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Integrating Experiment, Modeling And Design Using A Hands On Hydraulic Positioning Laboratory For Mechanical Control Systems Education

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Innovations in ME Laboratory Instruction

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.763.1 - 13.763.14



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Paper Authors


James Widmann California Polytechnic State University

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Jim Widmann is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at California Polytechnic
State University, San Luis Obispo. He received his Ph.D. in 1994 from Stanford University.
Currently he teaches mechanics and design courses. He conducts research in the areas of design
optimization, machine design, fluid power control and engineering education.

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Charles Birdsong California Polytechnic State University

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Charles Birdsong has expertise in vibrations, controls, signal processing, instrumentation, real-time control, active noise control, and dynamic system modeling. He received his BSME at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, MS and Ph.D. at Michigan State University where he worked on active noise control applications for the automotive industry. He has worked in the vibration test and measurement industry helping to drive new technologies to market and working with industry to meet their emerging needs. He is currently an Assistant Professor at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo in the Department of Mechanical Engineering teaching dynamics, vibrations and controls and is involved in several undergraduate and master’s level multidisciplinary projects. His recent research area is in active automotive safety.

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John Ridgely California Polytechnic State University

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John Ridgely is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at California State
Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. His teaching and research interests include
controls, design, and mechatronics.

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Frank Owen California Polytechnic State University

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Dr. Owen has taught Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly for eight years, where he designed and implemented a hydraulic/pneumatic servo system for graduate and undergraduate study. He has a broad industrial background. He has also taught for eight years at Maine Maritime Academy and for two years at the Munich University of Applied Science.

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

Integrating Experiment, Modeling and Design using a Hands on Hydraulic Positioning Laboratory for Mechanical Control Systems Education


As part of a laboratory intensive curriculum, Mechanical Engineering students at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo are required to take a senior level class in Mechanical Control Systems. In addition to three one-hour lectures, students attend a weekly three hour laboratory session where course concepts are reinforced through hands-on modeling and experimentation. This paper describes a newly implemented and innovative laboratory experience which is centered on a hydraulic position control system. Often experiments in Mechanical Controls are heavily influenced by non-linearities such as friction or backlash which cause inexperienced students to lose confidence in linear system modeling as an effective analysis and design tool. A hydraulic system was chosen for this laboratory due to excellent correlation between experimental results and the linear modeling techniques taught in the course. This laboratory experience is designed to integrate linear system modeling techniques, experimentation and data collection, control system design, and design verification through physical testing using a variety of hardware and software tools. The main objectives of the laboratory are to give the students practice and confidence in advanced control system modeling, experience with precision hydraulic positioning systems, practice in designing Proportional- Integral (PI) controllers, exposure to digital control systems and experience and physical understanding of the sometimes dramatic condition of instability. The methodology includes a unique procedure that uses root locus concepts and asks the students to drive the system to instability to determine system parameters. The paper describes the laboratory experience in detail and gives some example results and an assessment of student learning.


California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) founded in 1903 is one of 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU) System. Cal Poly is primarily an undergraduate institution with approximately 19,500 enrolled undergraduates and 1180 faculty. Roughly 5000 students are enrolled in the College of Engineering which is comprised of nine departments. The largest department, Mechanical Engineering, has approximately 1000 undergraduates, 40 Masters Students and 23 full time tenure and tenure track faculty. The department awards about 190 BSME degrees each year.

Laboratory Intensive Curriculum Cal Poly’s University wide motto is “Learn by Doing,” which is supported by the Mechanical

Widmann, J., & Birdsong, C., & Ridgely, J., & Owen, F. (2008, June), Integrating Experiment, Modeling And Design Using A Hands On Hydraulic Positioning Laboratory For Mechanical Control Systems Education Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4036

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