December 18, 2007

Mastering Control Systems

David Young ’08 discusses his experiences in Industrial Electronics and Control Systems

David Young ’08 (Bensalem, Pa.) is a Marquis Scholar who is pursuing a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering and an A.B. in computer science. He was a member of the Industrial Electronics and Control Systems course taught by Yih-Choung Yu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. The following is a firsthand account of Young’s experiences in the course.

One of the required courses for senior electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students is “Industrial Electronics and Control Systems.” This is a very important course to cap an ECE major’s time at Lafayette. The class starts at a very abstract level detailing what a control system is and how it works. It focuses on designing and analyzing control algorithms to maintain various systems.

All of the class’s topics aim to introduce the student to control design and verification. In the class, students learn how to use MATLAB to simulate designs before implementation in a real application. A common application for a control system is a motor. There is more than just on and off for a motor, with proper control it can perform a variety of tasks. Position control and speed control are just two of the possibilities.

The final project in this class was to design a small scale, real world application for the motors that we had access to. Past and present projects include elevators, automatic door control, conveyer belts, and amusement park rides. My partner and I chose to use our motor as the basis for a candle dipper.

Candle dipping is an arduous task by hand. The wax must be melted and maintained at the appropriate temperature. Then, the wick must be dipped into the wax and pulled out and allowed to cool. This process is repeated as the wax builds up layer by layer. Our project has the motor handle the monotonous task of dipping the wick into the wax over and over. Sensors above the wax will cut the system off when the candle has reached optimal size. This is a perfect replica of how large scale production would occur.

The class sessions dealt with laying the foundations for analyzing similar problems as the project. We learned how to obtain a transfer function from a series of smaller transfer functions and feedback. We then took these transfer functions to analyze the systems for stability using Routh tables. We also obtained transient characteristics of the system such as settling and rise time.

Frequency analysis techniques were also introduced. These methods were much more useful to the real world, because these can be applied in analyses where the system that is to be controlled has unknown transfer functions.

This knowledge that we accrued through class and lab will enable us to tackle control systems of many types in industry. Control systems are needed almost everywhere. The other seniors in the class and I have become competent in both analysis and design of controls and will be prepared for projects in the future.

Young is a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and serves as its intramural chairman. He is a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team and general manager of the College radio station WJRH 104.9 FM. Young spent January 2007 in Austria and Germany taking a three-week interim-session course. He is working on an honors thesis involving crystal oscillator circuits with Todd Wey, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

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