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Technical & Practical

August 1, 2011

Todays Process Automation Worlds

An overview of the current and future direction of process control

Cecil L. Smith, Cecil L. Smith, Inc.

Modern industrial-automation systems rely entirely on digital technology, that is, computers. And as is typical of digital products, suppliers love to add features — data collection, alarm management, and so on — that are very useful for process operations but are not process control in the purest sense. This is continuing, the result being that process control systems are evolving to enterprise management systems.

We like to think that industrial automation is special, but in reality it follows the trends dictated by other segments of the computer industry. Adding features to process control systems is no different than the evolution of cell phones. Products such as the Android, iPhone, and so on, provide a plethora of functions, including navigation, Web browsing, playing music, morning wakeup (alarm clock), ad infinitum, and almost incidentally, a function that permits the user to have a verbal conversation with someone else — that is, what was at one time the sole function of a device called “a phone”.

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