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The Missing Link In Process Control Education Incorporating Plc's Into The Che's Control Course

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Control in the Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1166.1 - 7.1166.12



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David Clough

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The Missing Link in Process Control Education -- Incorporating PLC’s Into the ChE’s Control Course

David E. Clough

Department of Chemical Engineering University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado 80309-0424


For decades, practicing ChE’s have encountered programmed-logic controllers (PLC’s) in their work. Such originated as controllers based on mechanical relays and keyed cylinders but have now been replaced by computer-based units. Since PLC’s are used primarily in discrete and batch manufacturing, they have been ignored traditionally in the academic circles of automatic process control, the latter focusing primarily on large-scale, continuous processing.

Only a minority of today’s ChE students are finding employment in the traditional chemical and petroleum industries. Many more are entering the job market in pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, biotechnology, and microelectronics. The programmed-logic controller predominates in these sectors. Yet the typical process control course today still reflects continuous processing and PLC’s are largely ignored. This situation calls for change.

At the University of Colorado, we have introduced a module in our control course (Instrumentation & Process Control, CHEN 4570, 4 credit hours including a full laboratory component) that allows students to learn the fundamentals of digital logic, logic diagrams and ladder logic programming of PLC’s, and applications to chemical processing. Through a series of laboratory exercises using PC-based software, a building block kit, and a batch fluid system, students are able to create PLC programs to test their acquired knowledge.

This addition to our course has been made with minimal impact on the rest of the course content. By our observations, students “take to” this material very well and enjoy making things happen with PLC’s. We already have feedback from recent alumni that their rudimentary knowledge of PLC’s has been of value to them in their work. Recognizing its importance, we envision some expansion of this topic in the course in coming offerings and fine-tuning of the instructional materials.

Education in process control – typical courses in the U.S.

In the mid-1980’s, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) modified the criteria for accreditation used by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to include a required component in the undergraduate program in process dynamics and control.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Clough, D. (2002, June), The Missing Link In Process Control Education Incorporating Plc's Into The Che's Control Course Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10746

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