Top Control Engineering articles for 2014

Think Again: What noncontrol people should know about control engineers, inside the competition to create the first PLC, PID tuning for a faster response, the future of PLCs, Microsoft Windows XP, and System Integrator Giants were among the top 20 Control Engineering stories posted during 2014, based on online traffic for the year. See article titles and descriptions below. Link online to each top 20 article, including 20 more most-read articles in 2014 that were posted in 2013 or before.

By Mark T. Hoske January 15, 2015

Leading Control Engineering articles among the top 20 for 2014 covered what noncontrol people should know about control engineers, inside the competition to create the first PLC, PID tuning for a faster response, the future of PLCs, Microsoft Windows XP, System Integrator Giants, PID math, salary and career survey, and best products (Engineers’ Choice Awards), based on online traffic for the year. With this article online, link directly to each article, below. These Control Engineering articles help those involved with controls, automation, and instrumentation to be more useful and more valuable to those they serve, inside and outside of their organizations. Share this knowledge by emailing this link or links to individual articles to your peers.

Readers’ online reading habits, such as those below, with direct reader feedback helped shape the Control Engineering 2015 editorial calendar.  

Methodology notes: Because articles posted later in 2014 have less chance of showing up in this ranking, this online version of this article includes the 20 most-read articles of 2014 that were posted in 2013 or earlier. Also note that in prior years, Engineers’ Choice Awards ranked higher, when we added related pages in the total. This year, only the article page for Engineers’ Choice Awards is included in the tally.

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Top 20 articles of 2014

Top 20 Control Engineering articles read during 2014, among those posted during 2014.

1. 7 things noncontrol people should know about control engineers – May 5 

A few basic differences between control engineers and others in the plant can hinder progress toward optimization. Start a conversation to improve communications and controls. See examples and career advice. Send a link to these seven things other people should know about control engineers, so they understand. [A follow-up to this article appears in the January 2015 issue, "7 things control engineers should know about management."]

2. Inside the competition for the first PLC – Aug. 27

The race to develop the first programmable logic controllers was underway inside General Motors’ Hydra-Matic Transmission Division in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1970. Three finalists had very different architectures.

3. Tuning PID control loops for fast response – July 1 

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.

4. Future of the PLC – Aug. 26 

PLCs are evolving and continue to be the best option for a variety of industrial automation applications. Greater programming flexibility and ease, scalability, more memory, smaller sizes, very high-speed (Gigabit) Ethernet, and built-in wireless are among evolving programmable logic controller features.

5. Goodbye Windows XP; Hello IsXP? – March 31 

Microsoft Windows XP support ends April 8. What happens April 9? Three things to remember. NEW: Updated with answers to reader feedback on April 14.

6. System Integrator Giants of 2014 – Aug. 13

The 2014 System Integrator Giants boast a $396 million increase in system integration revenue, a greater concern for the economy’s impact on the automation integrator market, and a strong belief in educational and mentoring programs for employees.

7. PID math demystified, part 4 – June 10 

You’ve seen the equations, but have you thought about how those elements work together? Part 4: Feed forward

8. Control Engineering salary and career survey, 2014 – May 8

Control Engineering research: While slightly more is expected for salary and slightly less for bonuses in 2014 compared to 2013, concerns about shortages of skilled workers increased significantly, by seven percentage points since last year. In addition, the percentage of employees saying they worked 15 or more years and 30 or more years in their industries dropped by four percentage points each. Safety is significantly more important for bonuses. See more graphics and details online, with links to past research.

9. 2014 Engineers’ Choice Awards: Spotlight on Innovation 

Best automation, control, and instrumentation products in 23 categories.

10. Fixing PID, Part 2 – April 28 

Proportional-integral-derivative controllers may be ubiquitous, but they’re not perfect. 

11. Creating an ASM-compliant HMI goes deeper than screen color selection – June 11

Simply adopting ASM guidelines for graphics does not create an ASM-compliant HMI. Achieving that level of effectiveness involves a range of factors that address how people interact with the control system.

12. Tuning PID loops for level control – Oct. 30 

One-in-four control loops are regulating level, but techniques for tuning PID controllers in these integrating processes are not widely understood.

13. How to write a good process operation description document – Aug. 6 

Back to Basics: Describe your process to preserve the process engineer knowledge for the future. To program the process controller, programmable logic controller (PLC), or distributed control system (DCS), follow these steps and methodology, starting with understanding the requirements and documenting in a requirements document, also called a BPO, CFE, an FS, or URS. Online, see five tables and detailed examples.

14. Fundamentals of cascade control – Aug. 17 

Sometimes two controllers can do a better job of keeping one process variable where you want it.

15. HMI display design guideline book released – Jan. 9 

The ASM Consortium has released a second edition of HMI display design guidelines with a number of changes including consolidating the number of guidelines down to 64 and revising 50% of the guidelines overall.

16. Understanding pressure instrumentation – Jan. 9 

Measuring pressure is one of the most basic instrumentation functions in any industry. Pressure measurement devices are everywhere, and there are countless varieties of options.

17. Are Microsoft technologies still best for process control systems? – Feb. 25 

Engineering and IT Insight: Process control architects and designers are questioning the 15-year wisdom that you cannot go wrong by picking the Microsoft environment for a process control system. See 6 critical requirements for process controls.

18. PLCopen part 4 blurs the lines among PLCs, robotic, and motion control – March 18 

Inside Machines: The PLCopen working group for motion control has standardized and logically defined all aspects of machine control programming, providing one of the best attempts of integrating PLC, robot, and motion control in an easy-to-understand language common among many manufacturers.

19. Programming PLCs: Keep the documentation clear and simple – May 20

Poor programmable logic controller documentation and housekeeping can lead to unnecessary troubleshooting and downtime. Keep it simple to avoid the possible risks and confusion.

20. Automating automation: Why do smart devices have to be configured manually? – Oct. 9 

While smart instrumentation and field devices have highly sophisticated capabilities, configuration is still a mostly manual process. Users want to know why they still have to perform this action (and many others) the hard way. This is the Control Engineering October 2014 cover story for the print and digital edition.

– Click into the next page to learn more about the most popular stories posted prior to 2014.

Top 20 Control Engineering articles read during 2014, among those posted in 2013 or prior. (Click to the prior page to see the top 2014 posted during 2014.)

1. 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 (reduced 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.

2. PLC vs. PAC 

These technologies continue to evolve, making differences harder to distinguish. Here are some thoughts on what does what, and how to choose between a PLC and a PAC for your next application.

3. Control Engineering salary and career survey, 2013 

Average annual base salary was $92,918 among respondents to the 2013 Control Engineering salary and career survey, with 70% expecting an increase and average bonus of $10,486. Best skills to get ahead are engineering skills, project management skills, communication and presentation skills, and computer skills. Other career advice follows.

4. 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.

5. Artificial Intelligence: Fuzzy Logic Explained 

Fuzzy logic for most of us: It’s not as fuzzy as you might think and has been working quietly behind the scenes for years. Fuzzy logic is a rule-based system that can rely on the practical experience of an operator, particularly useful to capture experienced operator knowledge. Here’s what you need to know.

6. 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.

7. Panel building: Optimizing control panel design, construction 

Modern control panel wiring methods can reduce the costs of manufacturing and ownership.

8. System Integrator Giants of 2013 

The 100 largest system integrators in the industrial automation business-who they are and what they do.

9. How to make a health, safety, and environmental plan 

Making an HSE plan is more than a creating set of rules for manufacturing health, safety, and environmental activities. Here’s what you need to know about HSE. See table: Effects of current on the body.

10. Fundamentals of lambda tuning 

Understanding a particularly conservative PID controller design technique.

11. How to size servo motors: Advanced inertia calculations 

Inside Machines: To properly select the appropriate servo motor for a motion control application, find the inertia of the load being rotated. Applications where the center of rotation is on a different axis than the center of mass can lead to some challenging inertial calculations.

12. Transformer efficiency: Minimizing transformer losses 

Matching a transformer to its anticipated load is a critical aspect of reducing energy consumption.

13. 5 Best Ways to Extend Ethernet 

For many applications of TCP/IP networking, the 100-meter range limit of copper Ethernet cable becomes a problem. With conversion and extension, networks can cover distances that are measured in kilometers.

14. Fixing PID 

Proportional-integral-derivative controllers may be ubiquitous, but they’re not perfect.

15. Network redundancy reduces risk, downtime

Building network redundancy into the industrial network infrastructure helps avoid unplanned production stoppages. Practical guidelines from Belden follow on selecting the right network redundancy "insurance policy" for an application.

16. Disturbance Rejection vs. Setpoint Tracking Controllers

Designing a feedback control loop starts with understanding its objective as well as the process’s behavior.

17. PID math demystified, part 1 

You’ve seen the equations, but have you thought about how those elements work together? Part 1: The basic concepts and proportional control.

18. Control Engineering Salary and Survey, Advice 

Career Update: The 2012 Control Engineering salary and career survey showed enthusiasm for automation, controls, and instrumentation professions. Pay is up, and survey respondents encouraged those interested in engineering to continue learning. Strategies for workplace success follow.

19. Optimizing Strategy for Boiler Drum Level Control 

Avoid trips and maximize steam output by reviewing your control equipment, strategy, and tuning.

20. Control sequences for chilled water systems 

The most important component of good chiller plant control is understanding the full and part load requirements and then matching those to system performance.

See below for links to other Top Control Engineering article summaries.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Chris Vavra, production editor, provided the ranking from Google Analytics.

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.