November 3, 2023

The Future of Controls Engineering: Highlighting the Importance of Automation 

We’ve come a long way since the mid-to-late –1700s when the first Industrial Revolution changed how we manufacture goods. Iron, coal, and textiles were the main drivers of the 18th-century transformative period. Since that time, we’ve experienced several more transformations, moving on to gas, electronics, nuclear, the internet, and renewable energy.  

Now, in the thick of the fourth Industrial Revolution—just shy of the fifth that will focus on values like sustainability, human-centricity, and resiliency—we are seeing a period powered by technological change, like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT). This most recent shift in manufacturing processes and how traditional industries operate represents a significant deviation in how products are designed, produced, and delivered.  

Smart factories, IoT, sensors, data analytics, automation, and robotics are just a few of the advanced technologies that now drive most businesses. Businesses are reaping the benefits of this progressive and cutting-edge age, including:  

  • Customization for a more personal experience 
  • Supply chain optimization for more efficient creation 
  • Cyber-physical systems for integration capabilities and heightened autonomy 
  • Enhanced operations with human-machine collaboration, using augmented reality and wearable technology  

Controls automation in engineering is just another way Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the production of goods and services. Advancements in technology are not void of risks, but controls automation can address and appropriately manage those risks to achieve desired outputs and reduce the cost of compliance.  

Controls Engineering Applied to Real-Life 

Controls engineering deals with designing and implementing control systems to manage and regulate various processes and systems. However, knowing what something is and how it works are very different. 

Therefore, case studies are often helpful in any field to showcase the diverse applications of a skill or discipline. They can help us move forward as they pinpoint key areas in which technology has been instrumental in shaking things up. In this circumstance, case studies are important to highlight the significant impact of precision and automation in engineering and infrastructure. 

For example, a global automotive interiors manufacturer was experiencing issues with their paint line that were causing major delays in production. Unfortunately, they were short a robotics engineer. Oxford stepped in, providing the right expertise to help decipher the problems and optimize processes. By recoding the robot and making mechanical adjustments, the designated robotics and controls engineers could optimize system performance, fixing the faulty paint line and even improving operations.  

The results included superior painting quality, increased production rates, and ongoing support to help identify and prevent future system failures and continue to maintain and improve processes to ensure compliance. Due to the overwhelming success, Oxford supported this client at a different location, resulting in a passed inspection, saved contract, and established contingencies to ensure enduring production should another failure occur in the future.  

Automating the Process for More Control and Less Risk 

It’s all about control—but it doesn’t have to be personal. Relinquishing control to automated tasks, systems, or processes is a powerful strategy to mitigate risks. Historically, automated control increases safety and decreases mistakes and non-compliance because of increased precision and accountability.   

Simon Watson, Lecturer in Robotic Systems from the University of Manchester, explained that humans already relinquish control every time they rely on public transportation and in many other aspects of life. Watson believes humans hold onto an “illusion of control,” giving people “the benefit of the doubt.” However, he states: “The reality is that machines are much more reliable and accountable than humans.” He goes on to say, “Maybe it’s time for society to see through the illusion and make the practical decision—relinquish control and let the machines and the robots do what they’re designed to do.” 

Replacing manual control processes with automated systems can help organizations minimize the potential for human error and ensure accuracy and consistency in critical operations. The reduced likelihood of accidents, equipment failures, and production deviations means a boost in overall revenues for businesses by eliminating costly downtime and fallout from safety incidents and compliance breaches.  

Essentially, passing the baton means more control, not less, and you’re taking a dip in risk—so it’s a win-win.  

Looking Forward: The Future is Transformative 

The engineering industry is expected to see several key trends evolve, driven by rapid advancements in existing and new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning (ML). Humans are finding more ways to bridge the gap between people and the systems we operate, making complex operations more accessible and understandable.  

Transformation is happening in real-time, with the future of controls automation promising to be more adaptive, intuitive, interconnected, and sustainable, resulting in smarter and more efficient systems.  

Notable advancements include:    

  • Integration with ML and AI 
  • IoT and smart controls  
  • Digital twins 
  • Edge computing 
  • Cyber-physical systems (i.e., integration of computer-based algorithms with physical processes) 
  • Cybersecurity 
  • User-friendly interfaces or human-machine interfaces (HMIs) connecting people to machines, systems, or devices (e.g., graphical interfaces, augmented reality, and voice-activated controls) 
  • Modularity and scalability 
  • Sustainability and energy efficiency (i.e., reducing the environmental footprint) 
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration (i.e., automation integration with domains like biology, economics, and social sciences necessitates interdisciplinary teams to tackle complex engineering challenges) 

Oxford Can Help 

Oxford can help automate the controls and engineering process. We have the experience and the talent to provide customized solutions to various challenges within the consumer and industrial industry. We build long-term relationships with many of our clients because they know they can count on us to provide fast and accurate results.  

We have pre-vetted candidates to save you time. That way, when a problem arises, we are ready to meet your needs as soon as you reach out. That is our promise: to deliver The Right Talent. Right Now 

Quality. Commitment.

Whether you want to advance your business or your career, Oxford is here to help. With nearly 40 years’ experience, we know that a great partnership is key to success. Start a conversation today.