It's difficult to escape the influence of automated systems. Nearly every mechanical and electrical device we encounter on a daily basis has some element of automation built into it. As a consequence, virtually every technical discipline is required to have some knowledge of control engineering in order to succeed. Typical introductory controls classes are heavy on mathematical theory and light on real world application. The Turbine Technologies, Ltd. ControlsLab™ - Programmable Automation Trainer aims to change that with a student friendly, flexible device for introductory exposure to feedback system characteristics, performance and design.
"We can't escape the influence of automation in our daily lives," said Mike Kutrieb, of Turbine Technologies. "Today's student needs to have more than a passing familiarity with automation design and operation. Even entry-level positions now demand basic controls skills. Theory isn't enough anymore. With our new ControlsLabTM product, we set out to design a piece of educational equipment that allows students to apply what they are learning in their textbooks and apply it to state-of-the-art industrial hardware and software. And do so in a manner that's not only educational, but fun as well."
ControlsLab™ introduces students to fundamental automation through the classic problem of controlling the rotational speed of a motor. All mechanical and electrical components, including controllers, sensors and the plant itself are conveniently packaged and ready for experimentation via a comprehensive, free curriculum. Via the systems large format, touch screen interface , the student is tasked with determining the necessary control parameters and tuning them in such a way to affect the desired system response.
The challenge presented to the student though, lies in controlling the position of an aerodynamic float on a column of air with a variable frequency drive and motor. An additional variable includes two digitally controlled louvers that enable flow diversion.
"Controlling set points in process temperature, pressure, flow or regulating the speed of a motor, while important control engineering problems, lack the qualitative cues to help students learn. We've incorporated a highly visual floating element and clear-view duct with a fan on the system motor to provide visual feedback as to the system's performance. Students can directly see if the system is stable by how well the element floats at a fixed point via the graduated duct. It's difficult to see the stability of a temperature or motor speed. With the aerodynamic float, other control scenarios such as manufacturing operations, process plant, or HVAC systems can be simulated," said Mr. Kutrieb.
Convenient USB and Ethernet ports support LAN and remote access. An included wireless mouse and keyboard offer additional connectivity. Rockwell Automation software is also included and pre-installed and includes Studio 5000 and FactoryTalk View ME V8.0. Multiple pre-programmed virtual instruments are included and open-ended student design is facilitated via the on-board, industrial programming software.
Mr. Kutrieb concluded, "The ControlsLabTM represents an inexpensive controls experimentation toolbox. Through the various hardware connections and the ability to control and monitor with software, any number of scenarios can be conducted using real hardware. There is simply no substitute for working a technical challenge, then directly seeing the 'answer' play out on live hardware."
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Additional information on the ControlsLab™ - Programmable Automation Trainer, including a specification sheet and pricing, is available by contacting Turbine Technologies, LTD.