Hot topics in Control Engineering for 2020

Think Again: programmable controller programming languages, COVID-19 acceleration of engineering, automation and digitalization, and variable frequency drive parameters were among top articles posted on the Control Engineering website during 2020.

By Mark T. Hoske January 8, 2021

Among hot Control Engineering topics posted in 2020, seven of 10 were automation and digitalization responses to COVID-19 pandemic. Programmable logic controller (PLC) programming languages and explanations about the top 5 variable frequency drive (VFD) parameter changes rounded out the 10 most-visited Control Engineering articles during 2020.

Top covers Control Engineering of 2020 were on the real-time remote monitoring, robotics, and digitalization and simulations.

See also top articles posted prior to 2020.

Think again about articles planned for 2021 at and contribute your expertise to next year’s hot topics.

Top 10 Control Engineering articles posted in 2020 

The articles posted during 2020 at with the most clicks during 2020 follow. This metric 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 2020.

  1. Which IEC 61131-3 programming language is best? Part 1, June 29: With so many programmable logic controller(PLC) programming languages and standards from which to choose, what is the right choice for automation and controls applications? Part 1 provides an overview and focuses on Ladder Diagram (LD) and Sequential Function Chart (SFC).
  2. COVID-19 impact on engineering, engineers, March 17: Engineers like facts and seek credible information sources on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) effects to the engineering-related world. Engineers also have technologies, processes and expert advice that can help. See Control Engineering highlights.
  3. Coronavirus will force manufacturers to enhance automation, digitalization, March 18: COVID-19 is forcing manufacturers to rely more on automation and digitalization for long-term operations to reduce the financial impact from epidemics and other potential economic challenges.
  4. Top 5 VFD parameter changes explained, July 1: Programming variable frequency drives (VFDs) to fit most industrial applications require only the most basic settings to operate the motor. Understand these 5 VFD parameter changes to optimize VFD programming to fit most motor-drive applications.
  5. Preventing coronavirus through preparation, March 10: Many manufacturers are becoming increasingly concerned with Covid-19 breakouts on the production floor. There are ways to improve worker safety through preventive best practices and proper preparation.
  6. How COVID-19 is changing the engineering jobs, jobs market, May 19: Taking control in an uncontrolled time: Leaders share lessons from the industrial automation, controls, and manufacturing industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  7. Universities developing DIY medical devices, PPE to combat coronavirus spread, March 23: Researchers from Georgia Tech and other universities are racing to develop “do-it-yourself” health care gear that can be assembled where it’s needed from locally available components to try and get out in front of the coronavirus spread to help hospitals and medical healthcare facilities. See video.
  8. When remote monitoring and control becomes essential for manufacturing operations, April 1: The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing companies to adjust their business practices and settle to a new normal. See four tips on how edge computing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can help companies adjust.
  9. Poll results: Coronavirus, COVID-19 impact on engineers and industry, March 19: Coronavirus impact data was collected from March 12 to 17 from visitors to Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, Oil & Gas Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer websites. Half of respondents’ business have negative effects; half have supply chain problems. Results cover impact on business, company responses, travel, future outlook, government strategies and other topics.
  10. Which IEC 61131-3 Programming Language is best? Part 2, July 30: With many programmable logic controller(PLC) programming languages and standards from which to choose, select the best language for specific automation and controls applications. Part 2 focuses on function block diagram (FBD), continuous function chart (CFC) and structured text (ST).

Three best 2020 covers 

Mike Smith, Control Engineering creative director, provided the following comments on top three covers of 2020 based on topic and art elements.

The April issue is a snapshot of today’s process engineer performing remote monitoring in real time. The wrap-around workstation works nicely to crop and display both the human interest, and the technology needed for daily responsibilities. The white and red text design work together to create cover interest on an otherwise monochromatic background.

The September cover shows an interesting perspective to robotic automation. The red shuttle in the foreground uses controls and a rail system for stocking and retrieving inventory. The forced perspective to the photography and type design makes for an interesting cover.

The December cover is attention-getting with this futuristic interpretation of digital simulation by using computers to enhance workflow operations and debug problems in a production line before they happen. The forced perspective of the blue line work and digital code, integrated with the background, work together to create a visually appealing and telling story.

Top 10 Control Engineering articles posted prior to 2020

Tutorials to help with automation and control represent hot-topic articles (most traffic) posted prior to 2020.

  1. Five characteristics of cloud computing, 2017: Cloud computing’s characteristics and benefits include on-demand self-service, broad network access, and being very elastic and scalable.
  2. Fundamentals of cascade control, 2014: Sometimes two controllers can do a better job of keeping one process variable where you want it.
  3. 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.
  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. Stepper motor torque basics, 2018: Stepper motors remain popular because they are low-cost, rugged, simple, have high torque at startup and low speeds, require little maintenance, and they can operate in an open loop control system.
  6. Antenna basics, antenna types, antenna functions, 2014: Industrial wireless tutorials: What you need to know about industrial antennas, antenna functions, and antenna capabilities.
  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. 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. 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.
  10. Applying heat exchanger control strategies, 2016: 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.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology at Traffic ranking based on analytics performed by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, Cover analysis was by Michael Smith, creative director, Control Engineering.


If reading from the digital edition, click on the headline for links to the top articles in 2020 that were posted prior to Jan. 1, 2020.

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.