What is Industrial Automation?

AX Control states at the top of our “About” page that we are “a global supplier of industrial automation parts.” But what exactly is industrial automation?

At its most basic definition, industrial automation is the use of various technologies like computers, interfaces, software, and robotics to control the machinery and associated processes that can be used in a variety of industrial settings. But let’s delve a little deeper.

Benefits of Industrial Automation

It may be said that industrial automation began with Henry Ford’s assembly line. But industrial automation goes far beyond that today. It includes the use of control systems run by robots or high-powered computers. These run information technologies that take care of processes and jobs that were formerly the responsibility of human beings. The advantages of the change to automation are several:

  • More consistent quality. An automated industry tends to produce uniform goods.
  • Fewer accidents. A properly designed industrial automation system will take over any dangerous tasks in the manufacturing process, reducing the possibility of employee injury.
  • Improved productivity. Automation significantly improves output, even when the associated labor force shrinks.

Industrial Automation Tools

The manufacturing process can be impacted by industrial automation in several ways, depending on the tool used. Here is a list of the most common items used in industrial control.

  • DCS, or Distributed Control System. A DCS is a control system that relies on multiple control loops. There are typically multiple autonomous controllers placed throughout the system. These systems are often used in very large manufacturing processes like chemical or water treatment plants, oil refineries, or nuclear power plants. GE’s Speedtronic Mark IV was a DCS system.
  • Robotics/Robots. Robots are specifically designed machines that can carry out complex actions automatically either via embedded control or through programming from an external device. Robotics improve automation quality, increase production flow, and help decrease the chance of employee injury by performing dangerous tasks.
  • HMI, or Human Machine Interface. An HMI is a user interface that allows the operator (worker) to interact with the controller. An HMI is usually designed as a touch panel or touchpad. But now with IoT technology, HMIs can be embedded into mobile devices like smartphones.
  • SCADA, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. SCADA control systems use computers, GUIs(otherwise known as graphical user interfaces), and networked data communications for high-level commands. Real-time control calculations from field sensors and actuators are controlled by networked modules. This data is fed upward through several levels of control to the plant supervisory level, which translates and performs data analysis. This system is similar to DCS systems in function but uses various means to control all parts of the plant.
  • PLC, or Programmable Logic Controller. A PLC is very much like a rugged industrial digital computer that has been specifically designed to control manufacturing processes like robotic devices and assembly lines. They are typically designed to hold up under harsh conditions even with long-term, repetitive use.

Manufacturing Provides Top Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree in 35 States

Manufacturing is still strong across the country. According to a 2019 Georgetown University Study, various manufacturing industries provide the best paying jobs for workers who do not hold a bachelor’s degree in 35 states. Additionally, workers that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher typically make more within manufacturing fields than they do in other industries.

trapezemike / Pixabay

The proportion of blue-collar jobs continues to shrink as compared to higher-skilled positions, however. From 1991 to 2016, the percentage of good (starting at $35,000 with a median of $56,000) blue-collar jobs had declined from 27% to 16% of the manufacturing workforce. Due to shifts in the industry, many manufacturers are beginning to experience a shortage of properly trained workers who have sufficient skills in installation, production, and maintenance trades. These industries are also having difficulties locating degreed workers who understand the ongoing advances in manufacturing relating to AI, VR/AR usage, robotics adoption, the use of digital twins, and other high-tech processes that are changing the industry. As over one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is set to retire over the next decade, these challenges will only continue to expand.

PID and Servo Tutorial

PID, which stands for Proportional-Integral-Derivative, is an acronym that is being used more often in industrial automation, and yet there remains a good bit of misunderstanding about it. This tutorial will clear up some misconceptions about this terms  that stand for three main components of code associated to three respective constants.

PID is essentially a feedback loop control typically made out of code, although it can sometimes be made from hardware.  This code values changes in function of error between the actual measure and the setpoint.   It is used with a system that includes a powered actuator, a sensor of some kind (usually speed or temperature) and a command board usually run by a microprocessor.

PID frequencies are relative to the bandwidth of the servo or process, where the Integral term is most effective at low frequencies, Proportional at moderate frequencies, and Differential at higher frequencies.  PID is more common in process control where pressures, temperatures,  position etc need to be optimally controlled.

In order to properly discuss the effects of PID, we must first look at a basic closed loop servo and the equation for a closed loop response.  In the Sept. 1990 issue of Motion Control, this block diagram of a basic servo and its response formula were published.

The Bode diagram (below)  shows how open loop gain A in an amplifer/motor combination typically experiences a decrease of amplitude by a factor of 10 for every factor of 10 increase in frequency.

The net effect is that A is also A-90°, since it has a gain factor of A and a phase lag of 90°. This closed loop response [F/C = A/(1+A)]

As A’ approaches 1 on the Bode diagram (at 10 rad/sec in the example) the denominator becomed 1+1 -180°=1-1=0 and F/C becomes infinite.  The result of this is severe oscillations.   But in order to maintain a stable system, the denominator must not be allowed to approach zero.  A commonly accepted design goal is for A’ to have -135° of phase shift or less (45° of  phase margin) Thsi will result in a 25% overshoot of the closed loop system in response to small step inputs.

As the phase margin gets larger, the amount and number of overshoots diminish.  As the phase margin gets smaller, the overshoots get larger and will “ring” for longer periods until finally a sustained  oscillation will occur.

PID provides phase compensation to improve the performance of the servo, using coding to create a closed loop servo with a wider bandwidth and a greater gain (thus greater accuracy) within that bandwidth.  If no velocity loop exists, PID is a good alternative.

Industrial Automation Terms

Here’s a list of industrial automation terms you may need defined as you’re looking at our extensive catalog of parts. 


The commonly available electric power supplied, an AC generator and is distributed in single or three-phase forms. AC current changes its direction of flow (cycles).

A motor (see motor definition) operating on AC current that flows in either direction (AC current). There are two general types: induction, and Synchronous.

The amount of steel (iron) in the stator and rotor of a motor. Usually, the amount of active iron is increased or decreased by lengthening or shortening the rotor and stator (they are generally the same length).

The space between the rotating (rotor) and stationary (stator) member in an electric motor.

Used on motors with blowers to measure the difference in pressure across the filter so as to detect a clogged filter.

A device used in air hooded motors to detect the temperature of the exhausted air. When used in this manner an air temperature switch will detect blockage in the cooling air system or long-term motor overload.

The atmospheric altitude (height above sea level) at which the motor will be operating; NEMA standards call for an altitude not exceeding 3,300 ft. (1,000 meters). As the altitude increases above 3,300 ft. and the air density decreases, the air stability to cool the motor decreases – for higher altitudes higher grades of insulation or a motor derating are required. DC motors require special brushes for high altitudes.

The temperature of the surrounding cooling medium, such as gas or liquid, which comes into contact with the heated parts of the motor. The cooling medium is usually the air surrounding the motor. The standard NEMA rating for ambient temperature is not to exceed 40ƒC.

An anti-friction bearing is a bearing utilizing rolling elements between the stationary and rotating assemblies.

The portion of the magnetic structure of a DC or universal motor which rotates

Rated full load armature circuit current.

Armature inductance in milli-henries (saturated).

The current that flows in the armature winding of a DC motor tends to produce magnetic flux in addition to that produced by the field current. This effect, which reduces the torque capacity, is called armature reaction and can affect the commutation and the magnitude of the motor’s generated voltage.

The armature resistance is measured in ohms at 25ƒ C. (cold)

The force or loads that are applied to the motor shaft in a direction parallel to the axis of the shaft. (Such as from a fan or pump)

Stop that Whining! My Electronics Are Driving Me Crazy.

Have you ever wondered why some of your electronics make noise, such as a low-level hum? If you have misophonia (a severe dislike or hatred of specific sounds) it might be the type of thing that drives you up a wall, even if it doesn’t register at all with your co-workers.

Plug, Socket, Electric, Electricity, Energy, Power

No, you’re not imagining the sound. Many electronics use AC adapters, which include power conversion components like transformers or inductors. These types of devices use electromagnetism to convert AC mains power to the DC power used by most electronics. If functioning properly, these switched-mode power supplies typically operate at a frequency that’s well above human perception; however, a poorly designed or defective power supply may vibrate when powered and create a subharmonic frequency.

Other components can cause noise as well. Motherboards and other circuit boards often use transformers and inductor coils that can vibrate during use, creating that same coil whine. Capacitors are also well known for ‘singing’ under certain conditions.

While all this noise may be annoying, it’s not necessarily dangerous. However, since noise can sometimes be a sign of a defective load, it’s not a bad idea to test equipment that consistently emits any kind of unusual whine. This should be a simple matter.

For any kind of equipment repair, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-991-7026, or email us at sales@axcontrol.com.

Designing with FPGAs

It is important to remember when you are designing with FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) that they are significantly more complex than typical integrated circuits used on your board. The higher number of I/O pins on an FPGA requires forethought in design and layout and considerations in regard to system needs.

Here are some things to consider when using FPGAs.

Budget for Power

Your board should work consistently with a 20% margin above and below the operating frequency and with a 5-10% margin on voltage and temperature. These margins can be achieved by keeping trace lengths as short as possible, by reducing the number of vias on your board that will impede your signal quality, and by ensuring there is a good return current path for every signal transmission path.

Main Board, Computer, Chips, Electronics, Board

It is also important to make sure you have sufficient power supplies to handle your system needs. FPGAs have multiple power supplies of differing voltages. Each of these power supply voltages should have its own power budget within your design.

Properly Clock it

Most FPGAs are designed with a global clock pin that will distribute the clock throughout the chip and other pins that will confine the clock to particular regions. Improper choice of a clock pin will create a system-level design issue that will allow the board to work most of the time, but not all of the time. This type of marginal error is extremely difficult to find, debug, and fix. It is easier to avoid than to fix later.

AX Control, Inc Announces Scholarship Essay Contest

Application Deadline June 1st, 2020

AX Control Inc, a North Carolina-based industrial automation supplier, has opened applications for their 2020 scholarship essay contest.  Any student 18 or older enrolled in a full- or part-time undergraduate college program may apply. One student will be awarded the full $1,000 prize. Students must submit a well-researched essay of between 800 and 1,200 words that discusses a small business that has impacted his/her life, or of an ambition he/she may have to establish their own business.  

Complete details about the scholarship and a submission form can be found here.

Friends and relatives of AX Control, Inc. are not eligible.  

When You’ve Lost Documentation For A Legacy System

Sometimes, all you need is that one piece of information to make everything work the way it should. But what happens when you’ve lost the manual that goes with your legacy system and the OEM no longer supports that model? You know your equipment will work exactly as it should if only you can track down that one setting.

If your legacy system has ever been part of our inventory here at AX Control, we can help. While our in-house experts are experienced at working with and are knowledgeable about all things related to automation, they like having the manuals at their disposal too.  So we….well, we’ve developed hoarder instincts when it comes to legacy documentation: if we think we’re going to need it down the road, we’ll grab a copy and keep it safe, just in case.  And that’s not a bad instint, if you think about it. It helps us make sure every reconditioned unit that leaves our facility is fully overhauled and put back to its original specifications before it’s sent back out to you.

So if you need anything, let us know. For now, I’m going to end this post with a link to the User’s Manual (GFK-1065F) which is for one of our more popular items, a GE Fanuc Series 90 Micro PLC. It has full chapters devoted to the subjects of installation, configuration, and diagnostics, along with additional links to an ABB PVI-3.0/3.6/4.2 inverter.  Call our team at 1-919-372-8413 for other manuals.  We’re here to help.