Think again about measurements, logic, actions

A world with a pandemic can benefit from control engineering to measure, apply logic, and take actions in a transparent way, then repeat and optimize. Cybersecurity, remote connections, digital twins, artificial intelligence, training, and challenging old information all can help.

By Mark T. Hoske November 8, 2020
Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

During pandemic 2020, the profession of control engineering has included more remote work achieved with greater cybersecurity, more simulation applications, digital twins and digitalization, artificial intelligence (AI), training and challenging perceptions based on old data. This monthly page aims to challenge those interested in control engineering to think again about things that may require more consideration. We all should consider how science and engineering matter.

Cybersecurity, remote access

When the pandemic hit, most existing projects continue and most new projects had some delay, but things are ramping up in 2021, especially in the area of automation security, with policies, procedures and solutions as it related to automation hardware, software and networking, according to Anil Gosine, global program manager at MG Strategy+, an automation consultant and CFE Media and Technology content partner. Additional cybersecurity allows new levels of remote access by vendors, support and services, he suggested.

More automation, remote monitoring, analytics

More automation, fewer people doing mundane work, greater use of data analytics are among the rising trends, according to Matt Ruth, president of Avanceon, a system integrator. Ruth, who previously discussed 10 ways manufacturers can advance COVID-19 competitive preparedness, said as complexity, market pressures and interdependencies in automation increase, there’s a need to analyze data to unlock the operational efficiency opportunity that would traditionally be missed.

Digitalization, digital twins

Those offering and using automation in machine tools increasingly face similar challenges and both can benefit through greater digitalization and use of digital twins. These were among the messages at Siemens Machine Tool Days 2020. The first session, for machine tool users AND machine tool builders, acknowledged digitalization benefits apply to both audiences.

Traditional automation industry thinking can divide machine builders from machine users.

  • A common explanation among technology sellers: You don’t need to know how the watch works to tell time.
  • A common frustration among technology users: Vendors create unnecessary barriers inside “black-box” offerings to lock users into their technologies (by making things non-interoperable).

It’s more complex than that. Other influences on the way to higher productivity, remote diagnostics, more digitalization and digital twin benefits include intellectual property protection, differentiation among competitors and a large legacy base. Traditional customers are often unwilling to adapt/change—those are the ones with often-permanent signs out front saying: “CNC programmer/operator wanted.” In the age of Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), more success is likely when technology vendors adopt their customers’ needs as their own. Learn from Siemens about digitalization of computer numerical controls.

Online training

The pandemic has created more need for online education, said Frank Lamb, Automation Primer and Control Engineering editorial board member. Lamb’s in-person programmable logic controller (PLC) programming classes have switched to web-based training.

Invitations to online events remain numerous with pandemic-related in-person conference and trade show cancellations. Control Engineering also responded by offering online courses and webcasts under the ONLINE TRAINING pulldown option at

AI in robotics

Six companies are offering artificial intelligence (AI) enhancements to a collaborative robotic platform, and that number seems likely to expand as those implementing automation continue to seek easier, faster and more effective ways to implement software and hardware, according to a recent Universal Robots webcast on AI and robotics. Open interfaces and AI/collaborative robot applications can increase production, decrease cost and shorten cycle times.

Challenge perceptions, old data

Perceptions based on old data may require recalibration. To friends, I recently cited a pace per mile run based on how I felt, which had been reasonably accurate in the past. Then I wondered if old assumptions were correct and measured to verify. I was off by more than 6%. I think friends will forgive me after my disclosure, but 6% workplace errors based on assumptions or “guesstimates” may be less welcome.

Think again about what you know and rethink how you’re using new information.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


October’s call to action included:

– Picture engineering inspiration

– Write 2021 articles

– Review the finalists, vote for the best Engineers’ Choice products through December.

Mark T. Hoske
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.