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Process Control Final Projects Inspired By Real Unit Operations Laboratory Modules

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Labs and Demonstrations in Chemical Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Lucas Landherr Northeastern University

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Chemical engineering teaching professor at Northeastern University, conducting research on comics and videos as visual learning tools

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Courtney Pfluger Northeastern University

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Dr. Courtney Pfluger took a position in Fall 2011 as an Assistant Teaching Professor at Northeastern University as a part of the First Year Engineering Faculty and affiliated Faculty in the Chemical Engineering Department. Dr. Pfluger redesigned and piloted the first-year curriculum which included engineering design and computational problem solving using the Engineering Grand Challenges as real-world applications of global issues. She developed and ran for 8 years a faculty-led international program to Brazil focused on Sustainable Energy and Brazilian Culture. This program educates students on the effects of various energy systems and the challenges of social and environmental justice in developing countries. In 2017, Dr. Pfluger moved into the ChE department where she implemented improvements in the Transport 2 Lab and Capstone courses. She assists Capstone students to develop dynamic design projects that address and help solve real-world, global challenges. Dr. Pfluger has served as the AIChE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor for 10 years and will become chair of the AIChE Student Chapter Committee in November 2021. She is a Mathworks Teaching Fellow and has won serval teaching awards such as Northeastern Chemical Engineering Department Sioui Award for Excellence in Teaching, Northeastern College of Engineering Essigmann Outstanding Teaching Award and AIChE Award for Innovation in Chemical Engineering Education.

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Northeastern University specializes in opportunities for experiential learning, both through a co-op program as well as through direct coursework. The style of experiential and inquiry-based learning have been particularly reinforced through two intermediate-level Unit Operations courses, in which students have been tasked with developing experiments, selecting measurement parameters, and designing analysis. Students’ previous experiences have been utilized in the development of final projects for their Process Control course.

In order to provide a culmination of the entire Process Control course and to challenge students to design a complete controls system relying on some combination of feedback, feedforward, and/or cascade control, a final project was designed to connect the concept of Control to a real-world system. Student teams were given the option of selecting from six different modules they had observed and analyzed in a previous laboratory course, including distillation, liquid-liquid extraction, heat exchangers, reverse osmosis, and water remediation. These modules had required complete manual control, and had a range of parameters that could be adjusted during operation. For their final project, students were challenged to design a complete control system that required them to select control variables, handle multiple disturbances, and operate within acceptable limits. Students derived overall balances, designed block diagrams, calculated tuning parameters both by hand and through simulation software, and analyzed their proposed control system for stability and economic viability.

The project culminated in both a technical written report and a presentation. Across three semesters and multiple sections, every team has designed a different system resulting in different quality of control. Requiring the students to defend their design decisions and forcing them to account for a range of disturbances has helped students develop a much more complete grasp of Process Control and given them greater confidence exiting the course.

This presentation will provide examples of the modules and assessment of the project.

Landherr, L., & Pfluger, C. (2022, August), Process Control Final Projects Inspired By Real Unit Operations Laboratory Modules Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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