What is a Control System?
Controls Systems are everywhere, undetected by the naked eye. Control Systems are used to continually regulate the behaviour of devices in a repeatable and predicted way. They may be simple electronic or electrical devices or very sophisticated computer-controlled systems.
The fundamentals of a Control System include measuring an error signal and then adjusting the system to reach the desired course or outcome. If the system deviates too fast and the control system is unable to adjust the course or outcome, the Control System is inadequate to manage the disturbances.
Some basic examples of a control system include a cruise control in a motor vehicle, temperature control in a building, the chemical concentrations in drinking water, the speed of a conveyor belt in a process plant.
Control Systems are used in domestic applications, general industry, military and virtually every modern vehicle in the world. Control Systems are very common in SCADA and Industrial Automation systems.
Control Systems are used in Industrial Automation to regulate how devices operate in real time. In a closed-loop control system the controller (RTU, PLCS, DCS) feedback (error) signal is used to adjust the control variable such that the process is constantly trying to match the operational set point. The system described here is generally referred to as a control-loop. The controller must have a suitable dynamic response to be able to adjust the system to remain stable. If the controller is unable to adjust to a stable condition (ie with minimal hunting) the control-loop is said to be “out of control”. In very complex processes a single closed-loop control system may be insufficient to stabilise the process. Cascaded control-loops may be used in situations where there is moderate complexity and the process is “changing quickly” in respect to time, however Advanced Process Controllers may be required for slow moving processes like distilling, bio-reactors etc.
What is Control Systems Engineering?
Control Systems Engineering is the engineering approach taken to understand how the process can be managed by automation devices and to implement such into operation. Process Engineers design plant to operate in a particular way. How the plant operates is shared by the Process Engineer and interpreted by a Control Systems Engineer who usually documents the functionality of how devices monitor signals, control the process, how performance is measured including accumulation of statistical data, and how data is communicated to a host system or to peer control devices. Control Systems Engineering requires a broad skill set including electrical, mechanical and computer software systems.
What is a Systems Integrator?
The term “Systems Integrator” (SI) is not reserved for people or companies who provide Control Systems engineering. The term “Systems Integrator” is generally used to describe organisations or individuals who bring together hardware and software components or subsystems into a solution. The practice of developing the solution is integration. The term is used by a number of industries including IT, IoT and Industrial Automation. Vendors from these industries frequently call the partners who provide services to design and implement solutions as “Systems Integrators”. A Systems Integrator may not practice Control Systems engineering if they are only focussed on information management including interfacing, anomaly detection and asset performance, rather than how the control-loops perform in terms of asset optimisation.
What does a Control System Engineer do?
Control Engineering or Control Systems Engineering may encompass many engineering disciplines. An engineer may specifically academically study and be qualified in control systems theories, industrial automation, mechatronics or robotics, however the summary of it is, to be a successful Control Systems Engineering company or Controls Systems Engineer you need to understand and be familiar with more than one single discipline. There is a requirement to also know about electrical design, electronics, mechanical or mechatronics, computer science, process automation and physics. This does not mean you need to be an expert in every discipline.
The term “system” suggests more than one component, and metaphorically this also applies to the control system engineer’s breadth of experience. Control Systems Engineers need to develop capability to see beyond a narrow technology slice. The wider the experience, the more apt the Control Systems Engineer will be when new systems integration solutions need to be developed spanning many technologies.
What skills does a Control System Engineer require?
In our eyes, the greatest skill a Control Systems Engineer can develop is the ability to learn quickly what is important to learn in terms of technology. With so many options and products available, an individual or a company cannot be an expert in everything. Even being an expert in one brand or product suite can provide a questionable level of confidence that may lead to limited vision including not being able to think “outside the box”. The primary skill of a Control Systems Engineer is to think outside the box, to know how components connect together, and how those components interface and interact with the “real world” in real time.
It is common for a Control System Engineer to start out their career specialising in just one discipline. To be truly effective, they need to rapidly develop an appreciation for other disciplines. It may appear from this description that a Control Systems Engineer is general in nature and a “jack of all trades”. From a very high-level conceptual design perspective this remains true. However, with the amount of interfacing to other systems and areas of discipline, to know about just one of these disciplines makes it increasingly difficult for a single engineer to efficiently acquire all knowledge about the currently available hardware and software combinations to be effective. On top of this, Systems Engineers need to ensure a holistic, systems engineering approach to the design, development and deployment of a solution. A systematic approach ensures effective engineering practice and a safe application of the design and the technology. This systematic approach is often referred to as a Systems Engineering Management Plan or SEMP.
What does a Control Systems Engineering company do?
We believe a good Control Systems Engineering company has a SYSTEM for blending individual subject matter experts (SMEs) into a cohesive team to create the required capabilities to meet the project challenges. The team has the knowledge about the required disciplines and this can be rapidly transferred throughout the team with regular collaboration and purposeful leadership. This is why it is so hard for free-lance control system engineers to exist unless they specialise in very specific technology verticals and areas of focus or collaborate with other SMEs. This blended or matrix project delivery model ensures each role plays its vital part in the process control engineering eco-system.
How do you organise your project teams?
A typical team is led by a professional project manager who has focus on customer requirements, customer expectations, timing and his team of people. The engineers and developers look after quality and how things work.
Activities and responsibilities are defined before the project commences. This includes things like; management of design, design, design checks, procurement, trial testing, development and configuration, enterprise integration, witness testing, staging, documentation management, transition planning, installation, commissioning, maintenance planning, customer fulfillment and project closure. When consulting, additional skills are required and likewise when providing technical support to existing systems.
Consultants are generally self-directed and have a wider scope of activities with specific outcomes that require research, stakeholder engagement, structing how information is to be gathered, how the findings are set out, any criteria making assessments and recommendations. In our case, consultancy is almost always accompanied by an implementation plan. An implementation plan provides substance to a desktop study such that there is certainty around how to implement the recommendations for Trial (PoC/PoV) or by direct implementation.
Support personnel are directly accountable to customers. In the background, they also report to a support manager who looks after specific clients. This approach ensures relationship management is considered for each customer’s experience. Technical support personnel also have practical hands on project delivery experience. This ensures that systems management and delivery capability is a rudimentary skill of the support people. In our minds, if you have to support a system, you build it better. If the people who build a system actually support it, then they care about the integrity of the system and intimately care about their customers operations.
At Parasyn, we hire great people and train them to be part of something greater.
If we can help you design, develop or optimise your Control Systems, please contact us here.