Which Control Systems Are Used In Automation?

A robotic arm conducts precise movements in a modern industrial setting.

Understanding the different control systems used in automation can be quite overwhelming, especially with their varying features and functionalities. It’s a fact that control systems are the backbone of modern industrial operations, playing vital roles from production to distribution.

Common control systems used in factory automation include Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Control systems engineers design solutions to the needs of the application.

This article will simplify these complex systems for you – explaining their types, selection factors, threats and future trends. Who knows? With this information at your fingertips, you might just become an automation whiz!

Key Takeaways

  • There are different types of control systems used in automation, including Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS), Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC).
  • When selecting a control system for automation, important factors to consider include expertise and compatibility, security and safety features, communication capabilities, and scalability and flexibility.
  • Industrial control systems face common threats such as cybersecurity risks, physical attacks, and insider threats. It is important to implement proper security measures to protect these systems.
  • Control systems offer advantages like improved efficiency and productivity but also have potential vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

Types of Industrial Control Systems

A high-tech control room with advanced equipment and bustling atmosphere.

There are several types of industrial control systems that are used in automation, including Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS), Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC).

Distributed Control Systems (DCS)

Distributed Control Systems, or DCS for short, help to run big plants. They track and move things around in the plant. This happens with very small or no work from people at all. Think of it like a boss who is looking over many different tasks at once.

This boss can see everything that is going on and makes sure each task gets done right. DCS are often used where safety is very important, like power plants or oil refineries. With a DCS, doing many tasks at the same time becomes easier and safer too! So much so that even if one part fails, others keep working without any problems.

Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS)

Industrial Automation and Control Systems, also known as IACS, are key in many work spaces. They help steps move quickly and with little to no mistakes. For example, a candy factory might use an IACS to make sure candies are made the same each time.

In this case, the system keeps track of how much sugar goes into every piece of candy. If too much or too little is put in by chance, it fixes the problem right away.

IACS deal with sensors, controls, and actuators working together. The goal is to do jobs without needing people. Giving tasks over to machines helps reduce errors and speeds up work.

Fact number nine points out that when used well, these systems can have a big impact on business operations overall.

They keep things safe while making the job easy for workers as they can keep an eye on activities from far off places using computer screens instead of having to be there all the time physically.

Human-Machine Interface (HMI)

You use a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) every day. It’s the way you tell a machine what to do. In automation, an HMI can be a screen on a computer where workers see data from machines.

The HMI also lets them control the machines. They can change speeds or start and stop processes. For automation control experts, it’s their main tool for work. An HMI makes complex systems simple to run and check.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a type of control system used in automation. It allows operators to monitor and control processes in various industries, such as manufacturing, energy, and transportation.

SCADA systems collect data from sensors and devices, which are then displayed on a central computer or HMI for analysis. This helps operators make informed decisions and take necessary actions to optimize the performance of the automated processes.

SCADA systems can also generate alerts for abnormal conditions or faults, allowing for prompt troubleshooting and maintenance. With SCADA, industries can improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and ensure the smooth operation of their automation processes.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC)

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) are a type of control system used in automation. They are like small computers that control and monitor industrial processes. PLCs use sensors to collect data about the process, then make decisions based on that data to control the machinery or equipment.

They can be programmed to perform specific tasks and respond to different inputs. For example, they can turn on or off motors, open or close valves, and adjust temperatures. PLCs are widely used in manufacturing industries like automotive, food processing, and oil refineries because they are reliable, easy to program, and can handle complex operations.

Factors to Consider in Selecting a Control System

A high-tech control room with multiple screens showing data.

When selecting a control system, it is important to consider factors such as expertise and compatibility, security and safety features, communication capabilities, and scalability and flexibility.

Expertise and compatibility

Automation control systems require expertise and compatibility to ensure smooth operation. It is important to have professionals who are knowledgeable in programming and maintaining these systems.

They need to understand the specific requirements of your industry and be able to customize the control system accordingly. Additionally, the chosen control system should be compatible with other existing systems in your facility to enable seamless integration.

Having experts with the right skills and ensuring compatibility will help maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your automation control system, leading to improved overall business operations.

Security and safety features

Industrial control systems used in automation prioritize security and safety features to protect critical processes and data. Cybersecurity risks are a major concern, as these systems can be vulnerable to hacking and unauthorized access.

Physical attacks, such as tampering with equipment, also pose a threat. To address these issues, control systems incorporate authentication measures, encryption protocols, and firewalls.

They also implement strict access controls and monitoring mechanisms to detect any suspicious activities. Safety features include emergency shutdown procedures and failsafe mechanisms to prevent accidents or equipment damage.

Communication capabilities

Control systems used in automation require effective communication capabilities to ensure smooth and efficient operation. Communication plays a vital role in transmitting data and instructions between different components of the system.

For example, Distributed Control Systems (DCS) use advanced communication protocols to connect various sensors, controllers, and actuators across an industrial plant. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) also rely on communication capabilities to interact with other devices and exchange information necessary for controlling processes.

By enabling seamless data transfer, communication capabilities enhance the overall performance of control systems and support real-time decision-making based on accurate information from various sources.

Scalability and flexibility

Scalability and flexibility are important factors to consider when selecting a control system for automation. Scalability refers to the system’s ability to handle increasing demands and expand as needed.

It is essential because the needs of an industry may change over time, requiring more advanced capabilities or additional processes. With a scalable control system, companies can easily adapt and grow without significant disruptions.

Flexibility is also crucial as it allows for customization and adaptation to different production environments. A flexible control system can be adjusted to meet specific requirements, allowing for efficient operation in various applications across different industries.

This versatility ensures that businesses can optimize their processes according to their unique needs.

For example, if a company wants to increase production capacity or add new equipment, a scalable and flexible control system would accommodate these changes seamlessly without major reconfigurations or upgrades.

Additionally, with the ability to customize settings and parameters, businesses can tailor the control system precisely to match their operations efficiently.

Common Threats to Industrial Control Systems

Industrial control systems face several common threats including cybersecurity risks, physical attacks, and insider threats. These can compromise the functionality and safety of automated processes.

Understanding these threats is crucial for organizations to implement effective security measures and safeguards to protect their control systems. Discover more about how control systems are vulnerable to these threats in our blog.

Cybersecurity risks

One important aspect to consider when selecting control systems for automation is cybersecurity risks. With the increasing reliance on technology and connectivity, industrial control systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

These risks can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and disruptions in operations. It is crucial to choose control systems that prioritize security measures such as encryption, authentication protocols, and regular software updates.

Additionally, implementing proper network segmentation and user access controls can help mitigate these risks. Cybersecurity should be a top priority when designing and deploying automation control systems to ensure the protection of sensitive information and the overall safety of industrial processes.

Physical attacks

Physical attacks pose a significant threat to industrial control systems used in automation. These attacks involve physical tampering, vandalism, or theft that can disrupt or damage the control systems.

For example, an attacker may physically disable a sensor or sabotage equipment to cause malfunctions in the system. This type of attack can have severe consequences, including production downtime and potential safety hazards for workers.

It is crucial for organizations to implement robust security measures such as surveillance cameras and access controls to prevent physical attacks on their control systems.

Insider threats

Insider threats are a big concern when it comes to industrial control systems used in automation. These threats occur when someone who has access to the system uses that access for malicious purposes.

It could be an employee, contractor, or even a trusted business partner. Insider threats can come in different forms, such as employees intentionally causing damage or stealing sensitive information.

One way to mitigate these risks is by implementing strong access controls and monitoring systems, so any suspicious activities can be detected early on. Regular training and awareness programs can also help educate employees about the importance of cybersecurity and prevent insider threats from happening.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Control Systems

Control systems offer numerous advantages, such as improved efficiency and productivity, increased control and monitoring capabilities, but they also have potential vulnerabilities and dependencies.

Improved efficiency and productivity

Automation control systems play a crucial role in improving efficiency and productivity across industries. By integrating sensors, controls, and actuators, these systems minimize or eliminate the need for human intervention in various processes.

Control loop performance monitoring is one way to enhance efficiency in automation. Industrial automation control systems also allow for precise monitoring and adjustment of processes based on feedback signals.

This helps optimize operations, reduce errors, and streamline production workflows. With improved efficiency and productivity, businesses can achieve higher output levels while maintaining quality standards.

Increased control and monitoring capabilities

With control systems used in automation, you can have better control and monitoring abilities. These systems allow you to track and manage various processes more effectively. With the help of sensors and feedback loops, you can collect data on input and output signals, which helps you make necessary adjustments in real-time.

This improves efficiency and ensures that everything is running smoothly. Automation technology has made it possible for businesses to have greater control over their operations and monitor them closely for optimal performance.

Potential vulnerabilities and dependencies

Control systems used in automation can have potential vulnerabilities and dependencies that need to be considered. One major concern is cybersecurity risks. As control systems become more connected, they are at a higher risk of being targeted by hackers who may try to gain unauthorized access or disrupt operations.

It’s important to have robust security measures in place, such as firewalls and encryption, to protect against these threats.

Another vulnerability is physical attacks. Control systems are sometimes located in vulnerable areas where they can be physically tampered with or damaged. Implementing physical barriers and surveillance measures can help mitigate these risks.

Insider threats also pose a potential vulnerability. Employees or contractors with insider knowledge may intentionally or unintentionally compromise the control system’s security. Proper access controls and regular employee training can help reduce the likelihood of insider threats.

Furthermore, control systems often have dependencies on other components or networks for their operation. If any of these dependencies fail or experience disruptions, it can affect the overall functioning of the control system.

Future Trends in Control System Architecture

Integration of Internet of Things (IoT), cloud-based control systems, and artificial intelligence and machine learning are shaping the future of control system architecture.

Integration of Internet of Things (IoT)

The integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is a future trend in control system architecture. IoT allows devices and systems to connect and communicate with each other through the internet.

In the context of control systems used in automation, IoT can enable real-time monitoring, remote access, and data analytics. For example, sensors embedded in machines can collect data on performance and send it to a central database for analysis.

This information can be used to identify patterns, optimize processes, and make informed decisions. The use of IoT in control systems has the potential to enhance efficiency and productivity in various industries.

Furthermore, integrating IoT into control systems also brings challenges related to cybersecurity. With more devices connected to the internet, there is an increased risk of unauthorized access or hacking attempts that could compromise the security and safety of industrial operations.

Therefore, it is essential for organizations to implement robust security measures when adopting IoT technologies.

In conclusion

Cloud-based control systems

Cloud-based control systems are an emerging trend in automation. With these systems, you can remotely monitor and control processes from anywhere using the internet. This means you don’t have to be physically present at a plant or facility to make adjustments or gather data.

Cloud-based control systems offer greater scalability and flexibility, as they can easily accommodate changes and updates without requiring expensive hardware upgrades. They also allow for real-time collaboration and data sharing among team members.

Plus, with cloud storage, your important data is securely stored and accessible whenever you need it. As technology continues to advance, we can expect cloud-based control systems to become even more prevalent in the future of automation.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are emerging technologies that are revolutionizing control systems in automation. AI refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that would typically require human intelligence, such as problem-solving and decision-making.

Machine learning is a subset of AI where computer systems learn from data without being explicitly programmed.

In the context of control systems, AI and machine learning can enhance efficiency and productivity by analyzing vast amounts of data to optimize processes. For example, through predictive maintenance, AI algorithms can identify potential equipment failures before they occur, reducing downtime and increasing overall system reliability.

Additionally, AI-powered control systems have the capability to adapt and self-optimize based on changing conditions. This ability to continuously learn from real-time data enables more accurate process control and improved performance.

However, it is important to note that with the use of AI comes potential challenges. Data privacy and security must be carefully addressed to prevent unauthorized access or manipulation of sensitive information.


In conclusion, various control systems are used in automation to improve efficiency and productivity in industrial processes. Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS), Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) are some of the common control systems utilized.

It is important to consider expertise, compatibility, security features, communication capabilities, scalability, and flexibility when selecting a control system. While there are advantages to using these systems such as increased control and monitoring capabilities, it’s also crucial to be aware of potential vulnerabilities and dependencies that may arise.


1. What are the main control systems used in automation?

The main control systems used in automation include Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.

2. How do Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) work?

PLCs are small computers that can be programmed to control various processes or machines by receiving input signals, executing logic instructions, and producing output signals based on those instructions.

3. What is the purpose of Distributed Control Systems (DCS)?

DCS is a control system used to monitor and control multiple devices or processes from a central location. It allows for decentralized decision-making and provides real-time data for efficient operation.

4. What does Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system do?

SCADA systems help monitor, gather, and analyze real-time data from different industrial processes or equipment. They enable operators to remotely supervise operations, make informed decisions, and manage resources effectively.

5. Can I use multiple types of control systems together for automation?

Yes, it’s common to integrate different control systems such as PLCs, DCS, and SCADA to create a comprehensive automation solution tailored to specific industrial needs.

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