Process control

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Automatic process control in continuous production processes is a combination of control engineering and chemical engineering disciplines that uses industrial control systems to achieve a production level of consistency, economy and safety which could not be achieved purely by human manual control. It is implemented widely in industries such as oil refining, pulp and paper manufacturing, chemical processing and power generating plants.

Continuous production is a flow production method used to manufacture, produce, or process materials without interruption. Continuous production is called a continuous process or a continuous flow process because the materials, either dry bulk or fluids that are being processed are continuously in motion, undergoing chemical reactions or subject to mechanical or heat treatment. Continuous processing is contrasted with batch production.

Control engineering engineering discipline that applies control theory to design systems

Control engineering or control systems engineering is an engineering discipline that applies automatic control theory to design systems with desired behaviors in control environments. The discipline of controls overlaps and is usually taught along with electrical engineering at many institutions around the world.

Chemical engineering branch of science that applies physical sciences and life sciences together with applied mathematics and economics to produce, transform, transport, and properly use chemicals, materials and energy

Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that uses principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and economics to efficiently use, produce, design, transport and transform energy and materials. The work of chemical engineers can range from the utilisation of nano-technology and nano-materials in the laboratory to large-scale industrial processes that convert chemicals, raw materials, living cells, microorganisms, and energy into useful forms and products.


There is a wide range of size, type and complexity, but it enables a small number of operators to manage complex processes to a high degree of consistency. The development of large automatic process control systems was instrumental in enabling the design of large high volume and complex processes, which could not be otherwise economically or safely operated.

The applications can range from controlling the temperature and level of a single process vessel, to a complete chemical processing plant with several thousand control loops.

A control loop is the fundamental building block of industrial control systems. It consists of all the physical components and control functions necessary to automatically adjust the value of a measured process variable (PV) to equal the value of a desired set-point (SP). It includes the process sensor, the controller function, and the final control element (FCE) which are all required for automatic control.


Early process control breakthroughs came most frequently in the form of water control devices. Ktesibios of Alexandria is credited for inventing float valves to regulate water level of water clocks in the 3rd Century BC. In the 1st Century AD, Heron of Alexandria invented a water valve similar to the fill valve used in modern toilets. [1]

Evansville, Indiana City in Indiana, United States

Evansville is a city and the county seat of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, United States. The population was 117,429 at the 2010 census, making it the state's third-most populous city after Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, the largest city in Southern Indiana, and the 232nd-most populous city in the United States. It is the commercial, medical, and cultural hub of Southwestern Indiana and the Illinois-Indiana-Kentucky tri-state area, home to over 911,000 people. The 38th parallel crosses the north side of the city and is marked on Interstate 69.

Later process controls inventions involved basic physics principles. In 1620, Cornlis Drebbel invented a bimetallic thermostat for controlling the temperature in a furnace. In 1681, Denis Papin discovered the pressure inside a vessel could be regulated by placing weights on top of the vessel lid. [1] In 1745, Edmund Lee created the fantail to improve windmill efficiency; a fantail was a smaller windmill placed 90° of the larger fans to keep the face of the windmill pointed directly into the oncoming wind.

Edmund Name list

Edmund is a masculine given name or surname in the English language. The name is derived from the Old English elements ēad, meaning "prosperity" or "riches", and mund, meaning "protector".

With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 1760s, process controls inventions were aimed to replace human operators with mechanized processes. In 1784, Oliver Evans created a water-powered flourmill which operated using buckets and screw conveyors. Henry Ford applied the same theory in 1910 when the assembly line was created to decrease human intervention in the automobile production process. [1]

For continuously variable process control it was not until 1922 that a formal control law for what we now call PID control or three-term control was first developed using theoretical analysis, by Russian American engineer Nicolas Minorsky. [2] Minorsky was researching and designing automatic ship steering for the US Navy and based his analysis on observations of a helmsman. He noted the helmsman steered the ship based not only on the current course error, but also on past error, as well as the current rate of change; [3] this was then given a mathematical treatment by Minorsky. [4] His goal was stability, not general control, which simplified the problem significantly. While proportional control provided stability against small disturbances, it was insufficient for dealing with a steady disturbance, notably a stiff gale (due to steady-state error), which required adding the integral term. Finally, the derivative term was added to improve stability and control.

Nicolas Minorsky engineer

Nicolas Minorsky was a Russian American control theory mathematician, engineer and applied scientist. He is best known for his theoretical analysis and first proposed application of PID controllers in the automatic steering systems for U.S. Navy ships.

Helmsman sailor

A helmsman or helm is a person who steers a ship, sailboat, submarine, other type of maritime vessel, or spacecraft. The rank and seniority of the helmsman may vary: on small vessels such as fishing vessels and yachts, the functions of the helmsman are combined with that of the skipper; on larger vessels, there is a separate officer of the watch who is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship and gives orders to the helmsman, who physically steers the ship in accordance with those orders.

Development of modern process control operations

A modern control room where plant information and controls are displayed on computer graphics screens. The operators are seated as they can view and control any part of the process from their screens, whilst retaining a plant overview. Leitstand 2.jpg
A modern control room where plant information and controls are displayed on computer graphics screens. The operators are seated as they can view and control any part of the process from their screens, whilst retaining a plant overview.

Process control of large industrial plants has evolved through many stages. Initially, control would be from panels local to the process plant. However this required a large manpower resource to attend to these dispersed panels, and there was no overall view of the process. The next logical development was the transmission of all plant measurements to a permanently-manned central control room. Effectively this was the centralisation of all the localised panels, with the advantages of lower manning levels and easier overview of the process. Often the controllers were behind the control room panels, and all automatic and manual control outputs were transmitted back to plant. However, whilst providing a central control focus, this arrangement was inflexible as each control loop had its own controller hardware, and continual operator movement within the control room was required to view different parts of the process.

With the coming of electronic processors and graphic displays it became possible to replace these discrete controllers with computer-based algorithms, hosted on a network of input/output racks with their own control processors. These could be distributed around plant, and communicate with the graphic display in the control room or rooms. The distributed control system was born.

The introduction of DCSs allowed easy interconnection and re-configuration of plant controls such as cascaded loops and interlocks, and easy interfacing with other production computer systems. It enabled sophisticated alarm handling, introduced automatic event logging, removed the need for physical records such as chart recorders, allowed the control racks to be networked and thereby located locally to plant to reduce cabling runs, and provided high level overviews of plant status and production levels.


Functional levels of a manufacturing control operation. Functional levels of a Distributed Control System.svg
Functional levels of a manufacturing control operation.

The accompanying diagram is a general model which shows functional manufacturing levels in a large process using processor and computer-based control.

Referring to the diagram: Level 0 contains the field devices such as flow and temperature sensors (process value readings - PV), and final control elements (FCE), such as control valves; Level 1 contains the industrialised Input/Output (I/O) modules, and their associated distributed electronic processors; Level 2 contains the supervisory computers, which collate information from processor nodes on the system, and provide the operator control screens; Level 3 is the production control level, which does not directly control the process, but is concerned with monitoring production and monitoring targets; Level 4 is the production scheduling level.

Control model

To determine the fundamental model for any process, the inputs and outputs of the system are defined differently than for other chemical processes. [5] The balance equations are defined by the control inputs and outputs rather than the material inputs. The control model is a set of equations used to predict the behavior of a system and can help determine what the response to change will be. The state variable (x) is a measurable variable that is a good indicator of the state of the system, such as temperature (energy balance), volume (mass balance) or concentration (component balance). Input variable (u) is a specified variable that commonly include flow rates.

It is important to note that the entering and exiting flows are both considered control inputs. The control input can be classified as a manipulated, disturbance, or unmonitored variable. Parameters (p) are usually a physical limitation and something that is fixed for the system, such as the vessel volume or the viscosity of the material. Output (y) is the metric used to determine the behavior of the system. The control output can be classified as measured, unmeasured, or unmonitored.


Processes can be characterized as batch, continuous, or hybrid.[ citation needed ] Batch applications require that specific quantities of raw materials be combined in specific ways for particular duration to produce an intermediate or end result. One example is the production of adhesives and glues, which normally require the mixing of raw materials in a heated vessel for a period of time to form a quantity of end product. Other important examples are the production of food, beverages and medicine. Batch processes are generally used to produce a relatively low to intermediate quantity of product per year (a few pounds to millions of pounds).

A continuous physical system is represented through variables that are smooth and uninterrupted in time. The control of the water temperature in a heating jacket, for example, is an example of continuous process control. Some important continuous processes are the production of fuels, chemicals and plastics. Continuous processes in manufacturing are used to produce very large quantities of product per year (millions to billions of pounds). Such controls use feedback such as in the PID controller A PID Controller includes proportional, integrating, and derivative controller functions.

Applications having elements of batch and continuous process control are often called hybrid applications.

Control loops

Example of a continuous flow control loop. Signalling is by industry standard 4-20 mA current loops, and a "smart" valve positioner ensures the control valve operates correctly. Smart current loop positioner.png
Example of a continuous flow control loop. Signalling is by industry standard 4-20 mA current loops, and a "smart" valve positioner ensures the control valve operates correctly.

The fundamental building block of any industrial control system is the control loop, which controls just one process variable. An example is shown in the accompanying diagram, where the flow rate in a pipe is controlled by a PID controller, assisted by what is effectively a cascaded loop in the form of a valve servo-controller to ensure correct valve positioning.

Some large systems may have several hundreds or thousands of control loops. In complex processes the loops are interactive, so that the operation of one loop may affect the operation of another. The system diagram for representing control loops is a Piping and instrumentation diagram.

Commonly used controllers are programmable logic controller (PLC), Distributed Control System (DCS) or SCADA.

Example of level control system of a continuous stirred-tank reactor. The flow control into the tank would be cascaded off the level control. Auxostat schematic.svg
Example of level control system of a continuous stirred-tank reactor. The flow control into the tank would be cascaded off the level control.

A further example is shown. If a control valve were used to hold level in a tank, the level controller would compare the equivalent reading of a level sensor to the level setpoint and determine whether more or less valve opening was necessary to keep the level constant. A cascaded flow controller could then calculate the change in the valve position.

Economic advantages

The economic nature of many products manufactured in batch and continuous processes require highly efficient operation due to thin margins. The competing factor in process control is that products must meet certain specifications in order to be satisfactory. These specifications can come in two forms: a minimum and maximum for a property of the material or product, or a range within which the property must be. [6] All loops are susceptible to disturbances and therefore a buffer must be used on process set points to ensure disturbances do not cause the material or product to go out of specifications. This buffer comes at an economic cost (i.e. additional processing, maintaining elevated or depressed process conditions, etc.).

Process efficiency can be enhanced by reducing the margins necessary to ensure product specifications are met. [6] This can be done by improving the control of the process to minimize the effect of disturbances on the process. The efficiency is improved in a two step method of narrowing the variance and shifting the target. [6] Margins can be narrowed through various process upgrades (i.e. equipment upgrades, enhanced control methods, etc.). Once margins are narrowed, an economic analysis can be done on the process to determine how the set point target is to be shifted. Less conservative process set points lead to increased economic efficiency. [6] Effective process control strategies increase the competitive advantage of manufacturers who employ them.

See also

Related Research Articles

Control theory in control systems engineering is a subfield of mathematics that deals with the control of continuously operating dynamical systems in engineered processes and machines. The objective is to develop a control model for controlling such systems using a control action in an optimum manner without delay or overshoot and ensuring control stability.

Programmable logic controller digital computer used for automation of electromechanical processes

A programmable logic controller (PLC) or programmable controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedized and adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, or robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.

Instrumentation is a collective term for measuring instruments that are used for indicating, measuring and recording physical quantities such as flow, temperature, level, distance, angle, or pressure. The term has its origins in the art and science of scientific instrument-making.

A proportional–integral–derivative controller is a control loop mechanism employing feedback that is widely used in industrial control systems and a variety of other applications requiring continuously modulated control. A PID controller continuously calculates an error value as the difference between a desired setpoint (SP) and a measured process variable (PV) and applies a correction based on proportional, integral, and derivative terms, hence the name.

A distributed control system (DCS) is a computerised control system for a process or plant usually with a large number of control loops, in which autonomous controllers are distributed throughout the system, but there is central operator supervisory control. This is in contrast to systems that use centralized controllers; either discrete controllers located at a central control room or within a central computer. The DCS concept increases reliability and reduces installation costs by localising control functions near the process plant, with remote monitoring and supervision.

Control system system to control other devices using control loops

A control system manages, commands, directs, or regulates the behavior of other devices or systems using control loops. It can range from a single home heating controller using a thermostat controlling a domestic boiler to large Industrial control systems which are used for controlling processes or machines.

In an open-loop controller, also called a non-feedback controller, the control action from the controller is independent of the "process output", which is the process variable that is being controlled. It does not use feedback to determine if its output has achieved the desired goal of the input command or process "set point".

A flow control valve regulates the flow or pressure of a fluid. Control valves normally respond to signals generated by independent devices such as flow meters or temperature gauges.

A chemical reactor is an enclosed volume in which a chemical reaction takes place. In chemical engineering, it is generally understood to be a process vessel used to carry out a chemical reaction, which is one of the classic unit operations in chemical process analysis. The design of a chemical reactor deals with multiple aspects of chemical engineering. Chemical engineers design reactors to maximize net present value for the given reaction. Designers ensure that the reaction proceeds with the highest efficiency towards the desired output product, producing the highest yield of product while requiring the least amount of money to purchase and operate. Normal operating expenses include energy input, energy removal, raw material costs, labor, etc. Energy changes can come in the form of heating or cooling, pumping to increase pressure, frictional pressure loss or agitation.

Chemical plant industrial process plant that manufactures chemicals

A chemical plant is an industrial process plant that manufactures chemicals, usually on a large scale. The general objective of a chemical plant is to create new material wealth via the chemical or biological transformation and or separation of materials. Chemical plants use specialized equipment, units, and technology in the manufacturing process. Other kinds of plants, such as polymer, pharmaceutical, food, and some beverage production facilities, power plants, oil refineries or other refineries, natural gas processing and biochemical plants, water and wastewater treatment, and pollution control equipment use many technologies that have similarities to chemical plant technology such as fluid systems and chemical reactor systems. Some would consider an oil refinery or a pharmaceutical or polymer manufacturer to be effectively a chemical plant.

Proportional control

Proportional control, in engineering and process control, is a type of linear feedback control system in which a correction is applied to the controlled variable which is proportional to the difference between the desired value and the measured value. Two classic mechanical examples are the toilet bowl float proportioning valve and the fly-ball governor.

A piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) is a detailed diagram in the process industry which shows the piping and process equipment together with the instrumentation and control devices.

Industrial control system (ICS) is a general term that encompasses several types of control systems and associated instrumentation used for industrial process control.

A control valve is a valve used to control fluid flow by varying the size of the flow passage as directed by a signal from a controller. This enables the direct control of flow rate and the consequential control of process quantities such as pressure, temperature, and liquid level.

Loop performance in control engineering indicates the performance of control loops, such as a regulatory PID loop. Performance refers to the accuracy of a control system's ability to track (output) the desired signals to regulate the plant process variables in the most beneficial and optimised way, without delay or overshoot.

Instrumentation is used to monitor and control the process plant in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Instrumentation comprises sensor elements, signal transmitters, controllers, indicators and alarms, actuated valves, logic circuits and operator interfaces.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to control engineering:

Classical control theory is a branch of control theory that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems with inputs, and how their behavior is modified by feedback, using the Laplace transform as a basic tool to model such systems.


  1. 1 2 3 Young, William Y; Svrcek, Donald P; Mahoney, Brent R (2014). "1: A Brief History of Control and Simulation". A Real Time Approach to Process Control (3 ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Inc. pp. 1–2. ISBN   978-1119993872.
  2. Minorsky, Nicolas (1922). "Directional stability of automatically steered bodies". J. Amer. Soc. Naval Eng. 34 (2): 280–309. doi:10.1111/j.1559-3584.1922.tb04958.x.
  3. Bennett 1993 , p. 67
  4. Bennett, Stuart (1996). "A brief history of automatic control" (PDF). IEEE Control Systems Magazine. 16 (3): 17–25. doi:10.1109/37.506394.
  5. Bequette, B. Wayne (2003). Process control: Modeling, Design, and Simulation (Prentice-Hall International series in the physical and chemical engineering science. ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall PTR. pp. 57–58. ISBN   978-0133536409.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Smith, C L (March 2017). "Process Control for the Process Industries - Part 2: Steady State Characteristics". Chemical Engineering Progress: 67–73.

Further reading