We have developed a Process Control course that relies on LabVIEW and data acquisition as user-friendly tools for the integration of concepts in controller modeling and implementation. The course structure balances lectures on traditional, linear feedback control theory with LabVIEW-based design activities to introduce practical aspects of control system design. Students gain experience with wiring sensors and actuators, and building programs to acquire data and run a control system, applying this directly to chemical processes. In parallel, they also model chemical systems in LabVIEW. By using this fundamental approach, students broaden their understanding of calibration, data presentation, analysis, simulation, process dynamics, and integration of multiple components into a control system. The hands-on experience not only reinforces course material, but also gives students confidence to “build stuff.”
The course culminates with a comprehensive, controller design project, with each student team choosing their topic and then building and modeling their system; the teams are provided with dedicated space to house their project and a wide variety of sensors and other equipment and supplies. The completed control systems are showcased in a public demonstration session. The design project gives them initial exposure to challenges of building prototypes, working in teams and project planning and troubleshooting. Each project must involve a minimum of one PID feedback controller, and can operate either as a flow or batch process; the topics range widely from traditional chemical engineering operations to more non-traditional devices stemming from the students’ personal curiosities and hobbies. Recent project themes have been in aspects of food preparation, alternative energy, agricultural/environmental systems, and music.
The evolution of this course and options for incorporating the design activities with varying levels of equipment resources will be discussed. Survey results from our 200+ students over the last five years indicate an increased level of interest and perspective in process control and design through this course, with benefit to them in subsequent laboratory, internship and post-graduation experiences. Building upon this positive feedback, we have also extended the idea of data acquisition as a design and problem solving tool into our junior laboratory and senior design project courses.
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