The VL-CSD concept presents a new approach to control system education. Students are presented with industrial scale experiments and challenging case studies based on real world designs. These could be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to accommodate with traditional educational resources.
The software is designed to be as close as possible to industrial reality and includes non-ideal features including saturations, dead zones, noise and nonlinearities.
VL-CSD fits into an emerging educational philosophy in which students are presented with relevant, flexible and challenging experiences based on the appropriate use of modern computer techniques.
VL-CSD is ideal for use in the university environment with large classes, where it may be impractical or excessively expensive to give all students full access to the complete spectrum of hardware equipment.
VL-CSD is also highly suited for remote education e.g. as a basis for continuing education and review within the workplace.
In addition to the structured learning provided by the laboratory, the simulations can also motivate students to further explore the underlying concepts through a process of self-directed exploration.
Each laboratory includes tools which allow quantitative observations i.e. a signal generator, oscilloscope and a real-time controller.
The experiments fall into two categories:
- Copies of classroom scale experiments (e.g. servo kits, fluid tanks, etc.),
- Laboratories based on realistic practical systems (e.g. rolling mills, steel casting machines, paper machines etc.).
These laboratories are simulations of control education tools and industrial processes each featured in its own standalone application. Each laboratory provides a rich interactive learning environment to enable the student to learn how changes in the control parameters and other settings affect a system’s operation. The student can appreciate the wholistic dimension whilst still understanding the role played by abstract concepts of control. In addition to the structured learning provided by the laboratory, the simulations can also motivate students to further explore the underlying concepts through a process of self directed exploration. Thus students’ experiences with the interactive world of computer games would fit in well with the learning experience provided by these virtual laboratories. Instructors can also develop different learning scenarios other than those provided in the coursework chapters.
The simulations for each laboratory are designed around a set of specified learning objectives. Also each laboratory states the knowledge prerequisites for the programmed coursework. Each simulation program stands alone and can be used to test many different control scenarios but when combined with the coursework it provides a rich programmed course fully introducing the student to the important concepts in the topic area both qualitatively and quantitatively. Each laboratory includes tools which allow quantitative observations i.e. a signal generator, oscilloscope and a realtime controller. The virtual laboratories will run on Windows.
The digital storage oscilloscope has an interface similar to that found on most commercially available units. It thus has the general ‘look’, ‘feel’ and functionality a user would expect to find in such devices in a physical laboratory. The results can also be easily transferred to Matlab for offline processing.
The laboratories go well beyond simple simulated exercises and thus each takes several hours to complete. However, the authors believe that this time is a valuable investment in learning ‘real’ control.
The laboratories are deliberately designed to be openended. Thus students are encouraged to try their own ideas (and to make their own mistakes). Indeed, the authors feel that students often learn more from self exploration and problem based learning then they do from highly structured teaching.
Utilisation in Tertiary Education
The following laboratories are suitable for a first (classical) control course:
- Laboratory ESa (Electromechanical Servomechanism)
- Laboratory FLa (Fluid Level Dynamics and Control)
- Laboratory CCa (Continuous Caster - Classical Control Design)
- Laboratory RMa (Rolling Mill - System Modelling and Classical Control)
- Laboratory ASa (Audio Signal Processing - Optimal Noise Shaping Quantiser)
The remainder have elements that would typically be taught in a second course in control. Rocket Dynamics Virtual Laboratory would be well suited to a course in dynamics.
The authors have found that the Audio Signal Processing laboratory is particularly interesting to students who may need extra motivation to study control. This laboratory shows that control ideas play a central role in modern high technology equipment, such as CD mastering. The laboratory dramatically illustrates the ‘Power of Feedback’ in a simple and easily understood example. Also, the users of this laboratory will actually ‘hear’ the difference that feedback makes in a very familiar audio setting.
We have found that the laboratory is particularly interesting to students who may need extra motivation to study control. The Rocket Dynamics laboratory would be well suited to a course in dynamics.
Students and Instructors
We offer two versions of the experiments as follows:
- Student Version - containing all the laboratory notes, virtual apparatus and suggested experimental tests.
- Instructor Version - as above but with the addition of a set of solutions to assist in marking the laboratories.