+44 (0) 1420 481 718

The landscape of manufacturing and the impact of new technology on industrial control systems


The Covid-19 pandemic is occurring at a time when the global landscape of  manufacturing is being impacted significantly by new technology, particularly in industrial control systems. The arrival of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT – a system of interrelated, internet-connected objects collecting and transferring data over a wireless network without human intervention and with limitless potential) in manufacturing industry has been largely obscured by the organisational chaos in all countries from the effects of Covid-19 on working practices.

The term “Industry 4.0” began to be used after 2011 to describe the ongoing automation of manufacturing industry and its practices, using modern “smart” technology. “Industry 1.0”, was the transition from hand production methods in cottage industries into factories during the first industrial revolution from about 1760 to 1840. A gradual process of mechanisation for efficiency and cost reduction began with the increasing use of steam and waterpower but took decades.

“Industry 2.0” benefited from extensive railway and telegraph networks and the advent of electricity in the later 19th Century to about 1914. Post WW1, increasing electrification in factories facilitated the development of modern production lines in a period of great economic and productivity growth. However, many factory workers, those lured into cities by the industrial revolution, were replaced by machines.

Around 1970, “Industry 3.0” increasingly leveraged electronics and computer technology to further automate production processes. The technological upheaval in this period advanced manufacturing and industrial process control engineering considerably with the greater use of electronic engineering, internet access, connectivity and early advances in renewable energy.

From 2015, “Industry 4.0”, or the “Digital Revolution”, has been continuing the trend. Computer technology and digital developments permitted the next significant step in communication technologies; the supercomputer. This opened the door to today’s extensive use of computer and communication technologies in production processes, involving large-scale, machine-to machine communication and IIoT. The latest advances in technology for industry and society are derived from the digitalisation or automation of factories by pairing IIoT with cyber-physical systems.

Industry 3.0’s industrial control systems operated first from panels local to factories’ process plants and this is what I found in the mid-1970’s when I came into industry as a controls engineer from service in Royal Navy submarines. Sophisticated chemical and mechanical sensors and controllers, operated by low-pressure air, had driven these systems for many years. However, they required personnel to attend to these dispersed panels, and there was no overall view of processes. Tuning each three-term control loop took a lot of time and skilled manpower. The next logical development was the centralisation of all plant measurements on manned control rooms. Often the controllers were behind the control room panels, and all automatic and manual control outputs were individually transmitted back to plant in the form of 3-15 psi pneumatic or 4-20Ma electrical signals. This centralisation of the local panels had the advantages of reduced manpower requirements and a consolidated overview of the process.

However, although it provided a focus for control, this arrangement was inflexible as each control loop had its own controller so system changes required reconfiguration of signals by re-piping, re-wiring and re-tuning each loop. It also required continual operator movement within a large control room to monitor the whole process. My post-RN employer, a very large paper and board mill in Aberdeenshire, introduced a Foxboro Spec 200 centralised system in 1979-80, driven by a Honeywell Level 6 computer system, an interesting experience! Then, electronic processors, high-speed electronic signalling networks and electronic graphic displays allowed the replacement of discrete controllers with computer-based algorithms, hosted on a network of input/output racks with their own control processors. They became distributed around the plant and communicated with the graphic displays in the control room. “Distributed control” was being realised.  Distributed control systems (DCS) allowed flexible interconnection and re-configuration of plant controls such as cascaded loops and interlocks, interfacing with other production computer systems. It enabled sophisticated alarm handling, introduced automatic event logging, removed the need for physical records such as chart recorders, allowed the control racks to be networked and thereby located locally to plant to reduce cabling runs, and provided high-level overviews of plant status and production levels. For large control systems, the general term DCS was coined to refer to proprietary modular systems from many manufacturers which integrated high-speed networking and a full suite of displays and control racks.

While the DCS was tailored to meet the needs of large, continuous industrial processes, in plants where combinatorial and sequential logic was a requirement, the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) evolved out of a need to replace racks of relays and timers used for event-driven control. The old controls were difficult to re-configure and debug, and PLC control enabled networking of signals to a central control area with electronic displays. PLCs were first developed for the automotive industry on vehicle production lines, where sequential logic was becoming very complex and was soon adopted in a large number of other event-driven applications as varied as pharmaceutical, food, paper and board and water treatment plants. The PLC receives information from connected sensors or input devices, processes the data, and triggers outputs based on pre-programmed parameters. Essentially, a PLC can monitor and record real-time data such as machine productivity or operating temperature. It can also automatically start and stop processes and generate malfunction alarms. The PLC is yet another form of technology perhaps now becoming slightly outdated due to the many recent developments in controls engineering.

“SCADA – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition” – is just what it says on the tin,  a system of software and hardware that allows industries to control industrial processes locally or at remote locations, monitoring, gathering and processing real-time data. It also allows direct interaction with smart devices and human-machine interface (HMI) software and records events into a log file. SCADA’s history is rooted in distribution applications, such as power, natural gas, and water pipelines, where there is a need to gather remote data through potentially unreliable or intermittent low-bandwidth and high-latency links. SCADA systems use open-loop control on sites that are widely separated geographically. A SCADA system uses remote terminal units (RTUs) to send supervisory data back to a control centre. Most RTU systems always had some capacity to handle local control while the master station is not available. However, over the years, RTU systems have grown more and more capable of handling local control.

The boundaries between DCS and SCADA/PLC systems are blurring as time goes on. The technical limits that drove the designs of these various systems are no longer as much of an issue. Many PLC platforms can now perform quite well as a small DCS, using remote I/O and are sufficiently reliable that some SCADA systems actually manage closed-loop control over long distances. With the increasing speed of today’s processors, many DCS products have a full line of PLC-like subsystems that weren’t offered when they were initially developed. SCADA is quite similar to IIoT, yet IIoT is developing faster than many other technologies seen in recent years. SCADA is still an important concept, for example, in the oil and gas industry in which can monitor offshore or onshore extraction processes or pipelines from a central remote location or monitor environmental factors or track assets in other industries. Power utilities use SCADA in Energy Management Systems as well as Distribution Management Systems to optimise the performance of transmission and distribution networks and to protect the grid network. SCADA is used also by railways to control the supply of traction power, implement train control automation, and manage communication, electrical and mechanical assets at stations. So, SCADA systems are still predominant within heavy asset industries. With three generations of SCADA – standalone, distributed and networked – some industries are starting to utilise what may be called “fourth generation SCADA” or IIoT. And, as the fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, implementing fourth generation SCADA with the revolutionising technology of IIoT seems entirely apposite! Industry 4.0 is allowing a reappraisal of many of the functions of PLCs operating in conjunction with SCADA systems and the potential impact on them, and on conventional industrial control systems, of IIoT. However, in Industry 4.0, programmable controllers are still being called upon to communicate data via web browsers, connect to databases via Structured Query Language (SQL) and to the cloud via Message Queuing Telemetry Transport. It has been said that no controls technology will be rendered irrelevant; IIoT will rather enhance device capabilities and further technological developments. Thus IIoT will tend to protect legacy infrastructure and future-proof a plant or factory.

IIoT and the connected factory concept are today’s red-hot topics. However, there is confusion among professionals in both on and offline discussions around the role of IIoT applications. Questions like, “Does IIoT replace SCADA?”, “Can the two be integrated?” and “What is the difference between IIoT, SCADA & PLC?” are asked frequently. Essentially, IIoT should be viewed as a technology that is implemented on top of SCADA. It makes things like scalability, data analytics, standardisation and interoperability become realities. In 1993, what became IEC-61131-3 allowed industry to move towards increased code standardisation with reusable, hardware-independent control software. For the first time, object-oriented programming became possible within industrial control systems. This led to the development of both programmable automation controllers (PAC) and industrial PCs (IPC). These are platforms programmed in the five standardised IEC languages: ladder logic, structured text, function block, instruction list and sequential function chart. They can also be programmed in modern high-level languages such as C or C++. Additionally, they accept models developed in analytical tools such as MATLAB and Simulink. Unlike traditional PLCs, which use proprietary operating systems, IPCs utilise Windows Azure IoT. IPC’s have the advantage of powerful multi-core processors with much lower hardware costs than traditional PLCs and fit well into multiple form factors such as DIN rail mount, combined with a touch-screen as a panel PC, or as an embedded PC. New hardware platforms and technology have contributed significantly to the evolution of DCS and SCADA systems, further blurring the boundaries and changing definitions.

Ease of installation, reduced cost, increased data accuracy and worldwide remote control and monitoring are all benefits that IIoT offers heavy asset industries. However, since IIoT is a relatively new technology, compared to SCADA and PLC, it is naturally adaptable to modern industry demands. When SCADA began, it allowed manufacturers’ systems to work together in real-time, much like IIoT is doing now. So the strength of SCADA systems and its technological capabilities are still relevant even in industry 4.0. Where it falls short is in processing to the rest of a business to create a truly connected ecosystem. The question shouldn’t be about getting rid of or replacing SCADA, but rather “SCADA, then what?”

Currently, IIoT is revolutionising SCADA by offering more standardisation and openness. IIoT is also providing scalability, interoperability and enhanced security by introducing the concept of the IIoT platform. These let you develop applications for improvements, connecting to your sensors and devices, collecting data on the human and machine elements of processes and eliminating common sources of error on the shop floor. Both platforms are used to increase overall productivity by integrating smart maintenance. As well as waste reduction, increases in efficiency, decreases in downtime and the extension of equipment life, information generated from SCADA systems acts as a data source for IIoT. SCADA’s focus is on monitoring and controlling. However, IIoT is more focused on analysing machine data to improve productivity and impact the top line. IIoT is essentially a culmination of advances in the connectivity of hardware and data networks that SCADA provides, as well as cloud computing and bit-data processing. In short, IIoT begins where SCADA and the PLC end. IIoT is still in early development in 2020 but it can coexist with SCADA. IIoT is bringing about a wave of new business models and technologies that are changing the landscape of SCADA.

SCADA is currently being influenced by IIoT concepts and solutions that are quickly being integrated into SCADA architecture. This is done so seamlessly that we don’t even notice it. However, SCADA is still currently limited to the factory floor. Data taken from the factory devices are being viewed only inside the plant whereas IIoT takes that data, offers insights to the user and makes it available anywhere, anytime. This, in turn, enables new business models to be created. If you already have a SCADA system in place, you can integrate it with an IIoT solution and collect data from a Data Acquisition Systems (DAS) machine. By leveraging the power and scalability of IIoT, you can use collected data to create a wide range of reports such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness reports, Production Data reports as well as utility reports on gas, water and energy use. In the future, it’s likely that SCADA systems will evolve into IIoT. Equipment and PLCs will become more intelligent and will be able to integrate different cloud platforms, enabling new security platforms, to further secure any recorded data, and to quickly perform money-saving improvements.

SCADA is more about allowing humans to interact remotely with a process. IIoT is generally used as a machine-to-machine communication tool rather than existing primarily to present information to a human. That is just a small part of its process. IIoT ensures that information is shared with both people and machine, rather than just people. In short, it makes sure that everyone and everything is kept in the loop at all times. In the end, both SCADA and IIoT involve sensors and data acquisition. Although they do differ in many aspects, they both share the one common goal. The optimisation of use and, eventually, better control over some devices or a process. The whole idea of a smart grid leads to SCADA and IIoT integration. As SCADA is not a full control system, rather a computer system that gathers and analyses real-time data, it is useful in monitoring and controlling a plant or industrial equipment. It will gather information about a mishap, transfer it back to a central site and alert the home station. It will then carry out any necessary analysis and control and display the information in a logical and organised fashion for humans to interpret and use. However, IIoT is made up of a network of physical devices connected via electronic embedding, software setups, sensor-actuators and network connectivity which all act together for the objects to connect and exchange data. IIoT allows objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across different networking infrastructures. Therefore, it creates opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems. This results in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit and also cuts down on human intervention. Both platforms offer an abundance of advantages, as well as some vulnerabilities. It is believed that 50 billion devices or “things” are connected to the internet today. Therefore, the dynamics of an Internet-based control system are becoming a living reality. Industry 4.0 is an era in which emerging technology trends in automation and data exchange for manufacturing technologies are creating a shift from traditionally implemented SCADA to an IIoT implemented one. With SCADA, cyber-physical systems, IIoT, cloud computing and cognitive computing, Industry 4.0 is an era that is changing the dynamics of the entire automation industry.

These and future systems will be autonomous, kind-of systems capable of making their own decisions and applying machine learning. Industry 4.0 allows the exploitation of other technologies and systems such as IIoT, Big Data and data analytics, augmented reality, cybersecurity, collaborative robots, additive manufacturing (and its latest manifestation, atomic layer deposition), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and finally, 5G networks. IIoT is mainly about connecting “things” or objects to the network. The idea of bringing sensors and actuators to industry allows capture of real-time data related to the manufacturing process of a product and the behaviour of the industrial environment to be analysed later by Big Data systems and stored in cloud computing systems.

AI is another important system for Industry 4.0, using computer programs to perform complex tasks. These programs are installed on robots of any type, whether sensitive or collaborative, to perform tasks to allow them to adapt into situations in a faster and more efficient way. AI helps robots to learn autonomously, act logically and communicate with each other. The use of collaborating robots (cobots) , at the same time as AI is being used, forms a fundamental tool for the optimal and efficient operation of production processes in the Smart Industry or Smart Factory. And 5G technologies or networks will allow more mobility and will support the strong incremental growth of the number of devices connected to networks. Today, combinations between fixed and wireless networks, such as LoRaWAN, are needed for large IIoT projects. However, 5G will have a reliability of 99.999%, latency of 1 mS and low energy consumption that will remedy the deficiencies of the current communication technologies and deliver the flexibility from standardisation to handle a large number of IIoT devices. 5G will allow manufacturers to automate end-to-end operations and configure or eliminate virtually new product lines or entire factories. Manufacturers can achieve huge productivity gains from 5G with IIoT, billions of sensors, machine-controlled robots and cobots and autonomous logistics capable of communicating and operating remotely in real time. 5G will be the platform that will allow growth and transformation in many industries, contributing directly to social and economic development. 5G technologies can play a key role in the integration of IIoT  and Industry 4.0 to offer a platform for interconnected machines, robots, processes, self-guided vehicles, and goods, among others – Industry 5.0! 5G will be responsible for interconnecting and communicating other systems quickly, flexibly, and safely, providing support for the massive growth of IIoT in an intelligent industry. In an upcoming future, 5G will be indispensable in any manufacturing company that intends to migrate to intelligent industry.

For the future, Industry 5.0 will create a great change of perspective; the core focus will become people as the fundamental axis of the production sector. Industry 5.0 will allow products and services to be more readily customised to customers’ needs, creating a fusion between technological development and human beings; people and machines complementing their activities, and not people being replaced by machines. Cobotics will allow fundamental change for collaboration on repetitive, dangerous and unsafe tasks. Further automation of processes, robotics and the evolution of technology will allow people to develop new skills in production processes. Humans’ work will be in intellectual production, making it necessary to be qualified to be proactive in this new model of society in which a generation of skilled people begin to manage “dark factories” (For more, see:

Leave a Reply