What is an Industrial Control System in Manufacturing?

In process manufacturing plants, an Industrial Control System, or ICS, refers to a set of devices that regulate the behavior of the machinery and equipment used in the production process. An ICS can include mechanical devices like motors, hydraulic and pneumatic devices, and electronic devices such as computers and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) instruments. An ICS is a feature of process control in manufacturing.


ICSs used to be “dumb” systems that operated on a closed circuit, but that changed with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and IIoT devices. Today, most ICS networks are “smart” internet-connected systems that enable plants to improve data-gathering and analysis and increase efficiency across manufacturing processes.


ICS technologies often used in process plants include:

  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
  • Distributed control systems (DCS)
  • Industrial automation and control systems (IACS)
  • Programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
  • Programmable automation controllers (PACs)
  • Remote terminal units (RTUs)
  • Control valve diagnostics 
  • Control servers
  • Intelligent electronic devices (IEDs)
  • Sensors

Why Do Industrial Control Systems Matter to Process Manufacturing Plants?

Process manufacturing plants are home to complex processes and intricate chains of equipment and machinery. They all need to work in synchrony for effective production. Industrial control systems ensure that all these moving parts are working together efficiently and safely.


For example:

  • SCADA systems enable remote monitoring for field sites like oil rigs
  • DCS systems control production systems like valve management
  • IACS systems enable industrial automation across complex processes
  • A PLC supervises local operations of sensors and other gadgets

How Can Process Plants Protect Industrial Control Systems?

Today’s ICSs are internet-connected, making them vulnerable to hacking attempts. Because they play such a critical role in manufacturing processes and vital infrastructure, they are also very tempting targets for opportunistic malicious actors and state-sponsored dirty warfare.


As a result, it’s crucial to ensure that these systems are secured against potentially harmful unauthorized access. Industrial Control System Security is a security framework designed to protect these systems from accidental damage or deliberate attacks, while allowing safe access for authorized personnel.


ICS Security uses a range of tools and tactics, including vulnerability management, network intrusion protection and detection, access permission controls, patch management, and asset inventory and detection to secure ICS systems. This should go hand in hand with employee education about password management and system security, to mitigate human-enabled vulnerabilities.

How Do Process Plants Benefit from Industrial Control Systems in Manufacturing?

Overall, Industrial Control Systems are a vital part of manufacturing processes, regulating the behavior of machinery and equipment and ensuring efficient and safe production. With effective ICS systems, process manufacturing plants can introduce and extend automation, improve productivity, and cut costs to ultimately boost profits.