first step to optimizing any control loop. You cannot improve what you do not measure. Process sensors help.

Choosing the right process sensing technology helps in getting the right measurement for particular applications. 

Best covers of 2018

Continuing the “best of” theme, Mike Smith, Control Engineering art director, offered views on the best 2018 covers.

January, Factory automation controllers: This cover is a realistic snapshot into the world manufacturing. The image employs use of strong leading lines, and simple color design. The editorial message is positioned tightly into the technology being referenced.

March, Digitalization integrates edge computing, in the fog, for better use of Big Data: This is a nice conceptual approach to many of the digital systems on the manufacturing floor today. The images shown are collective examples of plant floor integration in use. Color pallet was limited to create a simplest cover design on an otherwise complex subject.

June, Discrete sensors: measuring tips, terms, advice: A strong and simple cutaway diagram approach helps to deliver the message about discrete sensors through use of the machine pop-out, and selective colors, as shown in an innovative manufacturing application.

Engineering interaction: See all the covers of 2018 at Which is your favorite and why? Comment at the bottom of the article. (Please submit once and be patient: we review and approve comments weekly.)

 Top 10 Control Engineering articles posted prior to 2018

A variety of technology tutorials to help with automation and control implementations represent hot- topic articles (most traffic) posted prior to 2018.

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

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

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. Understanding PID control and loop tuning fundamentals, 2016: PID loop tuning may not be a hard science, but it’s not magic either. Here are some tuning tips that work.

5. How to properly operate a three-phase motor using single-phase power, 2016: There are several methods to operating a three-phase motor using single-phase power to make what would be an otherwise expensive and arduous process a little easier.

6. 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.

7. The best engineering fields to enter after graduating college, 2015: Before committing to a college education, aspiring engineering students should research the field and take all factors into account to make the best decision about which area of engineering to pursue. The hottest engineering fields include electrical, mechanical, petroleum, and software, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

8. How to select a motor for an industrial application, 2017: Understanding the main types of loads, motors, and applications can help simplify motor and accessory selection.

9. Applying heat exchanger control strategies, 2016: Integrating control schemes, such as feedback, cascade, and feedforward techniques, can satisfy the control requirements of even highly challenging heat exchanger temperature control applications.

10. Understanding permanent magnet motors, 2017: A permanent magnet (PM) motor is an ac motor that uses magnets imbedded into or attached to the surface of the motor’s rotor. This article provides an elementary understanding behind the terminology, concepts, theory, and physics behind PM motors.

Best products, integrators, leaders

Control Engineering awards programs also rank very high in the standings each year, but weren’t counted in these rankings. These include the best automation, control, and instrumentation products, Engineers’ Choice Awards; Engineering Leaders Under 40; System Integrator Giants, the largest 100 system integrators by system integration revenue; and System Integrator of the Year.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media Traffic ranking based on analytics performed by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering,

KEYWORDS: Most popular articles, hot topics

Top articles posted in 2018 include research on engineering salaries and careers, neural network, and ladder logic.

Favorite 2018 cover images: controllers, digitalization, discrete sensors.

Top articles posted prior to 2018 include advance control and industrial wireless topics.


What additional knowledge and training can Control Engineering provide? See online training pulldown menu atop the new


Other leading articles in 2018: Because measuring performance using the calendar year gives a numerical advantage to articles posted earlier in the year, see links below 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 2017. (For a near-real-time analysis of hot topics, Control Engineering posts the top 5 articles of the week on Mondays.)

Control Engineering hot topics, August 2018 

Control Engineering hot topics, October 2018

Control Engineering hot topics, December 2018

Think again about contributing knowledge: Want to help educate your peers? Write a case study, trends article, tutorial, or how-to on article topics. Choose from topics on the Control Engineering 2019 article list or propose other topics. History buffs and futurists can look back and ahead for the 65th anniversary edition, September 2019. Learn how here:

Control Engineering tutorials, hot topics

NOTE: Because links in articles posted prior to the mid-November 2018 site redesign may be broken, an index follows of prior hot topic tallies. Articles listed serve as useful list of popular tutorials and trending topics for Control Engineering subscribers and others interested in controls, automation, and instrumentation topics.

HINT: Find an article you want to read but it’s link doesn’t work? Here’s a trick that usually works.

In the broken link…

… replace “single-article” as shown in the link above with “articles” as shown below.

(Or just search on the headline.)

Hot topics in Control Engineering for 2017

Hot topics in Control Engineering for 2016, 2017


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Top 20 Control Engineering articles of 2010 at

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.