New to Control Engineering?

Fall evokes a “back to school” learning excitement, but truth is, if we’re not learning year round, we’re not going to remain at the top of our game for long. A subscriber new to the industry, with the title of project/process engineer, recently asked for “any general courses or references (manuals, books, articles, etc.

By Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief September 1, 2007

Fall evokes a “back to school” learning excitement, but truth is, if we’re not learning year round, we’re not going to remain at the top of our game for long. A subscriber new to the industry, with the title of project/process engineer, recently asked for “any general courses or references (manuals, books, articles, etc.) that would be useful to someone just entering the field of industrial instrumentation and controls.” Here’s some advice.

1. We’re here to teach. Read every issue of Control Engineering , subscribe to our free eNewsletters, and browse regularly.

2. Here are five “must read” items posted on our site for anyone starting out (or those wanting a quick review) and why I think they’d be particularly helpful.

  • “Top 20 ‘must-know’ terms in control & automation”—Editors selected the most significant words, covering process control strategies beyond PID loop control, feedforward, dead-time compensation, lead/lag, adaptive gain, neural networks, fuzzy logic, and more. (Over 115 other Back to Basics tutorials are available in the Control Engineering Resource Center. It’s free. Just sign in and learn!

  • “Control loop is automation essence” tutorial—By measuring some activity in an automated process, a controller decides what needs to be done next and executes the required operations through a set of actuators. The controller re-measures the process to determine if the actions had the desired effect.

  • Control Engineering ’s PID guidebooks include the original Ziegler-Nichols paper explaining proportional-integral-derivative tuning, along with variations, tutorials, and a historic Control Engineering interview with John Ziegler.

  • Events, found at the bottom of home page—Most events have conference sessions along with exhibitions of latest technologies. Attend several a year, more than one day each if you can manage, to collaborate with others there. Set aside a third day upon your return to look over materials and notes and improve your processes with the knowledge gained.

  • 50th anniversary of Control Engineering —A 2004 collection of articles and an award-winning series of interviews in September provide perspective on where we’ve been and where we need to go.

3. Get more online. Go to this article under September at to see additional links and resources, from Control Engineering and others. Diversity is good, so I’ve asked each editor on our team to pick their top five “must read” topic-specific items. Recommend your favorites using the “post a comment” function at the bottom of the online version.

ONLINE extra
The text below adds additional information to the column above beyond what appeared in print.

Links for the tutorials mentions above.
Top 20 ‘must-know’ terms in control & automation (Resource Center, log-in needed)

Control loop is automation essence (Resource Center)

Reference Guide to PID Tuning guidebooks (Resource Center)

Events calendar (at the bottom of the page)

50th Anniversary perspectives in Control Engineering

Other tutorial resources

CE TV: instructive, fun, and educational videos, along with some words from sponsors.

“Ask Charlie: How can I get a Master’s Degree in Automation and Control?”

Control Engineering editorial calendars, contacts

Control Engineering Webcasts and Podcasts

Control Engineering affiliate site program includes associations and educational instututions

Additional tutorial selections

Process control and instrumentation

The basic elements of a feedback loop (Resource Center)

How PID works and how they’re tuned

The classical Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller has been the workhorse of feedback control loops for decades. Here’s an overview of how they work.

How PID controllers can be tuned to fit specific applications

Adaptive controllers

PID loops struggle when the behavior of the controlled process changes over time.

Work around deadtime-dominant processes with the Smith Predictor

Excessive deadtime can defeat even the most sophisticated process controller. Here’s a classical work-around.

Back to Basics: Temperature scale redux (Resource Center)

Origins and historical overview of major temperature scales, with graphical explanation of “unique point” of C and F scales.

Machine control and discrete sensors

Back to Basics: Proximity sensors shine on the shop floor (Resource Center)

A basic review of proximity sensors and where they are applied in automation and control systems.

Control components, power

Back to Basics: Transformer anatomy (Resource Center)

Among the most common passive electromagnetic devices in use, transformers enable very efficient change of alternating current (ac) voltage from one value to another at constant frequency.

Information control, embedded

Advancing Technology: What’s better than a good microprocessor?

The short answer to this question is “a good microprocessor with multiple execution cores embedded into the same-sized semiconductor package.” But you should know more of what’s involved.

Chip Power: Power Management Balances Performance and Consumption

Dynamic frequency and voltage scaling, clock gating, and ‘low-power modes’ are some ongoing methods to cut power consumption in chips and microcontrollers, with newer ways in the works.

Motors, drives and motion control

Back to Basics: The 3 (or more) faces of ac variable-speed drives

Probably the most versatile among motor control methods, ac variable-speed drives (VSDs) are available in three principal flavors. Open-loop control, sensorless vector control, and flux vector control provide increasingly sophisticated command of induction motors [and permanent magnet synchronous motors].

VFD Evolution: AC Drives Stay Vital for the 21st Century

The heritage of smaller, smarter, more efficient, and cost-effective variable-frequency drives (VFDs) spans more than 50 years. Coupled with ever-higher drive performance, the evolution is still going strong.

Energy-Efficient Motors Deliver Savings

What are energy-efficient electric motors and why should care about them, anyway? Initial cost can blur much higher product lifecycle cost. Industrial electric motors represent a classic example, since 97-98% of their lifetime operating cost is attributed to electric energy charges. Yet motors are not typically purchased with efficiency in mind.

Back to Basics: Washdown motor anatomy (Resource Center)

Industrial electric motors have inherently rugged designs, but still require extra protective features to handle pressurized washdowns and cleaning agents used in food and beverage processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and related packaging applications.

Stepper Motion Evolution

Inherent control simplicity, miniature motors and drives, and higher torque density of stepper systems add up to a viable alternative to servo motion for certain lower-power applications.

Got Field-Oriented Control in Your Servos?

If so, flaunt it. Many servo manufacturers offer field-oriented or vector control for brushless servo motors, but with much less publicity than for induction motors.

Intelligent Motion Unites Diverse Worlds

Logic control, power control, advanced diagnostics, machine safety, and a common set of software tools for all functions add a new level of intelligence to motion-control systems.

System integration

Get the Most from a System Integrator

How to Accelerate Commissioning


Product Research: Industrial Networking