With the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, came the desire and the ability to automate tasks with the use of industrial electronics. Monotonous and repetitive tasks were soon taken care of by machines. However, each machine was designed to complete one task and was prone to breakdown often.
During the 1920s, central control rooms became common at power plants and major factories. However, by the late 1930s, most process control was only on and off. Operators monitored charts that were drawn by recorders. In order to make corrections to the processes the operators opened or closed valves or turned switches on or off. In addition, control rooms also used color-coded lights to send signals to plant workers so they could manually make changes.
It did not take long for automatic instruments to use relay logic in order to perform more complex tasks. After World War II, technological progress brought numerical command machines and analog instrumentation. In addition, the transistor was also invented around this time, in 1947.
In the 1970s, the first commercial computers began to be used as controllers for heavy automation systems. They were expensive, large in size, and difficult to program. In addition, they were also extremely sensitive to the industrial environment. However, they had an advantage when it came to handling the acquisition and control of several variables.
Around the same time, Programmable Logic Controllers, or PLCs, were developed in response to the demand from the American automotive industry. It was a dedicated computer that is designed to operate in the industrial environment. They are considered the precursor to modern day industrial networking. The first ones used a small set of instructions and did not have analog inputs. In addition, these machines could only handle discrete control applications. They were used in place of relay control panels and reduced high power consumption. However, these newly created devices required difficult maintenance that included a modification of commands as well as costly wiring alterations where sensors and actuators are connected to input/output cards.
Fast forward around 20 years to the 1990s when the world began to witness enormous progress in technology. Electronic circuits began to offer more efficiency, higher speeds, and additional functionalities, as well as greater reliability. Furthermore, the technology of the 90s took up less space in addition to being able to reduce costs. Also during the 1990s, more powerful computers, interfaces and peripherals were created that allowed for a much higher processing capability and memory, while enabling high scale production, at reduced costs.
Today the biggest problem with industrial electronics is the threat of cyber attack. Between 2000 and 2014, there were over 25 reported attacks. Today, a never ending series of incidents are being disclosed with varying level of detail. Therefore, there is an urgent need to be more aware and proactive of the cyber security aspects of these systems than ever before.
However, these systems have benefitted society and enabled modern production techniques that have improved the energy and water supply, environmental control, as well as information and communications technologies. These systems will continue to expand in both complexity and sophistication to further benefit society.