Top Control Engineering articles of 2015

Think Again: Salary survey and career advice, variable frequency drive help, process control tutorials, and help with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs) are among the top 20 Control Engineering articles of 2015. Also see the top 20 rankings for 2015 and prior.
By Mark T. Hoske January 9, 2016

Most-read 2015 articles from Control Engineering subscribers and other visitors include the salary and career survey, variable frequency drive myths, process control tutorials, and what control engineers should know about management, among others. Articles reflect similar issues and topics as in 2014 although salary and career survey moved from eighth to first, from 2014 to 2015, perhaps reflecting greater concern about the lead issue in both surveys, shortages of skilled workers. Think again: this isn’t just another "best of" list; these stories matter most for those interested in advancing in professions using controls, automation, and instrumentation. 

Figure 8: Electrical or electronic engineering (EE) was the largest group at 61%, more than three times any other group. Controls was 19%, mechanical 15%, instrumentation 12%, chemical 12%, industrial 10%, civil 2%, and other 15%. Courtesy: Control Engine2015 top articles

1. Control Engineering salary and career survey, 2015—May 18:

Control Engineering research: While slightly less is expected for salary and significantly more for bonuses in 2015 compared to 2014, concerns about shortages of skilled workers remained highest on the list of challenges.

2. The truth about five common VFD myths—Aug. 8:

Knowing the truth about VFD operation can simplify the selection process for choosing a variable frequency drive.

3. A dual split-range control strategy for pressure and flow processes—April 6:

Maintaining setpoint for two-mode or wide-range operations can be much easier when there are two control devices. Split-range control has been widely used in industrial processes for controlling pressure, temperature, and flow.

4. Feed forwards augment PID control—March 31:

Feed forward augmentation is a prediction technique that estimates the output from a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control algorithm without waiting for the PID algorithm to respond. Feed forward reduces the error faster or keeps the error smaller than relying on the PID algorithm alone.

5. Selecting and applying VFDs—Feb. 2:

Clear understanding of the application, noise sources, and configuration parameters ensures peak variable speed drive (VFD) performance, efficiency, and reliability.

6. 7 things control engineers should know about management—posted Dec. 24, 2014, but appeared in the January 2015 issue:

How to communicate effectively with management and accelerate your career: Engineers should know these 7 things about management today. Don’t wait for others to delegate the needed resources or complain that they haven’t.

7. Six steps to choose between PLC and DCS for process industries—Oct. 29:

Learn how to choose between PLC and DCS. Though PLC and DCS technologies were invented to serve different industrial processes, the last 15 years have seen a massive merger of functionalities between both worlds.

Figure 1: Yes, everything is there, but can you find the alarms? Courtesy: Maverick Technologies8. High-performance HMIs: Designs to improve operator effectiveness—Jan. 14:

Users and system designers consider how changing HMI strategy can help make operators better at their job and reduce those confused phone calls.

9. Support-focused enterprise controls: PLC Basics—May 19:

PLC programs do not behave like scripted language programs used by most computer applications. A basic understanding of control application fundamentals is crucial for designing an effective support-focused system.

10. Overcoming process deadtime with a Smith Predictor—Feb. 17:

A controller equipped with an accurate process model can ignore deadtime. Deadtime generally occurs when material is transported from the actuator site to the sensor measurement location. Until the material reaches the sensor, the sensor cannot measure any changes effected by the actuator. Online Extra below continues with additional findings.

11. Artificial intelligence for control engineering—Feb. 19:

Robotics, cars, and wheelchairs are among artificial intelligence beneficiaries, making control loops smarter, adaptive, and able to change behavior, hopefully for the better.

12. Standard for industrial control panel builders changing—Aug. 20:

UL 508 is being phased out and replaced by UL 60947-4, which is designed to harmonize international standards by UL, the Canadian Standards Association, and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Europe.

13. Hacking oil and gas control systems: Understanding the cyber risk—March 24:

Cyber attacks have been growing in number and intensity over the past decade. Companies in the oil and gas industry are high-profile targets and must take measures to protect themselves from hackers.

14. Black October on the horizon—July 30:

The price of oil may not have hit the nadir yet, supply is almost double that of demand, and the Iran deal may slash oil prices to new lows.

On the image of the actual bike, values update in real time through the Apple iPad display after clicking on a 2D code, with speed at the front wheel, fork displacement, pedal speed, steering angle, acceleration, and other attributes. As Mike Campbell, ex15. IIoT video: See on-machine sensor values in real time via Apple iPad—Aug. 18:

In an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) demonstration using a mountain bike tricked out with sensors and instrumentation, ThingWorx, a PTC business, revealed how an operator might see an industrial machine’s metrics in real time by looking through a mobile human-machine interface (HMI) or a head-mounted display.

16. Level measurement: General process vs. inventory tank gauging—May 17:

Determining what type of level instrumentation is required for a specific application can sometimes be perplexing. This is particularly true when we consider process tank level versus inventory tank gauging.

17. Thirty years later, the industry is losing its best and brightest, again—July 1:

In the 1980s, the oil and gas industry was going through the same crew change as it is now. Highly educated workers were laid off, and the cycle is repeating itself. Will the industry learn its lesson this time?

Figure 1: Wireless access point is a key component in a WirelessHART mesh network, part of an Emerson Process Management installation at Ergon Refining. Sensor data is sent to the Emerson’s AMS Suite software with ValveLink, Smart Meter Verification, and18. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) benefits, examples—June 3:

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies, applied for monitoring valves in a refinery, used wireless acoustic transmitters to improve regulatory compliance and reduce hydrocarbon losses by $3 million annually due to timely detection and repair of faulty valves.

19. PLC vs. PAC vs. IPCs—Nov. 16:

Know the features, limits, and compatibilities to select the right controller: programmable logic controller (PLC), programmable automation controller (PAC), or industrial PC (IPC). Choosing the correct control platform from the beginning will increase the odds that the project will be a success.

20. 7 benefits of integrating human-machine interfaces, historians—May 8:

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and historians differ but need to be tightly integrated to provide company operations with optimal value. Big data has little value without analysis and access in real time. 

Learn more about the top 20 articles in 2015 that were posted in 2014 and prior to that.

Top articles of 2015, posted in 2014 and prior

Figure A – A traditional single-measurement, single-controller feedback loop tries to maintain the temperature of the water in the tank by manipulating the steam flow valve. Diagram courtesy: ControlSoft1. Fundamentals of cascade control—Aug. 17, 2014:

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

2. Open- vs. closed-loop control—Aug. 28, 2014:

Automatic control operations can be described as either open-loop or closed-loop. The difference is feedback.

3. What is medium voltage? It depends on application, industry—July 26, 2010:

Medium voltage is far from uniformly defined, with specifications varying widely by industry, application, standards organizations, and other sources.

4. How to select a VFD—Nov. 16, 2010:

These guidelines dispel the confusion about matching variable frequency drives (VFD) and motors to fans and pumps that are typically encountered in commercial building applications.

5. PLC vs. PAC—Feb. 4, 2013:

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

Figure 5: Parabolic, or dish, antennas are the most familiar type of directional antenna. Courtesy: Control Engineering, Dan Capano6. Antenna basics, antenna types, antenna functions—Aug. 2, 2014:

Industrial wireless tutorials: What you need to know about industrial antennas, antenna functions, and antenna capabilities.

7. Tuning thermal PID loops—Jan. 17, 2012:

When dealing with critical temperature applications, proportional-integral-derivative (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.

8. Artificial Intelligence: Fuzzy Logic Explained—Nov. 4, 2011:

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, which is particularly useful to capture experienced operator knowledge. Here’s what you need to know.

9. How to make a health, safety, and environmental plan—April 15, 2013:

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.

10. Inside machines: PC vs. PLC: Comparing control options—May 11, 2011:

To choose between a programmable logic controller (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.

11. System Integrator Giants of 2014—Aug. 13, 2014:

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.

12. 5 Best Ways to Extend Ethernet—Aug. 3, 2012:

For many applications of TCP/IP networking, the 100-meter (328-foot) range limit of copper Ethernet cable becomes a problem. With conversion and extension, networks can cover distances that are measured in kilometers.

13. Tuning PID loops for level control—Oct. 30, 2014:

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

14. Using 2-wire proximity sensors—Jun. 22, 2010:

Is it practical to replace a 3-wire proximity sensor with 2-wire type?

Figure 1: Small-capacity pumps are common in chemical plants, where they are used to control the liquid level inside storage tanks as well as a variety of other applications that require constant pressure throughout the chemical process. Courtesy: Yaskawa15. Learning PID loop tuning from an expert—Dec. 3, 2014:

Hands-on experience helps accelerate the proportional-integral-derivative (PID) learning curve.

16. Panel building: Optimizing control panel design, construction—Aug. 13, 2013:

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

17. Future of the PLC—Aug. 26, 2014:

Programmable logic controllers (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 PLC features.

18. Fundamentals of lambda tuning—April 16, 2013:

Understanding a particularly conservative PID controller design technique.

Figure 1: Due to their low cost, improved performance, and greater flexibility, small rack-based PLCs like this one have replaced relay and timer panels in virtually every industrial automation application. For example, we can expect that the small Automa19. Control sequences for chilled water systems—Jan. 20, 2012:

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

20. Tuning PID control loops for fast response—July 1, 2014:

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.

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

ONLINE extras

In addition to the 11-20 and 1-20 rankings above, see also top stories of 2014, 2013, and 2012, below. Leading page-level coverage includes Engineers’ Choice Awards, System Integrator of the Year, Leaders Under 40, and System Integrator Giants.

Note: Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, helped with Web analytics and rankings.