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Design Build Test: Flexible Process Control Kits For The Classroom:

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.363.1 - 8.363.11



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Paper Authors

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David Keyser

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Polly Piergiovanni

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S. Scott Moor

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1526

Design – Build – Test: Flexible Process Control Kits for the Classroom

S. Scott Moor, Polly Piergiovanni and David Keyser Lafayette College

Abstract Traditional undergraduate instruction in process control focuses on abstract analysis and often does not prepare students for the industrially important task of synthesizing process control strategies and designs. This project bridges the chasm between academics and industry by developing inexpensive and flexible process control lab kits that will allow students to design, implement and test their own control systems. At the heart of the process is the LEGO® RCX brick, an inexpensive system that grabs student interest. Using the kits, students are able to construct the physical process with quick release fittings and implement the control system in software using ROBOLABTM for LabVIEWTM.

Inexpensive kits were developed using LEGO components that include a tank, sensors, motorized control valve and a control algorithm. The kits are easy to reproduce. With them, students conduct several level experiments which illustrate concepts of simple draining tank dynamics. The students plan and construct the piping, determine the placement of sensors and control elements and decide the process control parameters. In a single class period, the students design, construct and test their process.

Because the kits are inherently safe and require only electrical power and water to run, they can be used for laboratories, classroom demonstrations and exercises, independent activities and for educational outreach to high school students.

Introduction One of the key challenges of undergraduate engineering education is providing students an experience that includes both solid theoretical underpinnings and a clear connection to industrial practice. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in process control. Students often have difficulty connecting the analysis they learn to the practical application of process control, resulting in low student interest in the subject. They are often not prepared for entry-level tasks of synthesizing control strategies including the basic task of placing sensors and control elements. They know analysis but not synthesis and do not have a full appreciation for the importance of dynamics in real processes.

Background/Current Practice Currently process control focuses primarily on analysis using frequency analysis techniques, (e.g. Laplace transform analysis). Stephanopolous suggests that in process control instruction we are “preoccupied with the analytical leg” of process control largely because we do

Keyser, D., & Piergiovanni, P., & Moor, S. S. (2003, June), Design Build Test: Flexible Process Control Kits For The Classroom: Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11572

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