8 Questions on the Mind of a Process Automation Engineer

Technology has shaped our lives and hugely influenced the way we live, shop, communicate, learn, and travel. We can attribute so many positive changes to technological advancement. In the process automation arena, you might wonder how you can keep up with the accelerating advancements in PA, given the emergence of AI, RPA, VR, Industry 4.0, etc.

In the past, large and powerful companies dominated the market because they could afford to invest in expensive advertising to reach any target market. Small businesses typically find it hard to compete in a profitable market. Now, with advanced internet technologies, even a small business can use the most advanced internet marketing tools.

Check out the excerpt in this article for more information on how SME can cope with technological advancements! Don’t worry if this is difficult to understand. Here at Visaya, we do our best to communicate complex issues in the simplest way possible. In this first installment, we look at some interesting aspects of process automation and how it has evolved over the years.

How do I choose the right Fieldbus protocol for my process automation needs?

In the field of process automation, your choice of a Fieldbus protocol can play a crucial role. Firstly, there are unlimited protocol choices for communication. Secondly, each one is unique. Learning about them is a must if you want to make an informed decision Some communication protocols widely used in the PA industry are HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus, and PROFIBUS PA. An interesting history shared by Dale Perry, Wireless Service and Training Manager of Emerson Automation Solutions, helps narrow down these options.

HART communicator
Image courtesy of emerson.com

Most protocols differ in the complexity of their syntax, semantics, and functionality. If you need a device that doesn’t take too long to install and configure, you may be interested in HART. On the downside, it has limited diagnostics and pretty low data transfer rates. Some protocols allow you to supply many variables and diagnostic messages, such as an FF, or PROFIBUS. However, they come with implementation challenges and complications. The bottom line is that you must learn them to understand and select one that will suit your needs. 

What are some useful protocols to look for? What should I expect from them?

Let’s take a look at some common protocols and learn about their features. We’ll outline what they offer and some limitations you should know.




Protocol What it is and the features to look for: Some shortcomings to be aware of:
  1. HART is a digital communication protocol. Its signal is superimposed on a 4-20 mA wiring already in place to connect a field instrument to a DCS or a host system.
  2. It is easy to install and doesn’t require new wiring or power tools.
  3. It can be used to measure more than one variable, then transmit it from the instrument to the DCS.
  4. HART protocol uses a 4-20 mA wiring setup for installation and is SIS approved.
  1. Though the device can take multiple measurements and infer variables, the 4-20 mA output can only represent one variable at a time.
  2. The data transmission rates are quite low when compared to other protocols.
  3. Since HART is a digital protocol superimposed on a 4-20 mA signal, if the 4-20 mA cable isn’t grounded properly a ground loop is created that can cause electrical noise.
2 Foundation Fieldbus
  1. FF is an advanced Fieldbus protocol that acts as a peer-to-peer network and gives you real-time data control in the field.
  2. FF can process, calculate and infer multiple variables. It can also account for  more than one variable as an output.
  3. It comes with function blocks that are designated for specific tasks. For instance, Transducer blocks provide advanced diagnostics. Custom blocks perform local operations such as filtering, calculating and setting up alarms.
  1. FF, unlike HART and other protocols, follows a different set of troubleshooting tools. These require you to undergo extensive training to master.
  2. There are so many calibration tools provided by Fieldbus that you would need a technician to choose one for your applications.
  1. With the same physical layer as that of FF, it uses a master-slave communication network.
  2. It provides multi-variable capability and comes with remote status and diagnostic information.
  3. It provides fast access to device measurements and comes with intrinsic safety applications.
  1. Wiring design can be difficult to customize. Custom blocks and functionality are not allowed.
  2. It requires a conditioned power supply to operate properly. A standard power supply won’t work, since direct connection to this supply can disable the digital signal.


How does Smart Environmental Management benefit you?

“Smart” technology has made its way into our lives over the past decade. Usually, it describes an element or a system that is exciting and worth learning about. Take, for instance, the term Environmental Management. It may remind us of certain things we learned in our socioeconomics courses. When the word Smart attaches to it, though, the entire term seems to grow smarter by itself.

So, what is Smart Environmental Management? Let’s consider one example to help us understand what benefits SEM contains. Lately, resource conservation and energy-efficient standards to delay the natural resources from diminishing have grown more popular.


image of 8 Questions on the Mind of a Process Automation Engineer

Image courtesy of cubic-art.com

For example, intelligent control systems combine the control of temperature and air quality, like oxygen concentration and humidity, to affect both the well-being and productivity of building inhabitants. Stefan Schauer, Systems Engineer of SimpleLink MSP432 MCUs at Texas Instruments, proposed this idea. It turns out, a simple task like regulating temperature can do wonders. Consider a network that can receive sensor data about how much power a building consumes from multiple locations. Once we collect the data, we can generate a map and predict how to regulate the temperature, keeping real-time weather forecasts in mind.

How does it do that? The intelligent control network can exchange air from one side of the building to the other, instead of reducing the temperature of the warmer side by air-conditioning. We can even take advantage of morning temperatures to cool down the building in preparation for a hot afternoon. This setup can prevent power waste and also address low-humidity conditions resulting from the drying effect of air conditioning.

With the advent of RPA and AI, what is next for intelligent machines?

In this day and age, the works of Isaac Asimov no longer seem like a work of Science fiction.  With robots entering process automation technology, it is fair to say that we have perspectives never before imagined. So, in this digital age of technological advancement, what does the future hold for industrial organizations? 

In the area of AI, we can see the benefits of machine learning and software algorithms improving the performance of the automated systems. AI can prove even more valuable in its ability to pair sophisticated machine learning algorithms and real-time performance data. This will create smarter, more self-sufficient machines, connecting all machines and assets across plants similar to an IoT platform. As machines deliver more data through connected sensors, AI will also augment an organization’s ability to analyze it in different vantages. This will result in more automated and accurate decision-making.

Going further, we ask if bending the rules of physics in the real world is really impossible. Augmented reality is not restricted to Sci-fi movies. Not all industrial equipment is easily accessible. Some machines have thousands of parts, each embedded inside layers of the most durable materials. Other devices operate under worse environmental conditions. How will you perform ‘under the hood’ inspections to identify the problem, particularly for assets necessary for operations? Luckily, technology is rapidly changing how inspection teams approach these problems.

With advances in AR for mobile devices and the help of digital twins, field workers can now perform in-depth inspections based on real-time information without having to take the equipment offline and physically analyze things. With AR tech available to all field personnel, organizations will minimize the risk of working in dangerous environments, for instance, oil rigs and pipelines.

IIoT has been transforming for new ventures and opening up new portals for innovation. What should I know about it and how do I keep up with these changes?    

With the events of IoT, RPA, and a futuristic semblance of AI, many organizations must rethink their approach to digital transformation. Experts such as John Hayes, Vice president of Sales and Logistics of Vecna Robotics, suggest that digital transformation is not only about making processes efficient, but also about establishing new ideas while continuing to profit from previous business models. One example in industry is the real-time continuous status and health monitoring of all sensors on Automated Guided Vehicles to prevent collisions.

Image courtesy of bastiansolutions.com

One trend that made an impact in process industrial automation is the IIoT, or “Industrie 4.0.” If you’re wondering whether you’re going in the right direction, you should have a look at the “Maturity Model.” Stefan Hoppe, Global Vice President of OPC Foundation proposed this idea, which laid the groundwork for the innovation of the upcoming maturity model.

So, what is this Maturity Model? The 3rd Industrial Revolution, or Industrie 3.0, was the era of automation. This connected machines to one another through the internet, and created protocols to communicate between machines and a single data model. In the next stage, analytics software played a significant role in the process of streamlining data acquisition, storage, and transmission. Next came machine learning algorithms, which collect historical data and let user predict the future. That means the user can predict and prevent damage or accidents. 

The final stage requires the most substantial change within an organization. Once the previous steps are implemented, the organization can guarantee the reliability of the machines it manufactures or sells. This can lead to new business models. The cost of the machine may even be waived with a guaranteed service instead. For instance, a barcode scanner manufacturer can move from selling scanners to selling scans. Also, maintenance of the machine can be fully automated, thereby creating self-healing machines and processes.

So, if you want to keep up with the changes, what are you waiting for? Jump in, learn the history and see how to apply IIoT. It may surprise you, or even better, bring a change to your organization!

How can SME cope with recent advancements and technological changes to PA by robotics, AI, and intelligent systems?

In today’s manufacturing technology world, equally as important as quality is the ability to market the idea behind a product. With the creation of RPA, AI and intelligent systems, the market is continually evolving. The needs of the customer are ever-changing. Tech giants or big-budget businesses can invest glocally, or both globally and locally, to run their business. This is a challenge to the small manufacturing engineers. How do SMEs shape their business with the sudden impact of technological diversities?

As a customer, I expect a great online shopping experience. This means a wide variety of in-stock options to look through. In this world, you must be proactive about simplifying complex supply chains at a reasonable cost! Is that possible? In a nutshell, going “digital” and utilizing cloud tech to our advantage can do wonders.

According to the perspective of Mark Humphlett, Director of Industry and Solution Strategy, empowering business through cloud technology can provide SMEs the flexibility to adapt quickly to market conditions. In doing so, it can cut hardware costs, strengthen customer relationships, and better manage business.

With cloud tech, SMEs can maintain constant communication with customers and keep track of products in the supply chain.  Also, actionable insights from end-to-end visibility provide SMEs with the ability to make strategic choices that benefit customers and their businesses in return.  Apple and Google both experienced delays from inventory shortages.

Using the IoT platform and predictive analytics, SMEs can learn to anticipate the market’s changes and cope with customers. Combining cloud tech with IoT, companies can adjust to market shifts to avoid inventory shortage and decreased strategic responses. If a problem arises with the chain, cloud-empowered manufacturers can handle the issue.

Most devices are still compatible with only analog or a combination of analog and digital. Even though digital is futuristic, will digital protocols replace analog protocols any time soon?

Both analog and digital suggest great possibility. Though they are based on similar concepts, they offer different things. In reality, we live in an analog world. There are infinite possibilities to build upon, while the digital realm only offers discrete finite possibilities. In the field of electronics, you can’t settle on just one type of signal. Sometimes you need one but can’t get rid of the other, and sometimes you need them both. Real-world objects can display data and gather inputs by analog or digital means, such as clocks, multi-meters, joysticks and many more.




Title Analog Digital
1 Basic setup The building block of analog 0-10 V wiring is two wires with a 1-10 V between them. Control commands are based on variations in voltage. Digital wiring has two wires with a difference in potential of 18 V. On the upside, their control commands are binary and hence draw very little current through the wires.
2 Wiring and functionality Analog devices take up distinct wires for each shared functional block. This can cause miswiring and a complex control system. Digital signals have a fieldbus to connect to all devices with reduced wiring and installation costs. They can fit into intelligent DCS more simply.
3 Communication The devices communicate according to a standard protocol such as HART, Rs-485, Ethernet, etc. Each protocol offers varying capabilities in terms of wiring, bandwidth, and rate of data transfer, installation and maintenance costs. Digital signals offer wiring that use soft configuration schemes, such as programming to replace most wiring bases configurations.

In a digital setup, different control devices integrate easily, enabling the combination of multiple-control strategies and greater control capabilities, without significant extra cost.

4 Properties Some reasons why analog never became obsolete are low cost, portability and low impedance. With technological advancement, digital signals have come to a point where data synchronization and granularity in signal have really improved. Error detection and reduction have also gained momentum.


Though it is an age-old debate, digital dominates analog. It’s not ridiculous to think digital tech might replace analog entirely. If that is true, though, why hasn’t it happened yet?  

Both old timers and new tech giants are adapting to digitization on a large scale. What are some notable recent examples of digitization and IoT in PA?

It is true that with great power comes great responsibility. The automation industry brings different perspectives to the various solutions that technology offers. To make this interesting, let’s look at an example of digital transformation through the eyes of Dell.  

Dell Technologies describe themselves as a collective force of innovative that provides technological solutions and services to accelerate digital transformation. One of Dell’s points of focus was industrial applications for a mass of people and industries. Their idea was to democratize technology and leverage the power of information to reimagine industries. They sought to drive growth and, most importantly, to level the playing field for new global entries.

Dell takes a leap into the future of IoT with their Edge Gateways. This delivers a multitude of functions including edge analytics, data refinement, and real-time control.   These multi-core computers incorporate some communications options including wired, CAN, and wireless to facilitate connectivity.

Another great product offered by Dell is their EMC analytics module, or AIM. The Analytic Insights Module (AIM) efficiently delivers all the software, hardware, and services necessary for both big data analytics and cloud-native application development. The Analytic Insights Module helps organizations derive actionable insights for intelligent applications.

Meanwhile, it also ensures security and corporate governance. Dell also unveiled its Endpoint Data Security and Management portfolio, encompassing cyber-security and endpoint solutions. Their portfolio now contains four distinct features of pillars. These are identity assurance, data protection, threat detection and response, and unified endpoint management. Dell’s giant leap towards Industry 4.0 and game-changing possibilities represents an insightful approach to improving the process and digital process automation industry as a whole.

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