Understanding AC Motors- MRO Electric

In today’s world of automation and robotics, precise control of machinery is critical. The ability to control the position, velocity, and acceleration of moving parts with pinpoint accuracy is essential. This is regardless of whether it’s in manufacturing, robotics, or aerospace. This is where AC servo motors come into play. These advanced electric motors have revolutionized the way we control and automate complex mechanical systems. In this article, we will delve into what AC servo motors are, how they work, and their applications.

What is an AC Motor

An AC (alternating current) Servo Motor, is a specialized type of electric motor. It delivers precise control over speed, position, and torque in various industrial and robotic applications. AC servo motors come equipped with advanced feedback systems, enabling them to respond to changing conditions. Furthermore, these systems also allow them to follow precise commands with remarkable accuracy.

The core principle behind the AC servo motor’s function is its ability to convert electrical energy into mechanical motion efficiently. Typically, these motors are brushless, which means they lack the wear-prone brushes found in traditional brushed motors. This design choice not only enhances their durability but also reduces maintenance requirements. AC servo motors are available in various sizes and power ratings. Therefore they can accommodate a wide range of applications, from small-scale robotics to heavy-duty industrial machinery.

The hallmark feature of AC servo motors is their integration of feedback devices, such as encoders or resolvers. These sensors continuously monitor the motor’s position and speed, feeding real-time data back to a dedicated controller or servo drive. The controller processes this information and calculates the necessary adjustments required to maintain desired position, speed, or torque. This closed-loop control system enables AC servo motors to achieve an unparalleled level of precision. This makes them ideal for applications that demand accurate and repeatable motion control.

How Do AC Motors Work?

At its core, an AC servo motor is a standard electric motor that converts electrical energy into mechanical motion. These motors are typically brushless (less friction). This results in more reliability and a longer lifespan compared to brushed motors. 

AC motors come equipped with feedback devices, such as encoders or resolvers. These devices constantly monitor the motor’s position, speed, and direction. This real-time feedback is crucial for precise control.  A dedicated controller or servo drive processes the feedback data and sends appropriate signals to the motor. It calculates the necessary adjustments to achieve the desired position or speed.  The controller’s output signal is then amplified by a power amplifier, which provides the necessary power to drive the motor.  The motor is connected to a load, which can be any mechanical component that needs to be moved or controlled. A feedback loop ensures that the motor accurately moves the load to the desired position.

Industry Use of AC Motors

An example of a primary application of AC motors in industrial automation is in conveyor systems. These motors power conveyor belts and rollers. This allows for better facilitating smoother movement of raw materials, components, and finished products within manufacturing facilities. AC motors offer precise speed control, that allow manufacturers to optimize production.

Another use for AC motors is in robotics. They allow for robotic functions such as pick-and-place, welding, assembly, and material handling. The ability to control motor speed and torque with precision enables industrial robots to perform intricate and repetitive tasks with accuracy and efficiency. This not only enhances production rates but also improves product quality and consistency. AC servo motors, in particular, are favored for their rapid response times and the ability to achieve high levels of positional accuracy, making them a critical component in advanced robotic systems.

Another crucial application of AC motors in industrial automation is in CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinery. These motors drive machine tools like lathes, milling machines, and routers, enabling manufacturers to create precise and complex components with tight tolerances. AC motors provide the necessary power and control to execute intricate machining operations, resulting in high-quality parts and reducing material waste. Additionally, the versatility of AC motors allows for the efficient use of various tooling options, contributing to the flexibility and productivity of CNC machines.


Conclusively, a common take on AC motors is that they are the unsung heroes of modern industrial automation.  Their adaptability, reliability, and precision makes them invaluable to the manufacturing process. As industries evolve and seek higher levels of automation and precision, AC motors will remain essential components, driving progress and innovation in the pursuit of better and more efficient manufacturing and industrial processes.

The Fundamentals About NEMA

In today’s technologically advanced world, electrical equipment plays a pivotal role in our daily lives. From industrial machinery to household appliances, these devices power our world. However, the safety and functionality of electrical equipment is not just about proper installation and maintenance. It also involves understanding and implementing the appropriate protection standards. One essential aspect of this is NEMA ratings.

NEMA, or the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, is a trade association based in the United States that represents manufacturers of electrical equipment. NEMA ratings are a standardized system used to classify and define the level of protection an electrical enclosure or housing provides against environmental elements, such as dust, water, and corrosive substances. These ratings are essential for selecting the right equipment for specific applications, ensuring durability, and maintaining safety standards.

NEMA’S History

The history of NEMA traces back to the early 20th century. During this time, the electrical industry was experiencing unprecedented growth and transformation. Established in 1926, NEMA emerged as a response to the pressing need for standardized practices within the US’s growing electrical manufacturing sector. This period saw tremendous innovation in the electrical industry. Milestones like utilizing electricity for lighting, power, and communication for the masses became achievable. However, this rapid expansion brought with it a host of challenges. Manufacturers struggled with inconsistent quality, safety concerns, and no standardized industry practices. Recognizing these issues, a coalition of electrical manufacturers and organizations came together to address these challenges collectively. This shared vision ultimately led to the formation of NEMA in 1926.

Throughout history, NEMA has consistently worked towards establishing and upholding industry standards, codes, and regulations. As technology evolved and industry practices changed, NEMA adapted accordingly. It expanded its purview to encompass a wide range of electrical and medical imaging equipment standards. Concurrently, NEMA activel engages in advocacy efforts, by promoting the responsible and sustainable growth of the industry.

An example of a modern NEMA-rated enclosure.

NEMA today remains a stalwart organization in the electrical manufacturing sector, serving as a vital nexus for innovation, safety, and sustainability. As technology continues to advance at a breakneck pace, NEMA’s enduring commitment to establishing and updating industry standards is more critical than ever.

The Importance of NEMA

In industrial environments, electrical equipment often operates in harsh conditions. The exposure to dust, water, and other contaminants are common occurences. NEMA-rated enclosures protect critical automation components, such as PLCs and control panel from the elements. This reduces the risk of equipment failure, electrical hazards, and costly downtime. By adhering to the appropriate NEMA rating standards, industrial automation systems can maintain their functionality, reliability, and safety in very demanding settings. This reduces downtime, and lower maintenance expenses, resulting in significant cost savings over time.

NEMA ratings also contribute to compliance with regulatory standards and industry best practices. Various industries, including pharmaceuticals, food processing, and petrochemicals, are subject to stringent regulations regarding the protection of electrical equipment. NEMA ratings provide a standardized and recognized framework that ensures regulation compliance. By choosing enclosures with appropriate NEMA ratings, industrial automation facilities can demonstrate their commitment to safety and environmental responsibility. They also avoid potential legal and regulatory penalties associated with non-compliance.

Breaking Down the NEMA Rating

NEMA ratings get represented by a combination of numbers and letters. Each element conveys information about the enclosure’s capabilities. When broken down, components in a NEMA rating include:

  1. NEMA Type: The rating begins with the letters “Type,” followed by a number that indicates the general environmental conditions for the designed enclosure. For instance, Type 1 enclosures are designed for indoor use to provide basic protection against dust and falling dirt, while Type 4 enclosures are suitable for outdoor use, providing protection against water and dust.
  2. Indoor/Outdoor Rating: Some NEMA ratings are explicitly designed for either indoor or outdoor use. Indoor enclosures primarily protect against dust and other non-liquid contaminants, while outdoor enclosures provide protection against the elements, including rain, snow, and windblown dust.
  3. Protection Level: The next number in the rating represents the level of protection against solid objects (like dust and dirt). Higher numbers indicate better protection. For example, a NEMA 4X enclosure offers a higher level of protection against dust and moisture compared to a NEMA 4 enclosure.
  4. Protection Against Water:. The X signifies that the enclosure’s water protection level has not been assessed or is not a primary concern. The number following the X indicates the enclosure’s protection level against water. A higher number implies better protection. For instance, a NEMA 4X enclosure provides protection against water splashing and hose-directed water, making it suitable for washdown environments.
  5. Additional Features: Some NEMA ratings include additional letters that indicate specific features or attributes of the enclosure, such as resistance to corrosion (C), oil-tight (O), or resistance to ice formation (F). These letters are optional and may vary depending on the manufacturer’s specifications.

A list complete list of NEMA enclosure types and ratings can be found here.

Example of a NEMA rating chart.

Choosing the Right NEMA Rating

Selecting the appropriate NEMA rating for your electrical equipment is critical to ensure its longevity and reliability. When choosing what rating is right for you, these factors are important to consider.

  1. Environmental Conditions: Assess the environment before installing the equipment. Is it an indoor or outdoor setting?Does it account for specific contaminates like dust or moisture? The NEMA rating should align with the environmental conditions.
  2. Industry Regulations: Depending on your industry or region, there may be specific regulations or standards that dictate the required level of protection for electrical equipment. Always comply with these guidelines.
  3. Future Expansion: Anticipate any changes or expansions in your facility that might affect the environmental conditions. Select a NEMA rating that accounts for potential alterations in the equipment’s operating environment.


NEMA ratings are invaluable tools in ensuring the durability and safety of electrical equipment. By understanding these standardized codes and applying them correctly, individuals and organizations can make informed decisions when selecting enclosures for their electrical components. This not only safeguards the equipment but also minimizes the risk of accidents and costly replacements. When tasked with choosing electrical enclosures, remember to decode the NEMA rating to ensure the right level of protection for your specific needs.

Exploring Industrial Control Panels

When it comes to the debate on what what is the most crucial device in industrial automation; there exists and spectrum of varying opinions. Some argue that the VFD’s (Variable Frequency Drives) play the most crucial role. Others would believe that it is the motors themselves seeing as without their power and movement nothing can get done.  Ultimately all components in industrial automaton are crucial. However unless an operator can give commands for a function, the entire process doesn’t happen.  In order to achieve this, the operator has to be able to give commands to a symphony of devices. He conducts orchestra of machinery on when and how to play.  This where the industrial control panel comes into play.

The Role Industrial Control Panels Play and Why They’re Important

Control panels can be as large as an array of lockers.

Think of industrial control panels as the central command hub that manages and directs the complicated operations of industrial machinery. These panels are at the heart of the operation. Whether it’s a manufacturing assembly line, a power generation facility, or a wastewater treatment plant. They ensure that various equipment and systems work harmoniously. They maintain safety protocols, optimize efficiency, and often facilitate remote monitoring and control.

The importance of industrial control panels can basically be broken down into three reasons:

Enhancing Efficiency and Precision in Industrial Processes

The importance of the control panel lies in its ability to automate, monitor, and regulate complex operations accurately. In manufacturing, for instance, control panels ensure that each step occurs at the right time and in the right sequence. This level of automation not only boosts production rates but also minimizes errors that can arise from human intervention. Moreover, control panels facilitate real-time adjustments based on sensor data, optimizing processes to deliver consistent and high-quality outputs. This efficiency enhancement not only improves overall productivity but also contributes to cost savings. This makes the industrial control panel a key player in today’s competitive industrial landscape.

Safeguarding Human Operators and Equipment

Control panels play a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of both human operators and equipment. Utilizing safety components such as emergency stop buttons, interlock circuits, and safety relays, control panels enable rapid responses to hazardous situations. These safety mechanisms can halt operations, isolate faulty components, or trigger alarms in case of abnormalities. This prevents accidents and minimizes potential damage. Additionally, control panels provide the means for remote monitoring. This allows operators to observe processes from a distance and intervene if necessary. By reducing the need for direct human intervention in risky environments, control panels contribute to a safer work environment. This is backed by stringent regulatory standards.

Enabling Data-Driven Decision-Making and Innovation

Panels serve as gateways for collecting real-time data from sensors and machinery. They facilitate the analysis of critical parameters such as temperature, pressure, and flow rates. Operators can use this data to identify trends, anomalies, and potential issues, enabling predictive maintenance strategies that prevent costly downtime. Moreover, the integration of control panels with advanced technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) opens the door to innovative solutions. AI algorithms can process vast amounts of data to identify optimization opportunities that might be missed by human operators alone. Control panels empower industries to continuously improve their processes, minimize waste, and embrace new technologies.

Layout of Industrial Control Panels

The layout of an industrial control panel generally comes down to seven fundamental components. All control panels can appear in various configurations, but will always contain these components.

  1. Power Supply: Every industrial process requires a reliable power supply. Control panels contain transformers, circuit breakers, and power distribution components to ensure a stable power source for the connected equipment.
  2. Controller: The brain of the operation. A programmable logic controller (PLC) or a similar device, processes input signals, executes control algorithms, and generates output commands. This is where the automation logic is defined and executed.
  3. Input/Output Modules (I/O Modules): These modules connect the physical world to the controller by interfacing with sensors and actuators. Sensors provide information about parameters like temperature, pressure, and flow, while actuators control physical elements like motors, valves, and relays.
  4. Human-Machine Interface (HMI): This is the interface through which human operators interact with the control system. It typically includes touchscreens, buttons, and indicators, providing a visual representation of the system’s status and allowing operators to input commands.
  5. Communication Protocols: In modern industrial setups, communication between devices is essential. Ethernet, serial communication, and fieldbus protocols facilitate seamless data exchange between the control panel, remote systems, and even higher-level supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.
  6. Safety Components: Industrial control panels incorporate safety mechanisms such as emergency stop buttons, interlock circuits, and safety relays to ensure the protection of personnel and equipment in hazardous situations.
  7. Enclosures: The physical housing of the control panel provides protection from environmental factors such as dust, moisture, and temperature variations. It also aids in preventing unauthorized access to sensitive components.

Industrial Control Panels in the Future

As technology continues to advance, industrial control panels are poised for further evolution. The integration of artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics, and predictive maintenance algorithms will enhance efficiency and reduce downtime. The rise of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will lead to more interconnected and data-driven control systems. Moreover, it will transform how industries operate and making real-time decision-making more accessible than ever.

Industrial control panels seem insignificant in the grand scheme of industrial operations. However, they keep the wheels of automation turning smoothly. These panels serve as the nexus between the digital and physical worlds. With an expanding range of applications, industrial control panels are driving efficiency while also reshaping the future of industry.

What is a VFD?

Have you ever used a dimmer on a lamp or room light and wondered how you were able to adjust the brightness of light so easily? How about a running fan in your room on a hot day? Ever wondered what it was that allowed you to change how fast the fan went? Maybe you work at an assembly plant, and see the machines moving and performing tasks with precise speed and timing. Has it ever crossed your mind as to how these giant machinations can do such complicated things and not breakdown or catastrophically collide into one another? That is the wonder known as the Variable Frequency Drive or VFD.

So WTF is a VFD?

Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), alternatively referred to as Variable Speed Drives (VSDs) or Adjustable Frequency Drives (AFDs), constitute a fundamental aspect of industrial automation. These electronic devices are meticulously engineered to govern the speed and torque of electric motors. They achieve tha by manipulating the frequency and voltage supplied to them. By exerting control over these parameters, VFDs grant the ability to finely regulate motor speeds. This results in optimized operational efficiency and performance across a wide array of industrial applications.

In the realm of industrial automation, VFDs offer a multifaceted range of advantages. Among their most prominent benefits is the potential for substantial energy conservation. By permitting motors to operate at lower speeds when maximum power output isn’t essential, VFDs contribute to marked reductions in power consumption, thereby fostering an environment of heightened energy efficiency. Moreover, these drives contribute significantly to the realm of process control and productivity enhancement. Through the implementation of gradual acceleration and deceleration of motors, VFDs curtail mechanical stress and wear on machinery, leading to prolonged equipment lifespan and diminished maintenance expenditures. Their capacity for intricate adjustments further facilitates seamless synchronization with other processes and components, ultimately culminating in elevated product quality and consistency within the sphere of manufacturing and production.

A Brief History in VFD’s

The history of Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) traces back to the mid-20th century. During this time advancements in power electronics and control systems set the stage for their development. The initial concept of controlling motor speeds by varying the frequency of the power supply emerged in the 1960s. However, the state of electronics at the time limited the technology. The 1970s saw the advent of solid-state devices like thyristors and later insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs). These components enabled more efficient and precise control over motor speeds by allowing the modulation of voltage and frequency.

By the 1980s, the electronics industry had made significant strides, making VFDs more practical and cost-effective. Advances in microprocessors and digital control algorithms led to the emergence of more sophisticated and versatile VFD systems. These drives gained traction in various industries where precise speed control and energy efficiency were crucial. Some examples include HVAC systems, pumps, and conveyors. The turn of the millennium saw further improvements in power electronics, enabling higher switching frequencies and greater efficiency. Additionally, advancements in communication protocols and networking facilitated seamless integration of VFDs into larger industrial automation systems.

How Are VFD’s Used

Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) operate based on the principles of pulse width modulation (PWM) and voltage-frequency control. These drives consist of three main components: a rectifier, a DC bus, and an inverter. The process begins with the rectifier, which converts the incoming AC power supply into DC voltage. This DC voltage is then stored in the DC bus, creating a stable power source. The inverter stage is where the magic happens. The VFD generates variable frequency AC output by rapidly switching the DC voltage from the bus into a series of pulses through the inverter’s transistors. The width of these pulses determines the effective voltage and frequency delivered to the motor, effectively controlling its speed and torque.

To elaborate on the concept of pulse width modulation (PWM), imagine turning a light switch on and off very rapidly. When the switch is on, the light receives full power, and when it’s off, the light receives no power. By adjusting the duration of the on and off states, you can regulate the average power delivered to the light, thus controlling its brightness. Similarly, VFDs use PWM to regulate motor speed. The width of the output pulses corresponds to the voltage and frequency applied to the motor. By adjusting this pulse width, VFDs can provide a wide range of speeds, allowing precise control over the motor’s performance.

Voltage-frequency control is another fundamental aspect of VFD operation. The relationship between voltage and frequency needs to be maintained within certain limits to prevent overloading the motor. As the frequency changes, the VFD adjusts the voltage to maintain an appropriate ratio. For example, as the frequency is reduced to slow down the motor, the VFD decreases the voltage proportionally to ensure the motor’s torque remains consistent. Conversely, at higher frequencies, the VFD increases the voltage to sustain the motor’s torque output. This coordinated adjustment of voltage and frequency ensures the motor operates within its safe and efficient operational range, enabling seamless control over its speed and performance in various industrial applications.

What Uses a VFD?

Implementing VFDs in industrial settings involves careful planning and integration to harness their benefits effectively. First, a thorough assessment of the application’s requirements and the specific motor system is necessary. This includes considering factors like load characteristics, torque demands, and desired speed ranges. Once the appropriate VFD is selected, the installation process involves connecting the drive to the motor and the power source. It’s essential to ensure proper grounding, wiring, and following manufacturer guidelines for correct setup.

After physical installation, configuring the VFD settings becomes crucial. This involves programming parameters such as motor nameplate data, acceleration and deceleration rates, maximum and minimum speed limits, and control modes (e.g., open-loop or closed-loop control). Advanced VFDs might also offer features like communication interfaces (such as Modbus or Ethernet) to integrate with larger automation systems for centralized control and monitoring. Careful tuning of these parameters ensures that the VFD operates optimally, delivering the desired motor performance while minimizing energy consumption and wear on equipment.

Implementing VFDs also requires considerations for safety and maintenance. Properly trained personnel should handle VFD installation and configuration to prevent accidents. Regular maintenance and periodic inspections are necessary to ensure the drives and associated components are functioning correctly. Monitoring for anomalies, such as overheating or unusual noises, can help detect potential issues early and prevent costly downtime. As technology evolves, the implementation of VFDs might also involve exploring predictive maintenance strategies that leverage data analytics and sensors to anticipate maintenance needs and enhance system reliability.


VFDs stand as a testament to synergy between technological innovation and industrial efficiency. VFDs have transformed the way we control and optimize electric motor-driven systems. Not only do VFDs empower industries to achieve unparalleled precision and performance through dyanmic controls. They also contribute significantly to energy conservation, equipment longevity, and process refinement. As industries continue to evolve and prioritize sustainability, VFDs will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of this evolution. VFDs continue to drive innovation, enhance productivity, and leading to a more efficient and environmentally conscious industrial landscape.

The Internet of Things

On the surface, The Internet of Things (IoT) may sound like tech jargon for something really complicated and sophisticated. In a way that is true when you get into the technical aspects of “how”. The formal definition of the IoT is: the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. Fundamentally however, IoT is just a really fancy way of saying all our home devices and technology are capable of connecting and talking to one another.

What makes up the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is often characterized by different features. While all these features may not be in every device, generally all devices have more than one of these.

Devices and Sensors

Device and sensors describe physical objects equipped with communication interfaces that collect (sensors) and transmit (actuators) data. These devices can range from simple household appliances like thermostats and smart lights to more complex industrial machinery and vehicles.


IoT devices rely on various communication technologies to transmit data. These technologies can include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular networks, Zigbee, LoRa, and more. The choice of connectivity depends on factors like range, power consumption, and data bandwidth.

Data Processing and Analytics

The massive amount of data generated by IoT devices needs to be processed, analyzed, and interpreted to extract meaningful insights. This often involves using cloud computing resources and advanced analytics techniques, such as machine learning, to derive valuable information from the collected data.

Cloud Computing

IoT devices typically send their data to cloud-based platforms for storage, processing, and analysis. Cloud computing provides the scalability and computational power required to handle the vast quantities of data generated by IoT devices.

Applications and Services

IoT data creates a wide range of applications and services. These can include remote monitoring and control of devices, predictive maintenance of machinery, smart homes and cities, healthcare monitoring, environmental monitoring, and more.

Security and Privacy

When it comes to the collection and transmission of sensitive data, security and privacy are major concerns. In IoT, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of the data is crucial.


The seamless interaction of various IoT devices and systems is essential for the success of IoT ecosystems. Standards and protocols ensure compatibility and smooth communication between devices from different manufacturers.

The History of Things

The Internet of Things as a concept spans back several decades. However, its development into a widespread and recognizable technology trend began in the late 20th century.

Pre-Internet Origins (1960s – 1980s)

The idea of interconnected devices predates the internet itself. In the 1960s, early computer networks like ARPANET laid the foundation for later

The Term “Internet of Things” (1990s)

Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, coined the term “Internet of Things” in the late 1990s. Ashton was working on radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which used small chips to communicate data over short distances. He used the term to describe a system where physical objects connected to the internet, sharing data without human intervention.

Development in the Early 2000’s

 In the early 2000s, developments in sensor technology, wireless communication, and data processing began to pave the way for practical IoT applications. This decade saw the emergence of various projects and initiatives exploring IoT concepts, including smart homes, industrial automation, and RFID-based supply chain management.

The 2010’s to the Present

The proliferation of wireless communication technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular networks, played a crucial role in enabling widespread IoT adoption. As these technologies became more accessible and cost-effective, IoT devices could communicate over longer distances and with greater efficiency.

It also gained momentum in specific industries, such as manufacturing and agriculture. Here, sensor-equipped machinery and data analytics improved efficiency and productivity. The concept of “Industrial IoT” (IIoT) emerged, highlighting the use of IoT technology in industrial processes and automation.

By seamlessly connecting machinery, sensors, and control systems, IoT has enabled the creation of “smart factories” that operate with heightened responsiveness and optimization. Real-time data from IoT-enabled sensors monitors every facet of production, offering insights into variables such as temperature, pressure, and quality. This data-driven approach empowers manufacturers to implement predictive maintenance strategies, identifying potential equipment failures before they occur and minimizing downtime. This results in a substantial reduction in operational costs, increased productivity, and enhanced product quality, as intelligent automated systems replaced manual processes. These systems can adapt to changing conditions in real time.

Moreover, IoT’s impact extends beyond the confines of individual factories. Supply chains have become more transparent and interconnected, as IoT-enabled tracking devices provide real-time visibility into the movement and status of goods at every stage. This heightened visibility enhances inventory management, reduces delays, and allows for agile responses to market demands. The convergence of IoT with advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence offers the potential for more sophisticated decision-making. Manufacturers can optimize production schedules based on predictive demand trends, allocate resources efficiently, and even customize products in response to specific customer preferences. As the synergy between IoT and industrial automation deepens, it is reshaping traditional manufacturing paradigms and propelling industries into a future defined by intelligent, interconnected, and agile production ecosystems.


The IoT continues to expand its influence across various sectors, including healthcare, transportation, agriculture, and more. As technology advances, the IoT is becoming more integrated with other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing. Edge computing allows data processing to occur closer to the source, while also reducing latency and improving real-time decision-making.

While the IoT has come a long way, challenges remain, including concerns about security, privacy, data governance, and the need for continued standardization. However, as technology continues to evolve, the IoT poises an even more significant role in shaping the way we interact with the digital and physical worlds.

The Evolution Sensors and Actuators

Over the years sensors and actuators play a crucial role in the world of industrial automation. They transformed the manual processes into highly efficient, automated systems. This is the run down of their history and evolution and how they are integral the automation industry.

A Tale of Two Components

What are Sensors?

A sensor is an electrical instrument that monitors and measures physical aspects of an environment and then sends an electrical signal to a control center when it detects pre-determined conditions. On the most basic level, sensors turn physical inputs into electrical signals that are output to the control center. Sensors can be used to monitor the health of equipment and status of a sensitive environment. One example is a sensor that can alert temperature changes to an operator if a unit gets too hot.

What are Actuators?

In contrast, actuators take electrical signals from control modules and turn them into physical outputs. They can perform a wide range of functions, from turning rotors and valves to virtually anything else. You can program them to control almost any physical action. An example of an actuator is a shutoff valve. When it receives a signal from a sensor or control module, it closes the valve. The actuator receives the input of an electrical signal and turns it into a physical action. 

The History of Sensors and Actuators

Both sensors and and actuators have their roots going as far back as the early 20th century. Basic switches and relays served as the first primitive forms of automation. These simple devices were used to detect changes in physical properties, such as temperature, pressure, and position, and to initiate mechanical actions accordingly. While this technology had very limited functionality at the time, they paved the way for the future of automation.

Pneumatic Actuators

In the early stages of automation, pneumatic actuators dominated the landscape due to their simplicity and reliability. Compressed air was used to control mechanical movements, making them ideal for industrial applications. However, the advent of electric actuators brought about a significant shift. Electric actuators, driven by motors, offered finer control, quieter operation, and the ability to integrate with digital control systems.

Sensors at the Turn of the Century

By the mid-20th century, sensors experienced a revolutionary transformation. Devices like thermocouples, strain gauges, and pressure sensors emerged, enabled precise measurements and real-time data acquisition. The integration of these sensors into industrial processes improved process control laying the foundation for more sophisticated automation systems.

Microprocessors Take the Stage

The introduction of microprocessors and microcontrollers in the 1970s and 1980s marked a turning point in sensor and actuator technology. These tiny computational devices allowed for on-board processing, enabling sensors to not only gather data but also interpret and transmit it intelligently. Smart sensors emerged, capable of self-calibration, data filtering, and communication with other devices, making them indispensable for complex automation tasks.

Sensors and Actuators Evolve

Integrating PLC’s

The 1980s brought sensors and actuators closer to the heart of industrial automation with the widespread adoption of PLCs. PLCs acted as the brain of automation systems, receiving input from sensors, processing it, and triggering actions through actuators. This integration simplified automation programming and allowed for more extensive and flexible control over industrial processes.

Internet Networking

The rise of the internet and networking technologies allowed sensors and actuators to communicate on a broader scale. Fieldbus protocols and industrial communication standards, such as Modbus, Profibus, and Ethernet/IP, facilitated seamless data exchange between devices and supervisory systems. This enhanced connectivity allowed for remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and real-time process optimization.


From the simplicity of basic switches to the intelligence of smart devices, sensors and actuators continue to play a vital role in shaping the world of industrial automation. We can expect sensors and actuators to become even more integrated, intelligent, and indispensable, driving the industry towards unprecedented levels of efficiency and automation.

Job Growth in an Era of Human – Machine Collaboration

In the past we’ve covered the rise of automation in the industry. More specifically we’ve talked about the underlying anxieties of job loss and they human element being replaced as AI becomes more advanced. However, there’s never really been much coverage in regards to how this uncharted relationship between human and machine could lead to long term job growth. While the outlook of the human race keeping our jobs and being able to make a livable wage in the world of machines looks pretty grim. We have yet to be in the dystopian sci-fi world of Terminator. On the other hand, the discussion about the potential for job growth is seldom discussed. Too often we bring the machine aspect of automation into focus, but we don’t often talk about the human potential. These are a few ways Human-Machine collaboration becomes advantageous to job growth.

Job Creation in Automation Industries

As industries embrace automation, there is an increased demand for professionals with expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and system integration. The development, deployment, and maintenance of automation systems require a skilled workforce, leading to job opportunities in these emerging fields.

Prioritizing Higher Value Tasks

Automation allows humans to transition from repetitive, mundane tasks to more complex and value-added responsibilities. As machines handle routine operations, humans can focus on tasks that require creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. This shift empowers employees to engage in challenging and fulfilling work

Skill Development

The introduction of automation technologies necessitates upskilling and reskilling of the existing workforce. Employees can receive training in areas such as system operation, maintenance, programming, data analysis, and process optimization. This investment in workforce development enhances employee skill sets, making them more valuable in the job market and fostering job growth.

New Job Roles and Specialization

Collaboration between humans and machines often leads to the emergence of new job roles and specializations. These include automation technicians, robot coordinators, data analysts, machine learning specialists, process optimization experts, and human-robot interaction designers. Job growth occurs as organizations create positions to address the evolving needs of their automated systems.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The rise of automation provides opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation. Individuals can develop automation solutions, create startups focused on specialized automation services, or establish consulting firms that help organizations adopt and optimize automation technologies. These entrepreneurial ventures contribute to job creation and economic growth.

Support and Maintenance Roles

As automation systems become more prevalent, the need for support and maintenance personnel also increases. Skilled technicians are required to install, configure, troubleshoot, and repair automation equipment. This includes tasks such as sensor calibration, programming updates, and diagnosing system issues. The growth in automation installations leads to job opportunities in these support and maintenance roles.

Collaborative Robotics

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are designed to work alongside humans, enhancing productivity and safety. These robots require human operators for programming, monitoring, and collaboration. As the adoption of cobots increases, job opportunities arise for individuals skilled in operating and coordinating the interactions between humans and robots.

Job Expansion

The adoption of automation in one industry often leads to job growth in related industries. For example, the increased use of automation in manufacturing can drive job growth in industries such as component manufacturing, robotics engineering, software development, and logistics.

Final Thoughts

While automation can lead to job displacement in certain areas, the overall impact of human-machine collaboration tends to be positive for job growth. By leveraging the strengths of humans and machines, organizations can create new roles, upskill their workforce, and drive innovation, contributing to the growth of the job market in automation-related industries.

Celebrating Independence Day

No, not the 1996 Roland Emrich sci-fi film. We’re talking about one of the most sacred holidays in the history of this nation. As someone who’ s been a United States citizen all my life, 4th of July has always just been another holiday happening every year. It exist as the holiday characterized by fireworks, cookouts, hot summer days, and the unrelenting torrent of patriotic symbols. My perception of the holiday has always been: ” this holiday the US celebrates for winning its freedom from the British. ” While that element definitely is the core of the holiday, the traditions and symbols that are synonymous with the holiday have been a progression over time.

President Whitmore giving his iconic speech in the 1996 film “Independence Day”

Defeating the British

A New Nation Declared
The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4th declaring freedom from British rule.

The history of July 4th in the United States traces back to the American Revolution. That day the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from British rule on July 4, 1776. This historic event, known as the Declaration of Independence, became adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The document, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, expressed the colonies’ grievances against King George III asserting their right to self-governance. The signing of the Declaration marked the birth of the United States of America. Since then July 4th marks the day of Independence Day celebration.

A War Filled with Struggle

The war of course wasn’t one that came easily. The British held a military advantage over the colonists. While the colonies did form the Continental Army in 1775. It mainly comprised of unseasoned soldiers who at best had some militia training. Lack of training and scarce supplies and resources became a prevalent thing. This caused the Continental Army many defeats to the General Cornwallis and the British crown. However, they say that every dog has his day, and for the Continental Army, that dog had a few days. One of those days came on September 19, 1777, at the Battle of Saratoga. There, American forces secured a crucial victory. This victory not only boosted morale among the troops. It also gave enough confidence for France to ally with the colonists. This in turn gave the Continental Army much needed military support.

Victory at Last!

Another pivotal moment came September 28, 1781 with the Siege of Yorktown. American and French forces, under the command of General George Washington and General Rochambeau, laid siege to the British army under General Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. The combined American and French troops effectively trapped Cornwallis and his soldiers, forcing them to surrender on October 19, 1781. The British defeat at Yorktown was a decisive blow to their military campaign. It led to negotiations for peace, which ultimately resulted in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, officially recognizing the independence of the United States and marking the end of British rule.

The First Celebration (and Beyond)

While celebrations most likely did pop off shortly after the official defeat of the British to the now United State. The newly established United States celebrated the first Independence Day holiday on July 4th, 1777. One year after the original signing of the Declaration of Independence. Early celebrations included public readings of the Declaration, military parades, and fireworks. In the following decades, July 4th festivities grew in popularity and became an important national holiday.

By the early 19th century, celebrations featured elaborate fireworks displays, patriotic speeches, and various community events. Politicians capitalized on the holiday using it as an occasion for political gatherings and speeches. Often these speeches would be about reinforcing the values of liberty and freedom.

By the late 19th century, July 4th celebrations underwent another transformation with the rise of industrialization and urbanization. Parades, picnics, and outdoor festivities became more common. Communities organized larger events to bring people together. France gifted The Statue of Liberty, to the United States on July 4, 1884. This further solidified the holiday’s association with national symbols and American identity. Over time, July 4th also became an opportunity to honor military veterans and express gratitude for their service well into the modern era.

The War of 1812

While July 4th is mostly connected and associated with the Revolutionary War. There is a lot of its history encompassing the War of 1812 as well. The War of 1812 was a significant conflict between the United States and Great Britain. It lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 17, 1815.

It was primarily driven by several factors. This included American grievances over British imprisonment of American sailors, trade restrictions, and British support of Native American tribes resisting American expansion. In general the War of 1812 often comprised of a number of skirmishes between American and British forces. One very notable battle resulted in the British capture and burning of Washington, D.C. This included the White House and the Capitol, in 1814. As demoralizing as having the capital fall siege to a foreign army may seem. It actually galvanized American forces. In 1815 , General Andrew Jackson led a major decisive victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

Although the War of 1812 ended with no definitive victor. It did solidify the United States’ place in the world as a legitimate nation. This let other superpowers at the time know that indeed, the “United States ain’t noth’n to f**k with. ” The War of 1812 invoked plenty of feelings of both patriotism and nationalism. While observing the bombardment of Fort McHenry, writer Francis Scott Key felt inspired to author “The Defense of Fort M’Henry”. However, that title was mid at best. So FSK later sampled his lyrics with the song “To Anacreon in Heaven” and made “The Star Spangled Banner”. That song turned out to be such a banger that Congress later adopted it in 1931 as the national anthem.

1816 portrait by Paul de Rapin depicting the British burning Washington.

July 4th Today

Example of symbols used in 4th of July

Since the early years of its inception the meaning of July 4th has transcended its original purpose of celebration. Many view the holiday as a time to relax, takes trips with family, and cracking open beers with friends beside a hot grill. For many July 4th is a nice paid day off work and extending the weekend. However, the core of the holiday is still one that is rooted in patriotism. SFK’s 1814 bopper gets national play. Vast swaths of lawns across the US become adorned with red, white, and blue themed symbols. Then at night somewhere in rural America. Just before midnight. A young man will be rushed to the ER with burns and injuries sustained from an improper fireworks discharge fireworks. The pain will be intense. So will the hospital bill. But for freedom, it will be worth it.

Let’s Talk About Juneteenth

Let’s Talk About Juneteenth

Cultural Significance

Juneteenth is a federal holiday that holds a significant place in American history. The historical significance of this day lies in its commemoration as the true end of slavery in the United States. As a cultural symbol, Juneteenth stands as a testament to the resilience and perseverance of African Americans throughout the history of slavery and their continued fight for freedom. The delayed news of emancipation highlighted the challenges faced by African Americans and their enduring struggle for equality.

The cultural significance of Juneteenth extends beyond its historical roots. It serves as a day of celebration, reflection, and education. Celebrations often include community gatherings, parades, music, food, and artistic expressions. African Americans honor their heritage, promote unity, and educate others about the history and legacy of slavery. Additionally, Juneteenth serves as a platform for candid discussions on racial equality and social justice in the United States.


Galveston, Texas

The origins and historical context of Juneteenth traces back to June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas.

Upon his arrival, General Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which proclaimed “that all slaves are free.” This announcement was met with jubilation and profound emotion by the African American community in Galveston, as they finally learned of their emancipation. The news spread rapidly, igniting a wave of celebration among enslaved people in Galveston.

Newspaper snippet from the Galveston Daily News announcing General Granger’s General Order No. 3

Sadly, this crucial news of freedom came two and a half years after the Union issued the Emancipation Proclamation. General Granger’s arrival in Galveston marked a pivotal moment, as Texas was the last Confederate state to receive the news of emancipation. This delayed message led to Juneteenth becoming a symbolic day of liberation and celebration.

Spreading the Holiday

The first celebration of Juneteenth traces back to 1866 in the rural South. However during an event known as the Great Migration when many African Americans left southern states and headed north in search of better economic and quality of life opportunities. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, these events became characterized by gatherings of food and celebration of art and expression.

Juneteenth in the Modern Era

The 1940s through the 60s were tumultuous to say the least for the holiday. The wider movement for Juneteenth became overshadowed by events such as World War II and the Civil Rights movement. It finally regained its traction in the 70s but only recently gained mainstream momentum the past few years. In fact, Juneteenth only recently gained federal recognition in 2021. It stands as the first federal holiday announced since Martin Luther King Jr. day in 1983.

Juneteenth Inc.

Juneteenth and Companies

The holiday gained wider recognition and visibility in the corporate world following the racial justice movements of 2020. Events such as the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests, prompted many companies to reevaluate their diversity and inclusion efforts. Organizations recognized the importance of acknowledging and honoring Juneteenth as a significant milestone in the fight for civil rights. . Observing Juneteenth provided companies an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and engage in meaningful conversations around racial equity.

The widespread adoption of Juneteenth celebrations by companies can also be attributed to the efforts of grassroots organizations, employees, and activists advocating for the recognition of the holiday. Through petitions, public campaigns, and internal advocacy, employees and external stakeholders called upon businesses to officially observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday or a day of reflection and education. Many companies responded to these demands by granting employees a day off or organizing educational events and activities to commemorate the holiday. This collective pressure from within and outside the organizations played a pivotal role in motivating companies to embrace Juneteenth as an important day in American history.

Company Controversies (The Walmart Debacle)

While the optics of mainstreaming Juneteenth can be seen as largely positive, embracing the holiday has not been without hurdles.

Walmart’s infamous Juneteenth ice cream sparked major controversy.

In 2022, commerce giant, Walmart came under public scrutiny after releasing a red velvet flavored ice cream to promote Juneteenth. This decision was by in large received negatively with detractors criticizing Walmart for commercializing a holiday meant to symbolize liberation. In addition many were quick to point out the problematic nature of the retail giant capitalizing on the holiday. Of course they did so as Black-owned ice cream companies had been releasing flavors celebrating the holiday for years.

In response to the backlash, Walmart rolled back the product and issued an apology. However,as tone deaf as Walmart’s decision seemed to be, it wasn’t an isolated incident. Multiple companies attempted to capitalize off Juneteenth and received similar push back.


“American independence” stands as both the most agreeable, yet most contentious topic in the United States. Feelings and opinions on this topic especially ramps up when discussing July 4th, federally recognized as Independence Day. When the conversation about American independence regarding this day gets discussed, the argument arises of “Who truly gained independence?” There exists this long standing notion that while July 4th embodies this nation’s independence from British rule, it leaves out the entire story of the enslaved.

Juneteenth serves as a way for the descendants of the enslaved, to not only tell their story, but also celebrate their tribulations after facing overwhelming trials. While it isn’t the pinnacle of equity, recognizing Juneteenth serves as another bend towards justice in that moral arc that Dr King passionately spoke of in 1968.

History of the Human-Machine Interface


With the evolution of technology becoming more sophissticated stresses the importance of faster and more efficient communication. In the early days of machinery, the way humans interacted with equipment would be with pullies and levers. While this system made labor easier, it still required a lot of physical involvement and manpower. Also because workers had communicate manually, orders on each level took a while to convey. As manufacturing and industrial processes advanced, there was more progression in the way humans and machines interacted.

In a previous article, we discussed the Second Industrial Revolution which was characterized by the expansion of electricity. The modern concept of automation begins around this time. Hefty ropes, pullies, and levers eventually became surpassed by switches and buttons. No longer did a team of workers pull heavy chains to raise and lower heavy objects. The use of electricity meant that motorized pulleys and wenches could replace these tasks with a push of a button. This development also meant faster response times in between processes, therefore resulting in faster production times.

While this by far made production in factories a lot faster and more efficient. The need to be more streamlined meant factories still needed to up the game on productivity. This is where the HMI enters the story.

A Brief History

In the Beginning

Typewriters are considered the earliest examples of HMI. Source: Wikipedia

While we are hard pressed to find one today, the earliest HMI can be traced back to the typewriter. Invented in the 1860s, the device provided a tangible connection between human input and machine output. While the typewriter is considered rudimentary by today’s standards. A person able to punch keys and output the information onto paper marked a milestone in machine interfacing. However, the biggest progress for HMI technology comes about during the 20th century.

Xerox Alto. Source: Wikipedia

The 20th Century

The mid-20th century saw the rise of computers. Unlike the typewriter, these powerful machines and their interfaces evolved from punch cards to command-line interfaces. This later would progress to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). By 1965 the Royal Radar Establishment developed the first touch screen. Popularized by Xerox PARC’s Alto computer in the 1970s, the GUI allowed users to interact with computers through visual representations such as icons, windows, and menus. Ths technology saw niche use in industries like air traffic control. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it gained widespread recognition. Two prominent examples of devices being the Hewlett-Packard HP-150 and the Atari 520ST. Touchscreens revolutionized the way users interacted with machines, providing a more intuitive and direct method of input. Another significant advancement in HMI was the introduction of voice recognition systems.

HMI in the Digital Age

Recent years have witnessed the rise of virtual and augmented reality as emerging interfaces. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have gained significant traction. VR immerses users in computer-generated environments, while AR overlays digital information onto the real world. These immersive technologies are opening up new possibilities with training and the way operators interact with equipment.

What is HMI?

In the world of industrial automation, Human-machine interface (HMI) plays a crucial role in completing tasks. It enables effective communication and interaction between humans and machines in manufacturing and industrial settings. HMIs serve as the primary interface through which operators monitor and control industrial processes. These interfaces provide real-time data visualization, alarms, and controls that allow operators to make informed decisions and respond quickly to changing conditions. They typically consist of touchscreens, graphical displays, and input devices such as keyboards or keypads. HMIs are used to manage a wide range of industrial automation systems, including robotic assembly lines, control panels, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

HMI’s like this Fanuc Teach Pendant rose to prominence throughout the 80’s. Source: FanucExpress

The use of HMIs in industrial automation has greatly enhanced productivity, efficiency, and safety in manufacturing environments. HMIs in minimize human error and help with downtime. They allow operators to visualize critical information, receive real-time alerts, and respond promptly to abnormal conditions. HMI’s provide clear and concise displays, making it easier for operators to interpret data and make informed decisions. Furthermore, HMIs implement preventive maintenance strategies by providing insights into equipment performance and condition monitoring. By integrating advanced functionalities like data analytics and predictive maintenance, HMIs contribute to proactive approaches in industrial automation.


As industry continues to evolve we already seeing the integration of VR and voice commands in HMI technology. At this point the questions is not so much about “Can we do it?” but rather how streamlined and cost efficient can they be? Only time can tell.