A variable structure control (VSC) method for unstable industrial processes is proposed. The proposed control method is able to provide a highly satisfactory system performance and to tackle with robustness issues of the processes in the presence of uncertainties. An ITAE-based numerical tuning algorithm for acquiring optimal control parameters, and a direct auto-tuning mechanism for the proposed controller are also provided. The performance of the proposed VSC method is illustrated on some unstable process models including a continuous stirred tank reactor (CSTR), in order to show its effectiveness, validity and feasibility. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.