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At its 2014 World Congress, IFAC launched a “Pilot” Industry Committee with the objective of increasing industry participation in and impact from IFAC activities. I chair this committee with the support of Roger Goodall (Loughborough University, UK) and Serge Boverie (Continental, France) as co-chairs. This committee was established as an outcome of an Industry Task Force led by Roger Goodall in the last triennium.

In 2015 the committee undertook a survey of its members to get their views on the impact of advanced control and challenges associated with enhancing the impact. The survey had two questions. 23 of our 27 members then (excluding the chair) responded. The majority of the membership is either currently with or has prior affiliation with industry; all others have had substantial industry involvement as well. Most of the members were nominated by IFAC National Member Organizations and Technical Committees.

Although limited in many ways, I thought the survey responses would be of interest to the controls community.

Survey Question 1: Impact of Specific Advanced Control Technologies

First, we asked for members’ perceptions about the industry success (or lack thereof) of a dozen advanced control technologies. PID control was also included in the list for calibration purposes. A glossary was included with the survey, listing topics covered under each technology. Members were asked to assess the impact of each of these technologies by selecting one of the following:

  • High multi-industry impact: Substantial benefits in each of several industry sectors; adoption by many companies in different sectors; standard practice in industry
  • High single-industry impact: Substantial benefits in one industry sector; adoption by many companies in the sector; standard practice in the industry
  • Medium impact: Significant benefits in one or more industry sectors; adoption by one or two companies; not standard practice
  • Low impact: A few successful applications in one or more companies/industries
  • No impact: Not aware of any successful deployed real-world application

The results: The control technologies are listed below, in order of industry impact as perceived by the committee members:

Rank and Technology High-impact ratings Low- or no-impact ratings
1. PID control 100% 0%
2. Model-predictive control 78% 9%
3. System identification 61% 9%
4. Process data analytics  61%  17%
5. Soft sensing 52% 22%
6. Fault detection and identification 50% 18%
7. Decentralized and/or coordinated control 48% 30%
8. Intelligent control 35% 30%
9. Discrete-event systems 23% 32%
10. Nonlinear control 22% 35%
11. Adaptive control 17% 43%
12. Robust control 13% 43%
13. Hybrid dynamical systems 13% 43%


On the face of it, these results are disappointing. No advanced control technology is unanimously acknowledged by industry-aware control experts as having had high industry impact—90 years after its invention (or discovery), we still have nothing that compares with PID! It’s also concerning that the “crown jewels” of control theory appear at the bottom of the list.

However, the fact that all the technologies had at least some positive assessments suggests that the impact could well be higher than indicated: Many control scientists and engineers are likely not aware of the impact of control technologies outside the application domains of their experience. Thus the problem may be as much the perception as the reality.

Survey Question 2: Issues and Challenges with Industry Impact

The second question listed a number of statements and asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement with each. Agreement could be indicated as strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree.

The statements and the levels of agreement are tabulated below. I have also noted any significant differences of opinion between the industry and academic members of the committee.

Statement Agreement Disagreement Academia/Industry
Industry lacks staff with the technical competency in advanced control that is required for high-impact applications 83% 4%
Control researchers are much poorer than researchers in other fields at communicating their ideas and results to industry management 26% 30%
The maturity or readiness level of results of advanced control research is too low for attracting industry interest 57% 22% 42% of industry respondents but no academic respondent disagreed
Advanced control has limited relevance to problems facing industries and their customers 4% 65%
The conflict between industry deadlines and academic research timelines is worse in control than in related engineering fields 30% 35%
Control researchers place too much emphasis on applied mathematics or advanced algorithms whereas successful industry applications require deep domain knowledge 83% 13%
Control researchers place too little emphasis on plant/process modeling and model-development methodologies 57% 17% No one from industry disagrees 30% of academics disagree
Students in control (undergraduate and graduate) are not sufficiently exposed to problems in industry 70% 13% No one from industry disagrees 30% of academics disagree
The academic control community is not seriously interested in collaboration with industry 26% 39% 33% of industry respondents but only 11% of academic respondents agree
There is no problem—advanced control is successful and appreciated in relevant industries 13% 83%

 

A clear message is that domain understanding/modeling is crucially important but not adequately pursued and taught. Neither expertise nor experience in advanced control per se is sufficient to realize industry impact.

Conclusions

This survey wasn’t, and nor was it intended to be, scientific or comprehensive, but I and my fellow committee members have found the results thought- and discussion-provoking. We are continuing to explore the challenging problem of industry impact from control research. Among other outputs, we expect to recommend specific enhancements to IFAC events, publications, and volunteer groups. Your feedback is welcome and will be appreciated!

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Article provided by:
Tariq Samad
Senior Fellow
Honeywell/W.R. Sweatt Chair in Technology Management
The University of Minnesota
Vice chair, IFAC Technical Commitee
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