Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Controls Course Gives Students Skills and Tools for Senior Design Project and Future Career

The School of Mechanical Engineering at the Purdue University has a rather large enrollment, with more than 1,300 students in sophomore to senior years. The School strives to graduate engineers with knowledge and skills they will use in their career paths once they leave the university. Providing them with the tools and equipment similar to those used in industry is therefore a must.

A great example of a course that adapted to the changing environment is the Automatic Control Systems Course. While the controller design techniques and theories that students learn are still sound, the course lab had to be updated to reflect the shift in the controllers hardware implementation. As a result, students learn controller design methods working with Quanser-NI platform. Since the focus of the course lies on the controller design, rather than on programming or plant analysis, the School has decided to equip the lab with several NI CompactRIO controllers that can be easily connected to a Quanser plant, such as a Linear Inverted Pendulum or Seesaw.

A typical lab setup as presented by Dr. Galen King, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University during the recent NI Engineering Education webcast series.
At the beginning of the course, students learn to design their controller based on the method covered in the class, using LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation Module. Once they validate their algorithm in simulation, they deploy the code to the cRIO system, using LabVIEW to program FPGA on the cRIO module. At the end of semester, students complete their project by implementing the controller on an actual physical plant - either a custom build one, or on a linear motion control system from Quanser. That allows them to observe the behavior of the plant and tune their controller. At the end of the semester the students can compare their designs in a contest. They even take Quanser Seesaw further, to make the contest more exciting: students have to come up with the controller to balance the seesaw as weights are added on one end.

The course has been very well received by the students. By the end of the course, they are able to design real-time controllers on their own and are quite happy with the minimal programming overhead using LabVIEW environment. Moreover, they are able to apply the control concepts during their Capstone Design Project - and several students are competing to use the cRIO controllers they became familiar with in the Automatic Control Systems Course.

That's exactly what the Quanser-NI platform is supposed to do - make controls engineering teaching more engaging, while giving students industry-related tools and build the skills they will need as professional engineers.

To learn more about Quanser-NI platform for controls, click here.

No comments: