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10 storylines to watch in 2022

Dec. 15, 2021
Some of the key issues we'll be working on in the coming year

Every fall, many of us editors in the business press put together what we call an editorial calendar, in which we set out the themes and topics we plan to explore over the coming year. In the case of Control, many of these topics are the bread-and-butter technologies of process instrumentation and control—from flowmeters to terminal blocks to HMI software. But others are intended to interpret the impact of broader technical and societal trends on the practice of process automation.

Some important topics are of course impossible to anticipate in advance (take COVID-19, which was nowhere on anyone’s first draft of a 2020 calendar), but many others evolve over multi-year horizons. Here then, a brief tour of 10 important storylines of the latter type that we’ll have an eye on as we enter 2022.

Not unsurprisingly, one key storyline is the continued unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic’s global impact is broad enough that it’s having an outsized impact on many of the other trends we’re keeping an eye on. It's already jumpstarted organizations’ acceptance of technologies that provide remote access, and will continue to influence the adoption of technologies that advance autonomous operations as well as industrial cybersecurity practices. The latter having hit a highwater mark of awareness in 2021, with the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods ransomware attacks.

Another pandemic knock-on effect that we’ll be exploring more closely is the extent to which it's exacerbated the already critical “silver tsunami” workforce crisis in our sector. Further, we’ll continue to keep tabs on the disruption of global supply chains that has stressed the manufacture and delivery of essential automation system components as well as go-to-market strategies of process manufacturers themselves.

Of even larger impact on the practice of process automation is sustainability, more specifically the decarbonization of industrial operations and energy supplies, and the momentum behind it that continued to build throughout 2021. Indeed, if catastrophic climate effects are to be avoided, the energy transition will be the biggest driver of industrial investment—and of demand for skilled automation professionals—for decades to come. 

A bit closer to home is the roll-out of field instruments and network infrastructure products compliant with the new Ethernet-APL standard. And while Ethernet-APL is technically a protocol-agnostic physical layer, we’re likely to see some “protocol skirmishes”—if not outright wars—as instrumentation companies choose sides among FieldComm Group, ODVA, OPC Foundation and PI technologies for their initial product offerings.

From a systems perspective, the continued convergence of IT and operational technology is also apparent in the continued development of open automation platforms based on the efforts of the Open Process Automation Forum and the IEC 61499 standard. This “dis-integration” of the traditionally monolithic distributed control system is intended to allow end-users to more readily bring together system-level technologies from multiple suppliers. Cloud technology is also ascendant in automation architectures, allowing process manufacturers to leverage an increasingly hybridized solution of on-prem and remote computing capabilities. The cloud also plays a role in the blossoming collection and use of non-control data from field instruments and other non-traditional sensors. This secondary channel as described in the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) model is a primary means of the digital transformation of plant operations. (For more on this and another of our hot topics of 2022, see article "Knowledge is first step to sustainability.")

Well, that's 10 by my count—and all the room I have. Please drop me a note at [email protected] and let me know what I've missed!

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.