Top Control Engineering articles for 2012

Think Again: Control strategies, optimization, safety and security, and system integration were among top Control Engineering articles for 2012, based on online traffic. What advice here will help your 2013 be more productive?

By Mark T. Hoske January 14, 2013

Leading Control Engineering articles in 2012 covered control strategies, programming, controllers, and human-machine interfaces; best products and product selection; career advancement and recognition; safety and security; motors, drives, and motion control; industrial networks and communications; and system integration. Articles emphasize technologies and techniques to make those responsible for control engineering more useful and more valuable within their organizations and to others they serve.

Research results for the 2013 Control Engineering salary survey and career advice article (coming up in CE, March 2013) emphasize the importance of continuing education, and the articles with the most traffic in 2012 certainly serve that purpose.

If you have missed reading any of these articles, please take another look. Starred items also made the 2011 top article list.

1. Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Awards* – Review the winners and honorable mentions from 2012; see the finalists for 2013. The 2013 winners are announced in the Feb. 12 Weekly News newsletter. Beyond seeing which products were voted as “Engineers’ Choice” winners, the collection of finalists provides some of the most-useful products to advance automation, control, and instrumentation productivity. Engineers’ Choice selections were also in the top spot for 2011.

2. CFE Media Apps for Engineers – This app of apps preselects more than 60 engineering-related applications useful for Control Engineering readers and is now available for tablets in Apple iStore and Google marketplaces. By category, there’s a summary of each application with the ability to submit comments. Busy engineers appreciate the help finding tools they need. Since its announcement in March 2012, this has been among the most popular monthly articles.

3. Control Engineering System Integrator Giants of 2012Control Engineering published a list of the 100 largest automation system integrators based on annual system integration revenue, after surveying system integration firms in the Control Engineering Automation Integrator Guide, which includes more than 2300 system integrators. The article also covers issues critical to system integrators. Since its announcement in July 2012, this has been among the most popular monthly articles.

4. Video game or HMI?
This article with video shows how technologies used in video games are being used to enhance human-machine interface software used for automation and control applications. Operators will be more efficient and effective on the plant floor and throughout the enterprise as these capabilities work their way into automation software.

5. Control Engineering System Integrator Hall of Fame – To identify and recognize the best providers of system integration services, each year Control Engineering judges evaluate applications and name the leading automation integrators. This collection of articles and videos highlights winners and has provided advice since 2007.

6. Control Engineering salary survey, career advice – Salary and career survey provides benchmarking for those involved in the control engineering discipline and identifies leading trends among survey respondents. A large write-in section offers significant advice in major categories, such as continuing education, workplace strategies, attitude, communication, and degree or specialties. Watch for the 2013 salary survey and career advice article in March.

7. Optimizing strategy for boiler drum level control – This process sensing optimization article looks at strategies for making better measurements, specifically with level control. Avoid trips and maximize steam output by reviewing control equipment, strategy, and tuning.

8. Direct-drive wind turbines flex muscles* – Controls, sensors, and motor and drive technologies abound in the latest renewable power technologies, such as direct-drive wind turbines. A different drivetrain design that eliminates the gearbox between a turbine’s rotor and generator is attracting wind turbine manufacturers in the quest for higher power output, increased offshore reliability, and potential cost savings over the system’s lifetime. See photos, diagram, and links from this favorite, posted in July 2011.

9. UML use cases, sequence diagrams: easily converted into executable code – Unified modeling language (UML) and sequence diagrams can be converted into executable code, preserving organizational and design time and using that information. Engineering and IT Insight: When state diagrams, use case diagrams, and sequence diagrams are combined with UML class diagrams, they define a system, can be easily understood by nonprogrammers, and can be rapidly converted into executable code.

10. Inside Machines: PC versus PLC: Comparing control options* – Advice helps with choosing controller hardware, PC-based hardware, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). To choose between a PLC or PC, analyze and compare characteristics that could differentiate the two technologies, such as operation, robustness, serviceability, hardware integration, security, safety, programming, and cost. Graphics illustrate some key considerations. This was among top-read articles for five months.

Top articles, 11-25

11. Control Engineering Leaders Under 40* – This annual recognition for younger leaders in the control profession aims to interest more engineering youth in automation, controls, and instrumentation. See who’s leading and why. Apply now for Leaders Under 40, class of 2013.

12. Industrial Ethernet essentials: What you need to know – Industrial Ethernet protocols and hardware are helping to flatten industrial communications and make networking more efficient. Practical advice outlines five key points not to overlook when installing or operating an industrial Ethernet network, regarding cabling, signal quality, ground loops, switches, and traffic.

13. Fixing PID – Proportional-Integral-Derivative controllers may be ubiquitous, but they’re not perfect. Mechanical PID mechanisms have been supplanted by pneumatic, electronic, and computer-based devices, and the PID calculation has been tweaked to provide tighter control. 

14. Advanced motor design: New motors reach new applications* – Permanent magnets, axial, transverse, and radial flux designs optimize torque, power, efficiency, size, weight, and other motor performance parameters. Reader feedback was added on Feb. 16. This also was among the most-read articles in 2011, prompting follow-up articles and a webcast in 2012. 

15. Integrated HMI/PLC packages offer convenience, but only in the right applications – Choices of controllers that include an integrated HMI in one package are growing. These promise greater simplicity if the combination of elements works in your situation. 

16. When can the process control system, safety system share field devices? – System integration, a top area of interest for Control Engineering readers, even extends to process control systems and safety systems. 

17. How safe are your electrical system work practices? – Survey results from 2011 show many don’t always follow the rules when working on industrial control equipment. Is failure to wear required protective equipment a foolish choice or an acceptable risk? Clamor for regulatory reform among survey respondents tells the story. This spent several months in 2012 on the most-read list. (See also number 23.)

18. How to select a VFD – These guidelines dispel the confusion about matching variable frequency drives (VFDs) and motors to fans and pumps. While the motivation to increase energy efficiency could be financial (reduced energy costs) or ethical (reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with power production), it is taken for granted that VFDs are an easy way to improve energy efficiency in a motor application. Originally published in November 2010, this has been on the most-read list for five months.

19. PLC developments increase flexibility and speed – New architectures are expanding capabilities, blurring the line between programmable automation controllers and PLCs.

20. Moving up from hardwired relay logic – If you’re still trying to control machine functions with relays and discrete electromechanical devices, you should be looking at the small and inexpensive PLCs available these days. Their versatility and simplicity may surprise you.

Six additional top articles

21. The Dark Side of Mobility – Sure, the idea of “iPhone as HMI” is convenient, but it opens a whole new range of cyber vulnerabilities. Is the functionality worth the risk? Many users are already deploying the technology without sufficient safeguards. Includes video and photos about a wireless node security study. 

22. Control programming software strategies for industrial systems – Control programming strategies for industrial systems are changing because of the desire to reuse and adapt programming for a variety of controllers: PLCs, PACs, IPCs, and embedded controls. Control Engineering Poland provides answers.

23. Codes and regulations: Electrical controls’ dirty little secret: We don’t follow NFPA rules* – Of course safety is important, but most don’t follow NFPA 70e safety rules for working on an energized electrical panel. Risky? Yes. Unsafe? No, according to this system integrator. Perhaps industrial control panels need their own arc flash standard. (Do you follow the rules when working on control panels? Link to anonymous survey results and other articles related to this Oct. 17, 2011, posting. See also number 17.)

24. Tuning thermal PID loops – When dealing with critical temperature applications, PID controllers are a common regulatory approach, but tuning these often requires a different strategy than other types of loops. Auto-tuning features can help if you understand them.

25. Feedback controllers do their best – But meeting a specific performance measure is harder than it looks. Process inertia prevents the controller from altering the process variable instantaneously, so the controller has to settle for “close enough,” at least in the near term.

And one more…

How to choose the correct programming language – What kind of applications and operations best fit which of five IEC 61131-3 programming languages? Depending on what you’re doing, relay ladder logic could be wasting significant time and effort.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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See also Top articles 2011

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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.