Industrial automation & control

Industry 4.0 is digitising and revolutionising manufacturing. By combining the Industry 4.0 models with advanced analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we can introduce speed and precision to a wide range of factory operations, enhancing productivity and reliability.

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Industry 4.0 and the future of manufacturing podcast series

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Smart sensor solutions for IIoT

Track. Control. Improve Efficiency. Reduce Cost.

Key highlights

  • Smart sensors are transforming workhorse machines into automated devices that perform on their own, by providing conditional and quality monitoring.

  • Real-time intelligence sensors are used to reduce costs by improving manufacturing and industrial processes and avoiding production downtime.

  • Manufacturing digitisation helps improve plant performance and efficiency by providing manufacturers with better quality, more transparency and a more streamlined production process.

  • Farnell offer a wide range of industrial sensor and solutions for temperature, humidity, pressure, vibration, proximity, infrared and more. Browse the range today to find the right sensor for your application.

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Smart maintenance & repairs

Reduce costs, increase up-time

Key highlights

  • Production line down-time costs manufacturing companies up to £60,000 per hour, according to Cummins

  • Upgrade your manufacturing processes with innovative smart maintenance solutions and generate ROI of up to 30%

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Industrial smart energy efficiency solutions

Motors & motor controllers, VSF Drivers, PLCs, Power, Sensors

Key highlights

  • Get control of your Energy – create a sustainable future by resolving the Energy paradox

  • We help to lower operational costs and implement long-term savings through active energy-efficient smart solutions.

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Edge computing transformation

Sensors, PLCs, HMIs, SBCs

Key highlights

  • Increased product portfolio and supply from leading suppliers to empower your Industrial Edge Computing to innovate.

  • Comprehensive range of IIoT-enabled controllers, digital & analog I/O modules, gateways, control edge PLCs & PACs and storage devices.

  • Connected real-time I/O sensing, monitoring, and control solutions for all of your distributed control systems and data to cloud Industrial IoT needs.

  • A wide selection of low-cost, low-power, high-performance industrial embedded computers to enable the next generation of industrial applications.

  • Your no. 1 partner for all major single board computing providers (including Raspberry Pi, BeagleBoard, Arduino and many more).

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Industrial control systems

An Industrial control system (ICS) includes supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCSs) and other compact control system configurations, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), remote terminal units (RTUs), and other field devices. An ICS increases performance, safety, and reliability through continuous control and monitoring of every industrial process and reduced manual effort.

Simple control systems are panel-mounted and deployed on small discrete controllers, allowing the front panel to be directly viewed and the operator to manually intervene if necessary. These would originally be pneumatic controllers, but now nearly all are electronic. Networks of such electronic controllers communicate using industry-standard protocols to create complex systems. Networking permits the use of remote or local SCADA operator interfaces and enables the controllers to be cascaded and interlocked.

DCSs are digital process control systems that use custom fabricated processors as controllers and either standard protocols or proprietary interconnections for communication. This process involves field connection modules and controller functions to be dispersed all over the system with centralized control, offering management and supervisory viewing over big industrial processes.

SCADA, a control system architecture, uses computers, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and networked data communications to perform high-level supervisory management. The SCADA system administers the operator interfaces that monitor and issue process commands. Networked modules connected to other peripheral devices like discrete PID controllers and programmable logic controllers execute logic calculations and real-time control. These controllers interface with the machinery.

PLCs are compact modular devices with multiple inputs and outputs (I/O) in a housing incorporated with the processor. The range may go up to big rack-mounted modular devices where thousands of I/O are networked to SCADA systems. The Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), inside the ICS, serve as a useful bridge between the physical and cyber worlds. The critical roles played by ICS and PLCs have made the two targets of sophisticated cyberattacks. These assaults are designed to disrupt their operation, which creates both social unrest and financial losses.

Several communication protocols find use in various ICS environments. Most protocols are designed for specific purposes such as process automation, building automation, and power systems automation. The ICS protocols generally include Process Field Bus (PROFIBUS), Building Automation and Control Networks (BACnet), Distributed Network Protocol (DNP3), Modbus, Open Platform Communication (OPC), Ethernet for Control Automation Technology (EtherCAT), and Common Industrial Protocol (CIP).

We now talk about taking everything online. The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) —a term stitching cyber-physical systems like the Internet of Services and Internet of things (IoT)- has begun to find increasing resonance with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), asset owners, and system integrators. The near future will witness a tranche of ICS information routed to sophisticated applications across enterprises via a wide area network where security by obscurity no longer provides effective protection. ICSs are connected to the Internet for projects like smart grids and smart cities, thus amplifying risks from malicious actors.

Input/Output interface

Input/output or I/O interface is the interaction between a central processing device, such as a PLC, and the input and output devices. Inputs are the signals or data received by the processing system from a digital input device, such as a switch, relay or contactor, and analog inputs from various sensors indicating the status of physical parameters, such as temperature, pressure, etc. Outputs are the signals or data sent from the processing system to digital output devices, such as an indicator, lamp, alarm, relay or contactor and analog output devices, such as motors, valves and proportional controllers, etc.

Each I/O module can contain up to 32 channels rated for specific voltage and current attributes, and can be rack-based, distributed or standalone, or expandable. Traditionally screw-clamp terminals made up wiring connections, although many users are now switching to spring-clamp terminals for vibration resistance and simpler wiring.

Some I/O modules come with specialized features, including frequency rate (Hz), resistance (ohms), or voltage (mVs). Integrated circuit temperature detector (ICTD), Thermocouple (TC), and resistance temperature detector (RTD) are specialized Artificial Intelligence (AI) versions, as they are frequently used to offer high input density. All channels in one module are typically alike in a basic format, however some newer systems offer a mix of all four basic types of modules accommodating discrete inputs and discrete outputs.

Some I/O system suppliers offer multifunction I/O modules that receive related signals on the corresponding terminal points, and utilize software-centric configuration to create specific attributes for each.

Modern I/O systems use open Ethernet protocols. A few of these I/O systems can leverage commercial power over Ethernet (PoE) technology to operate remote I/O and even power loops. I/O systems feature software-based configuration as it is important to regulate the I/O module to monitor or control system communication links. A communications adapter is occasionally required to validate the I/O modules to converse with a supervisory system.

Since standard Ethernet can be used to network modern I/O systems, and are not restricted to master-slave communications, new architectural possibilities are available to bridge the gap between traditional wired and smart wireless and between I/O IIoT. These systems can pair I/O control with embedded IT technologies to convert remote slaves into distributed data nodes. Even with near ubiquity of intelligent field equipment and IIoT devices, there exists a continuation of demand in new and legacy installations to supervise and command conventional wired I/O points. In older systems, they would be connected to an I/O system mastered by a controller. Newer I/O systems provide flexible features to ease design, installation, and maintenance, saving time and money.

The latest generation of I/O systems pushes the envelope, offering greater connectivity via Ethernet networks to peers, other devices, and software systems, and not being bound to a single master. This new I/O makes it possible to create fully IIoT-capable automation systems.


Industrial connectivity is vital to seamless device integration. Industrial Automation and control are highly dependent on cables and connectors to transfer data, power, and commands among industrial machines, within the factory floor, Cloud, and IT. Industrial environments demand rugged, durable, and high-performance connectivity design needs. They must be oil-resistant, tolerate high temperatures, and unfailingly function in the drag chain.

Wiring is fundamental to Industrial Automation. Communication protocol wiring in an industrial control environment comes with particular needs. Electrical cabinets need industrial connectors, hook-up wire, DIN rail, terminal blocks, and wire management. Sensors and solenoids require M8, square, or M12 DIN assemblies, accompanied by distribution centers. RJ45 and M12-8 assemblies are increasingly seen on the shop floor due to Ethernet communications' rising adoption. Even wireless applications need wires for cessation.

A typical cable has a conductor, shield, insulation, and an external jacket. Unshielded Twisted Pair Cable (UTP) and Shielded Twisted Pair Cable (STP) are the two primary varients of cable for industrial environments. A shielded cable allows smooth signal transmission as the sheild protects the cable from external radio and power frequency interference, but comes at a higher cost than ushielded cable.

Heat shrink tubing protect cables against chemicals and varied climatic conditions. The versatile product is also suitable for color coding, strain relief, and bundling. It also finds use as a strain relief for breakouts, connector-to-cable transition, and back end connector sealing. Heat shrink is also used as a protective element for bundling loose wires or cables.

Industrial connectors are crucial in multiple applications, including factory-floor environments, machinersy, mining, geophysical exploration, electrical power generation/distribution, farming equipment and more. Heavy-duty connectors are a configurable, versatile solution. They provide max IP 69k protection, 216 contacts and suitable for use in harsh environments. The current rating ranges from 10 A to 200 A. The M8/M12 connector system offers comprehensive connectors, IO modules, and cable assemblies.

The modular constructed Heavy Duty Connector (HDC) product range are highly configurable and robust, making them ideal for robotics and automation applications. Such an arrangement combines power with established interfacing technologies. The hoods and housings provide vertical and right-angle cable orientation and IP65 to IP69k.


Industrial communication systems are the backbone for any automation system architecture. They offer a robust procedure of data exchange, flexibility, and data controllability to connect numerous devices, and manage data integrity and real-time control in demanding environments over major installations. Consiquently, industrial networking ushered the implementation of profuse communication protocols among digital controllers, numerous automation related software tools, field devices, and also external system.

A communication protocol describes digital message rules and formats needed for swapping messages among devices. These are executed using wireless or wired communication channels and integral to any complex automated system. Most modern automated systems use digital shared communication networks having different kinds of protocols such as RS-485, PROFIBUS, EtherCAT PROFINET, CAN control, Ethernet/IP, PowerLink, PROFINET, Modbus, Modbus™ TCP/IP, and others.

Sensors, various controllers (PLCs, HMI, DCS), and actuators are the lowest field devices in industrial automation. Sensors transmit diagnostic information, and controllers compute such conditional control signals and transmit the same to actuators. Industrial controllers like PLCs, computer systems, and distributed control units make up the control level, and manage tasks such as configuring the automation devices, loading all process variables data and program data, supervising control, adjusting set variables, and historical archiving.

Ethernet is a sort of networking technology based on the “master-slave” proposition. A wired network is installed in a local area inside a building. The control level network made of industrial Ethernet with TCP/IP protocol links control units with the computers.

Local Area Networks (LANs) find broad use as communication networks to realize desired characteristics. The Ethernet data link the layers inside the network. It functions akin to a physical layer and dictates connector types, electrical signals, and signaling speeds.

Ethernet Wide Area Networks (WANs) finds common use in factory planning and management information exchange. Ethernet WANs use the industrial gateway to work as information level networks. Wireless communication technologies are ideal for flexible and efficient automation solutions and sidestep cabling drawbacks and associated hardwired connections. Multiple communication methods are considered based on the interval between transmitting points and receiving points. For example, GSM or CDMA opt for longer distances, Bluetooth, Wireless HART Zigbee, and Wi-Fi for shorter ones. Wi-Fi offers high bandwidth and effortlessly integrates with Internet Protocol (IP) networks. Bluetooth encompasses a broad sweep of throughputs and power consumption needs. The Bluetooth Low Energy technology offers indoor positioning capability from robust battery-powered beacons that can function for several months to a year.

A 5G Network is a key asset in Industrial Automation infrastructure with the manufacturing industry anticipated to advance toward the distributed organization of production, with connected goods (products having communication ability), low-energy processes, collaborative robots, and integrated manufacturing logistics. A system of end-user entities resides on the networked structure apex, using 5G network facilitated end-to-end communication services. Such a network offers horizontal communication inside and across a vertical structure.

Power supply

Industrial power supply networks provide a highly available fixed 24V DC supply voltage within specified limits. The output voltage is generated from different supply sources, including AC and DC networks, 1-phase and 3-phase supply up to 500V AC.

A variety of power sources are needed to operate industrial machinery, typically to convert high voltage AC to low voltage DC in order to power programmable logic controllers, I/O, and HMI devices. The difference between power supply used in commercial application and industrial usage lies in mission-critical applications at Class 1 Div 2 (potentially explosive environments) production sites, or even in extreme temperatures ranging from - 40°C to + 70°C.

Switch-mode Power Supplies (SMPS) and Linear Power Supplies are two main methods for controlling regulated DC Power Supplies. The highly efficient, compact, and lightweight SMPS features smaller form factors and direct parallel connection through integrated ORing MOSFETs. They change input AC power to high-frequency power using the high-speed switching of semiconductors. The SMPS provides upgraded features to improve machine reliability, electrical safety, and parallel redundancy for components and ancillary systems. Beyond these factors, industrial power supplies can future-proof the capabilities required for the evolving industrial digitalization infrastructure of the smart factory and Industry 4.0 initiatives.

AC-DC power supplies and DC-DC converters are available in multiple formats with varied sizes, capacities, and shapes, to name a few. End applications may need a combination of AC/DC and DC/DC or Non-Isolated Point of Load converters to support different power supply, power system, and isolation needs of subsystems like control electronics, battery charging, and communications ports.

AC power supplies and DC/DC converters are integrated into the end equipment in open frame, PCB mount, chassis mount, base plate cooled or enclosed formats, or maybe engineered to suit particular applications. Developments such as ZVS (Zero Voltage Switching) and ZCS (Zero Current Switching) resonant topologies and synchronous rectification methods offer reduced heat dissipation and higher conversion efficiency.

A power supply selection must consider many factors, such as size requirements, integrated overcurrent, short circuit, over-temperature protection, and power factor correction for their operation in hazardous environments. Industrial power connectors are designed to provide safe and reliable power to equipment in harsh, extreme environments. Different Power supply models complying with either UL, CSA, and VDE standards or EN standards are available.

Safety & protection

Circuit Protection is a critical part of any industrial installation. It is crucial to meet national codes and to protect equipment, processes and people from any excess energy that could cause damage and safety issues.

Reliable protection devices maintain and monitor systems' environments without hampering normal function. Integrated protection circuits offer robust, easily implementable, and high performance solutions that respond swiftly to hazardous events (if they occur). These circuits are compact and energy-efficient and assure steady operation over a longer time period, making them invaluable in industrial applications.

Overcurrent or any abnormal condition, which can be severe. Consequences include conductor insulation failure, equipment damage, fire, personal injury, electrocution, and property loss. A piece of equipment suffers an overload condition when it operates above its full-load rating, or a conductor operates in surplus ampacity. A persistent overload may cause an accumulation of dangerously high thermal heat conditions in conductors and circuit loads. Circuit breakers are used as insurance against such dangerous conditions.

A short circuit describes an overcurrent condition where the current exceeds the circuit's full-load current rating and occurs in a relatively short period. This type of fault condition is a consequence of the current deviating from its flow path.

Fuses serve as an intentional weak link in an electrical or electronic circuit. These current sensitive devices offer reliable protection for those circuits under overcurrent or overload conditions. The current flowing inside a fuse element under normal conditions is at magnitude less than or equal to or its rated current. In any fault condition, the current flowing through the fuse element escalates rapidly and opens the circuit.

Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) overcurrent protection devices respond swiftly to a temperature rise. Under normal conditions, it has minimal resistance, and therefore nominal impact on a circuit. A PTC device, in its overcurrent condition, will switch from its general low resistance state to its high resistance state, but then in post overcurrent state, the device "resets" to its normal, low resistance state.

Surges are a leading reason of electrical device failures. A transient surge describes a sudden rise in power flow. Transient surges result from many sources, the most common being internal, such as load switching and even normal equipment operations. A surge protection device (SPD) is wired parallel to its protected equipment, so that during a voltage surge it reduces its impedance within the space of a few nanoseconds and consequently the impulse current gets diverted.

The Innovation Experts podcast

Exploring the latest innovations in the world of electronics, Series 2 – Industry 4.0 and the Future of Manufacturing investigates how some of the world’s leading electronic component and solution manufacturers are enabling technological innovation in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Series 2 covers critical topics such as the new wave of Industry 4.0 and intelligent factory trends, the industrial revolution’s synergy with electrification, power of automation in the IIoT and much more.

Industry 4.0 and the Future of Manufacturing

Episode 1

Upgrading to Industry 4.0 using new and existing measurements


Kevin Goohs, Director of IoT Implementation Strategy from Omega Engineering, discusses innovative ways to upgrade existing facility systems with critical solutions, such as sensors and new digital smart probes, to capture real-time information on the factory floor.

Industry 4.0 and the Future of Manufacturing

Episode 2

Aligning sustainability, business strategy and partnerships with Industry 4.0

Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric provides an exclusive overview of the company’s innovative approach to developing new technology solutions for IIoT, including how key learnings are passed directly onto customers.

Industry 4.0 and the Future of Manufacturing

Episode 3

Integration is the gateway to unlock Industry 4.0


Matt Dentino, Advantech’s Industrial Internet of Things Channel Manager for North America, explains how a long-standing policy of embracing open architecture has influenced the company’s approach to asset integration, energy management, digital transformation and real-time monitoring and analysis.


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