Authors: (December 12, 2009) Steve Dzul, Steve Pankratz, Derrick Boroski
Industrial processes are central to the chemical engineering discipline. Generally, processes are controlled in order to do things such as maximize safety, minimize cost, or limit effects on the environment. This course aims to help undergraduate engineering students understand the mechanisms used to moderate these processes, such as to control their output.
Generally, process controls are designed to be automated. This means that given a change in system response, the control system can act on its own to account for it. In order to minimize cost, automated systems have become widespread throughout industry. Before automation, a huge amount of labor would be required to run even the simplest processes. For example, a technician might be hired to monitor the temperature in a reaction vessel, and operate a valve to manipulate the cooling water flow rate in the jacket. In a sense, this technician operated as a control system. If the temperature reading is too high, the technician will manipulate the system in order to bring the temperature down. Via automation, this simple, arduous labor can be done by an algorithm.
By designing an effective control system, even the most complicated of processes can be run with minimal worker supervision. Telephone operators, for example, have largely been replaced by automated telephone switch boards. Removing the need for telephone operators decreases operating cost for phone companies, thereby allowing the general consumer to pay less for phone service. Automated process controls, therefore, are enormously important in the modern world.