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Equipping A Process Control Lab Via Department Sponsored Senior Projects

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



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Page Numbers

5.282.1 - 5.282.4

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Richard R. Johnston

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

Session 3432

Equipping a Process Control Lab via Department Sponsored Senior Projects

Richard R. Johnston Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. of Lawrence Technological University


This paper discusses the equipping of a Process Control Lab with realistic process simulators by having the ECE department sponsor student teams to build the apparatus as their capstone design project. This sponsorship involves having the department specify the behavior of the apparatus, specify the Input / Output connections between the apparatus and the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC I/O), and pay for all the materials.

I. Introduction

At Lawrence Tech we teach a senior elective course “Process Control” in which students learn how to control various processes with a PLC using ladder logic. One of the biggest challenges of teaching the associated laboratory is getting the students to visualize the process they are trying to simulate. This is complicated by the fact that the only inputs our simulator panels make available to the PLC are toggle switches, and the only output from the PLC consists of lamps. (There is one switch and lamp simulator per student group in the lab.) For example to simulate filling a tank, a switch is chosen to represent the on / off selector, another switch is chosen to represent the low-level float switch, a third switch is chosen to represent the high-level float switch, and a lamp is chosen to represent the tank input valve. The student writes a ladder that opens the tank input valve whenever the low-level float switch is not actuated, and closes the valve only when the high-level float switch is actuated. The ladder program is tested by having the instructor actuate the low-level switch, then activate the on / off switch, and by observing that the valve lamp is not lit until the low-level switch is deactivated, and remains lit until the high-level switch is activated (regardless of the subsequent condition of the low-level switch). While the above example is readily visualized by most students, more complicated simulations are not. In addition, the simulation by switches and lamps lacks the “hands-on” experience students need to maintain their interest and to help them relate the theoretical material to the real world.

To alleviate these short-comings of our process control lab, we have commissioned several student teams to build various process simulators. We currently have two intermediate level process simulators (the temperature controlled chamber and the fluid mixing tank) and one

Johnston, R. R. (2000, June), Equipping A Process Control Lab Via Department Sponsored Senior Projects Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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