Controlling the Future: 7 Trends in Industrial Control Systems

Adam J. Fleischer
|  Created: September 22, 2023  |  Updated: July 1, 2024

Industrial control systems (ICS) are the backbone of modern industry, playing a crucial role in the operation and management of many processes. Through a combination of software and hardware, these systems monitor and regulate machinery, production lines and other critical activities. As we move further into the Industry 4.0 era, it is increasingly evident how much we rely on advances in electronic components to enhance and modernize these industrial control systems.

In today's rapidly evolving technological landscape, both the nature of industrial control systems and their integral components are constantly advancing. This underscores the importance for electronic engineers to remain informed about the latest trends, technologies and component innovations.

In this article, we will spotlight five predominant types of control systems and their key components, and then we will delve into seven trends shaping the world of industrial control. By understanding and leveraging these systems and trends, engineers can optimize their projects, resulting in more innovative and efficient solutions.

programmable logic control

Types of Industrial Control Systems

Industrial control systems come in a variety of specialized formats, each tailored to serve specific needs within the vast expanse of industrial operations. One of the cornerstones of this domain is the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). PCSs are robust computers explicitly engineered for industrial environments, playing an instrumental role in controlling a myriad of manufacturing processes. Integral to their function are microprocessors that handle data processing, modular I/O systems allowing for flexible configurations, Ethernet modules ensuring seamless connectivity, and non-volatile memory that guarantees data retention.

Then there are Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems. These systems shine in scenarios requiring oversight and management of vast processes, particularly in sectors like water treatment and power distribution. Their efficiency is powered by data acquisition moduleswireless communication chips that facilitate remote data transfer, and touch-enabled HMI displays that enhance user interactivity and feedback.

Another critical type of system in the industrial control landscape is the Distributed Control System (DCS). Designed to cater to processes within distinct areas or facilities, DCSs find their niche especially in continuous manufacturing processes. Their capability is boosted by high-speed processorsredundant communication modules, and the integration of AI chips that allow for sophisticated analytical tasks.

A bridge between human operators and intricate machinery, Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), cannot be overlooked. These interfaces serve as a window, offering real-time data insights and metrics on system performance. Their efficacy is rooted in powerful GPUs driving high-definition displayscapacitive touchscreen modules for an intuitive user experience, and seamlessly integrated embedded systems.

Our overview of primary types of ICS would be incomplete without Industrial PCs. These are computers specifically crafted for industrial applications, offering steadfast performance even under challenging conditions. They are equipped with features like shock-resistant SSDs, advanced thermal management systems to withstand varying temperatures, and versatile I/O interfaces to connect a range of devices.

The enhancements and innovations in these industrial control systems are driven by advancements in electronic components. With every leap in technology, from improved processors and sensors to advanced communication modules, the efficiency and capability of industrial operations are exponentially magnified.

machine human interface

Emerging Trends in Industrial Control Systems

Programmable control systems such as PLC and DCS systems have had a presence for over half a century. Yet, they continue to see annual upgrades, thanks to rapid advancements like faster processors, expanded memory and heightened functionality. Research firm Mordor Intelligence forecasts a robust 8.9% CAGR for the industrial control systems market from 2023 to 2028, indicating the sector's promising future.

The following are seven influential trends shaping industrial control today:

1. Internet of Things & Industry 4.0

One of the most significant trends is the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and Industry 4.0. This trend offers electronic engineers the opportunity to design and implement smarter and more connected systems. By utilizing IoT-enabled sensors and connectivity-enabled components, engineers can collect real-time data and achieve better monitoring and control capabilities. This data-driven approach enables engineers to optimize their designs, improve efficiency and implement predictive maintenance strategies, thereby enhancing the overall performance of industrial systems.

2. Edge Computing

Another trend that electronic engineers should pay attention to is the rise of edge computing. Driven by faster data processing and low latency, edge computing allows engineers to perform computations closer to the data source, reducing data transmission delays and enhancing real-time decision-making in critical industrial applications. By incorporating high-performance processorsmemory modules and power management systems, engineers can effectively implement edge computing solutions with improved responsiveness, reduced network load and increased autonomy.

3. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a vital aspect of modern industrial control systems. As these systems become more interconnected, protecting them from cyber threats becomes increasingly crucial. By integrating new secure chips and components with built-in security features, engineers can ensure the integrity and confidentiality of critical data. Additionally, implementing robust security protocols in their designs allows for secure communication and authentication, safeguarding systems from potential cyber-attacks.

4. Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are revolutionizing industrial control systems by enabling the next generation of predictive maintenance and optimization. Electronic engineers can harness the power of AI and ML by incorporating specialized chips and components into their designs. These components facilitate faster data processing, improved pattern recognition and enhanced decision-making capabilities. By leveraging AI and ML technologies, engineers can develop intelligent systems that dynamically adapt to changing conditions, identify anomalies and optimize operations. 

5. Green and Sustainable Manufacturing

By selecting power-efficient components and sustainable materials, engineers can help reduce energy consumption and minimize the environmental impact of industrial control systems. Integrating these components into their designs not only aligns with the global push for eco-friendly practices but also assists industries in achieving their sustainability goals. Through their conscious choices, electronic engineers contribute to the overall sustainability of industrial operations, paving the way for a greener future.

6. Wireless Technology

Wireless technology is transforming industrial control systems, offering electronic engineers unprecedented flexibility and mobility. Engineers can leverage reliable wireless communication components, such as low-power wireless modules and robust communication protocols, to design systems with seamless and reliable wireless connectivity. Electronic engineers can capitalize on these technologies to create versatile and adaptable systems that can be easily deployed and scaled to meet evolving industrial requirements.

7. Modular and Scalable Systems

In the era of modular and scalable systems, electronic engineers can design industrial control systems that are easily expandable and adaptable to changing needs. By utilizing modular components, engineers can quickly integrate or replace specific modules to accommodate new functionalities or upgrades. This modularity facilitates system flexibility and scalability, allowing engineers to efficiently adapt their designs to evolving requirements. Electronic engineers can also embrace plug-and-play approaches to simplify system integration, reduce development time and enable seamless expansions or modifications.

Looking Ahead

In conclusion, keeping a pulse on both the top trends in industrial control and the foundational systems and their components is paramount for electronic engineers. Embracing these developments ensures that engineers can consistently produce improved designs and superior end products. Each trend and advancement presents fresh opportunities, pushing the boundaries of what's possible and continuously shaping the future of industrial control systems.

About Author

About Author

Adam Fleischer is a principal at, a technology marketing consultancy that works with technology leaders – like Microsoft, SAP, IBM, and Arrow Electronics – as well as with small high-growth companies. Adam has been a tech geek since programming a lunar landing game on a DEC mainframe as a kid. Adam founded and for a decade acted as CEO of E.ON Interactive, a boutique award-winning creative interactive design agency in Silicon Valley. He holds an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and a B.A. from Columbia University. Adam also has a background in performance magic and is currently on the executive team organizing an international conference on how performance magic inspires creativity in technology and science. 

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