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Process control

Process control is a statistics and engineering discipline that deals with architectures, mechanisms, and algorithms for controlling the output of a specific process. See also control theory.

For example, heating up the temperature in a room is a process that has the specific, desired outcome to reach and maintain a defined temperature (e.g. 20°C), kept constant over time. Here, the temperature is the controlled variable. At the same time, it is the input variable since it is measured by a thermometer and used to decide whether to heat or not to heat. The desired temperature (20°C) is the setpoint. The state of the heater (e.g. the setting of the valve allowing hot water to flow through it) is called the manipulated variable since it is subject to control actions.

A commonly used control device called a programmable logic controller, or a PLC, is used to read a set of digital and analog inputs, apply a set of logic statements, and generate a set of analog and digital outputs. Using the example in the previous paragraph, the room temperature would be an input to the PLC. The logical statements would compare the setpoint to the input temperature and determine whether more or less heating was necessary to keep the temperature constant. A PLC output would then either open or close the hot water valve, an incremental amount, depending on whether more or less hot water was needed. Larger more complex systems can be controlled by a Distributed Control System (DCS) or SCADA system.

In practice, process control systems can be characterized as one or more of the following forms:

  • Discrete – Found in many manufacturing, motion and packaging applications. Robotic assembly, such as that found in automotive production, can be characterized as discrete process control. Most discrete manufacturing involves the production of discrete pieces of product, such as metal stamping.
  • Batch – Some applications require that specific quantities of raw materials be combined in specific ways for particular durations 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).
  • Continuous – Often, a physical system is represented though 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).

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


A thermostat is a simple example for a closed control loop: It constantly measures the current temperature and controls the heater's valve setting to increase or decrease the room temperature according the user-defined setting. A simple method switches the heater either completely on, or completely off, and an overshoot and undershoot of the controlled temperature must be expected. A more expensive method varies the amount of heat provided by the heater depending on the difference between the required temperature (the "setpoint") and the actual temperature. This minimizes over/undershoot.

An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is a more complex example.

See also

  • Actuator
  • Automation
  • Automatic control
  • CALS
  • Closed-loop controller
  • Control engineering
  • Control panel
  • Control system
  • Control theory
  • Controllability
  • Controller (control theory)
  • Cruise control
  • Current loop
  • Digital control
  • Distributed control system
  • Enterprise Historian
  • Feedback
  • Feed-forward
  • Fieldbus
  • Flow control valve
  • Fuzzy control system
  • Laplace transform
  • Measurement instruments
  • Model predictive control
  • Negative feedback
  • Non-linear control
  • Open-loop controller
  • Operational Historian
  • PID controller
  • Piping and instrumentation diagram
  • Positive feedback
  • Process capability
  • Programmable Logic Controller
  • Regulator (automatic control)
  • Servomechanism
  • Setpoint
  • Simatic S5 PLC
  • Sliding mode control
  • Temperature control
  • Transducer
  • Valve
  • Watt governor
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Process_control". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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