How to automate 2024 insights: Your top advice from Control Engineering research

Control Engineering research shows the importance of control systems, motors and drives, process instrumentation and sensors, system integration and industrial networking. Advice focuses on how to automate.

By Mark Hoske September 12, 2023


Learning Objectives

  • Learn about what Control Engineering subscribers need to do their jobs better, what articles they liked best and their about how to automate.
  • Understand leading Control Engineering topics include control systems, motors and drives, process instrumentation and sensors, system integration, industrial networking and new automation products.

By now many are well into planning 2024 automation and controls optimization projects, and Control Engineering research results and advice can help. Each year Control Engineering asks subscribers what topics to cover and for advice on how to automate more effectively.

We’re also on a path of continuous improvement and chose to think again about how we categorize input, based on the how-to-automate topic pages on the Control Engineering website, For comparison, we also asked for topics aligned to provided product categories that subscribers buy and specify and asked for favorite articles (unprompted). Results were predictable and surprising. With this article online, see more details and live links.

Control Engineering 2024 preferences by topic

Among the “how to automate” topics at, the following is the order of importance, according to subscriber research. Similarly, in the July 2022 survey to make the 2023 editorial calendar, the two leading categories also included control systems and motors and drives.

Leading topic categories for 2024

  • Control systems

  • Motors and drives

  • Process instrumentation and sensors

  • System integration

  • Industrial networking

  • New products

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML)

  • Mechatronics and motion control

  • Digital transformation

  • Edge and cloud computing.

Control Engineering research in July 2023 showed control systems as the overwhelming favorite topic to help them do their jobs better with two-thirds naming that among multiple choice topics. Seven topics were named by more than one-third of the 200 respondents. Courtesy: Control Engineering July 2023 research

Control Engineering 2024 preferences by product groups

With continuing interest in a wide diversity of product types, below is the order of importance for product-related coverage, reflecting a broad interest in many automation technologies. The largest differentiation was only eight responses separating the third and fourth on the list. All others were five or fewer responses between each response. Just 25 responses separate top from bottom of the list.

Topics above and product groups below (based on buying and specification power of subscribers) do not match exactly, accounting for some differences in results. For instance, in the topic list above, industrial networking is fifth, and the product list below shows wired or wireless networking as third. In the topic list, mechatronics and motion control is eighth, the product list shows motion control systems and robotics as fifth.

Leading product topics for 2024

  • Control systems including HMIs, PLCs, PACs, DCSs

  • Motors, drives and actuators

  • Wired or wireless networking

  • PCs, IPCs, mobile computers, edge computing

  • Motion control systems and robotics

  • Power distribution systems

  • Safety for process or machine systems

  • Analytical instruments, test equipment

  • Pumps, valves, positioners

  • Process, discrete or vision systems, sensors

  • SCADA, historian, alarm or data

  • Design, analytics, PLM, ERP, MES SCM, IoT services.

Advice for 2024 from Control Engineering subscribers

Aside from praise, thank you, other key bits of advice focused on how to automate, including:

Control, actuation sensors: Controlling the movement of material precisely can be problematic. In our case the material is paper and must be precisely moved between input area, output area, and several sensing areas. Due to the geometry of the application multiple motors must be used but they must all work synchronously.

Training and developing new staff have to be a highest priority with current high turnover.

Wireless communications: We were having issues using to many wireless devices and they were interfering with each other. We had to isolate use test chambers.

Motion control: In designing a conveyor control system, it was all IEC motor control; the customer would not consider NEMA style motor controls.

Cybersecurity: In a recent project developing a distributed control system for an industrial process, we learned the value of applying security by design from the start. Rather than just bolting on cybersecurity late in the development cycle, we made it a priority from initial architecture through system deployment.

Sensors and monitoring for compliance: We have recently been spending a lot of capital on environmental compliance, especially flare monitoring. The biggest topics are vent gas flow measurements (lines up to 36-in. with large turndown requirements), BTU and H2 analyzers, supplemental fuel controls to meet 800BTU/SCF and flame monitoring.

Control and automation upgrades: When replacing end of life parts/systems, make sure you look at all the options. By taking a little extra time you will find options that make the project easier. Don’t be afraid to ask others about their experiences with parts, systems and companies.

Safety-related programming: You will likely spend as much time programming and debugging emergency-stop response and recovery as you spend on the whole rest of the mechatronics project. Plan for estop and recovery from the beginning.

Retrofit industrial control system communications: We had recently done engineering for one plant in which the system was purchase prior to the completion of the engineering. This approach is very much challenging. We had to go through several revisions and several communication challenges. The system should have the flexibility to adapt the changes. This provision is very important.

Project management of contingencies when things don’t go as planned, include implementing new programming techniques and technologies before they fully mature, fallback plans, modelling and lifecycle costs. A few dollars saved at engineering time can cost many thousands of dollars in downtime if troubleshooting is not considered in the design.

Favorite Control Engineering articles in the past year

A survey question asked subscribers to list up to five favorite articles at Results varied from website hot-topic analysis, showing that unaided recall and individual preferences vary from Google Analytics. Among 53 favorites provided, two include topical pages representing dozens of recent articles on motors and drives and digital transformation.

In selecting favorites, subscribers seemed willing to consider articles outside the stated category trends above. For instance, AI/ML category was seventh above and third below.

By topic, favorite articles listed included:

  • 12 controllers and programming articles

  • 10 robotics, motors, drives, motion control articles

  • 9 on artificial intelligence and machine learning

  • 5 hot-topic analyses of most-read articles

  • 3 articles related to cybersecurity.

Top single-article spot was shared by three articles, each listed three times, on the topics of collaborative robots, programming languages and on process sensors. Unprompted advice from peers suggests these are good articles to review. Link below online.

For comparison, the top three leading articles posted by Control Engineering in 2022 by number of clicks were:

Spotlight on Innovation: 2022 Engineers’ Choice Awards

VFDs from the inside out

Understanding the effect of PWM when controlling a brushless dc motor

Methods, engagement: Of 230, nearly half said they’d help more

Among the 230 subscribers completing the July email survey, nearly half, 113, said they’d be willing to help by discussing these how-to-automate topics more, showing an incredible level of interest in helping peers with automation and controls. Learn more about 2024 coverage at and let me know what you’d like to write. Thank you for being part of Control Engineering.

Mark T. Hoske is the ever-amazed content manager of Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, Amanda McLeman is CFE Media and Technology research director and project manager for awards programs.


Control Engineering, how to automate, 2024 topics


What advice can you offer about how to automate?