What is a Process Control System?


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The term automatic process control came into wide use when people learned to adapt automatic regulatory procedures to manufacture products or process material more efficiently. Such procedures are called automatic because no human (manual) intervention is required to regulate them.

All process systems consist of three main factors or terms: the manipulated variables, disturbances, and the controlled variables. Typical manipulated variables are valve position, motor speed, damper position, or blade pitch. The controlled variables are those conditions, such as temperature, level, position, pressure, pH, density, moisture content, weight, and speed, that must be maintained at some desired value…

For each controlled variables there is an associated manipulated variable. The control system must adjust the manipulated variables so the desired value or “set point” of the controlled variable is maintained despite any disturbances.

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Elements of a Process Control System

The following figure illustrates the essential elements of a process control system. In the system shown, a level transmitter (LT), a level controller (LC), and a control valve (LV) are used to control the liquid level in a process tank. The purpose of this control system is to maintain the liquid level at some prescribed height (H) above the bottom of the tank. It is assumed that the rate of flow into the tank is random.

The level transmitter is a device that measures the fluid level in the tank and converts it into a useful measurement signal, which is sent to a level controller. The level controller evaluates the measurement, compares it with a desired set point (SP), and produces a series of corrective actions that are sent to the control valve. The valve controls the flow of fluid in the outlet pipe to maintain a level in the tank.

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Thus, a process control system consists of four essential elements: process, measurement, evaluation, and control. A block diagram of these elements is shown in the following figure. The diagram also shows the disturbances that enter or affect the process. If there were no upsets to a process, there would be no need for the control system. The figure also shows the input and output of the process and the set point used for control.

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PROCESS

In general, a process consists of an assembly of equipment and material that is related to some manufacturing operation or sequence. In the example presented, the process whose liquid level is placed under control includes such components as a tank, the liquid in the tank, and the flow of liquid into and out of the tank, and the inlet and outlet piping.

Any given process can involve many dynamic variables, and it may be desirable to control all of them. In most cases, however, controlling only one variable will be sufficient to control the process to within acceptable limits. One occasionally encounters a multivariable process in which many variables, some interrelated, require regulation.

MEASUREMENT

To control a dynamic variable in a process, you must have information about the entity or variable itself. This information is obtained by measuring the variable.

Measurement refers to the conversion of the process variable into an analog or digital signal that can be used by the control system. The device that performs the initial measurement is called a sensor or instrument.

Typical measurements are pressure, level, temperature, flow, position, and speed. The result of any measurement is the conversion of a dynamic variable into some proportional information that is required by the other elements in the process control loop or sequence.

EVALUATION

In the evaluation step of the process control sequence, the measurement value is examined, compared with the desired value or set point, and the amount of corrective action needed to maintain proper control is determined.

A device called a controller performs this evaluation. The controller can be a pneumatic, electronic, or mechanical device mounted in a control panel or on the process equipment. It can also be part of a computer control system, in which case the control function is performed by software.

CONTROL

The control element in a control loop is the device that exerts a direct influence on the process or manufacturing sequence… This final control element accepts an input from the controller and transforms it into some proportional operation that is performed on the process.

In most cases, this final control element will be a control valve that adjusts the flow of fluid in a process. Devices such as electrical motors, pumps, and dampers are also used as control elements.