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PID Controller Explained

Learn why PID Controllers are used in industrial processes instead of simple ON/OFF Controllers.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the PID Controller and its transformation from a single station device to what it has evolved into today. 

We’re going to explain why PID Controllers are used in industrial processes instead of simple ON/OFF Controllers.

We’ll illustrate how Controller settings called Proportional, Integral and Derivative affect different processes under control.

We’ll also provide an overview of the very important activity called Controller Tuning.

A simple example

Let’s start with a discussion about home temperature control as it’s familiar to lots of people.

This house has a furnace that distributes heat throughout, and a wall-mounted controller called a thermostat.

The thermostat has a sensor that measures the house temperature and compares that measurement to an adjustable setpoint.

Thermostat sensor

If the room temperature is below the setpoint, the furnace is turned ON.

When the room temperature increases above the setpoint, the furnace turns OFF. This type of control is referred to as ON/OFF or Bang-Bang Control.

PID everyday example - Home temperature control

Below is a plot of what the room temperature does over a period of time as the furnace turns ON and OFF.

As you can see, the temperature is not exactly held at the setpoint of 70°F, but cycles above and below the setpoint.

Home temperature fluctuations

ON/OFF control may be ok for your house, but it is not ok for industrial processes or motion control.

An industrial example

Let’s look at an example of tank level control to explain why. The Valve fills the tank as the pump drains it. If the valve is operated with ON/OFF control, the water will fluctuate around the 50% setpoint.

PID control - Tank valve

For our purpose, let’s say the fluctuation is ±10%. In most industrial applications, this fluctuation around the setpoint is not acceptable.

OK, well, what if it’s possible to throttle the valve and place it in any position between ON and OFF?

PID controller

Now we can move on to talking about a PID Controller. P stands for Proportional, I stands for Integral, and D stands for Derivative.

Because every process responds differently, the PID controller determines how much and how quickly correction is applied by using varying amounts of Proportional, Integral, and Derivative action.

Each block contributes a unique signal that is added together to create the controller output signal.

PID controller

Feedback control loop

Let’s look at how a PID Controller fits into a feedback control loop. The Controller is responsible for ensuring that the Process remains as close to the desired value as possible regardless of various disruptions.

The controller compares the Transmitter Process Variable (PV) signal, and the Setpoint.

Based on that comparison, the controller produces an output signal to operate the Final Control Element. This PID Controller output is capable of operating the Final Control Element over its entire 100% range.

Feedback control loop

PID controller logic block

Most modern PID Controllers are part of a PLC or DCS and are created in the program control logic using block commands.

PID controller logic block

Stand-alone PID controller

Before PLCs came along, a PID controller was a stand-alone device responsible for controlling one loop.

Stand-alone PID controller

PID controller parameters

A control room would have dozens or hundreds of stand-alone controllers mounted on a panel.

There are still many stand-alone PID controllers being manufactured and used today.

OK, let’s get back and talk about what each of the P, I, and D components of the PID controller does.

Remember earlier we said that the PID Controller is responsible for ensuring that the Process remains as close to the setpoint as possible regardless of various disruptions.

Let’s refer to the difference between the Process Variable and the Setpoint as the Error signal.

PID error signal

1) Proportional block

The proportional block creates an output signal proportional to the magnitude of the Error Signal.

PID proportional block and error signal

Unfortunately, the closer you get to the setpoint, the less it pushes. Eventually, the process just runs continuously close to the setpoint, but not quite there.

PID proportional block

That’s when Integral jumps in.

2) Integral block

The integral block creates an output proportional to the duration and magnitude of the Error Signal.

The longer the error and the greater the amount, the larger the integral output.

PID integral block and error signal

As long as an Error exists, Integral action will continue.

PID integral block

3) Derivative block

The derivative block creates an output signal proportional to the rate of change of the error signal.

The faster the error changes, the larger the derivative output.

PID derivative block and error signal

Derivative control looks ahead to see what the error will be in the future and contributes to the controller output accordingly. That brings us to a term called Controller Tuning.

PID derivative block

Controller tuning

We said earlier that every process responds differently and that the PID controller determines how much and how quickly correction is applied by adjusting Proportional, Integral, and Derivative action.

Controller Tuning involves correctly setting the controller P, I, and D values for specific process requirements. Interestingly, the correct settings achieved by Controller Tuning can differ vastly between processes because of specific requirements.

Controller tuning

For example, after the controller has been tuned, a setpoint bump of one percent in a tank level control produces a quarter-wave damped response.

This type of response may be suitable in a tank-level process but could be disastrous in a motion control process.

Tank level controller tuning.

Controller tuning methods

There are many different manual methods for tuning a controller that involves observing the process response after inflicting controller setpoint changes.

One method involves increasing the amount of setpoint change and repeating the procedure until the process enters a state of steady-state oscillation.

Controller tuning methods

This method of tuning produces adequate results but is often impractical in many applications. For example, how practical is it to force the fluid level in a large tank to reach a steady-state oscillation?

Most process controllers, PLC, and DCS loop controllers sold today have Autotuning capability.

The PID controller learns how the process responds to a change in setpoint, and suggested PID settings.

Controller tuning automatic method

Regardless of whether the initial PID parameters are derived from manual or auto-tuning methods, additional tweaking is often required by seasoned automation professionals to get the response desired.

Controller tuning manual method

If you want to learn more about PID control you might want to review our other two articles:

What are PID Tuning Parameters?

PID Tuning | How to Tune a PID Controller

Summary

Ok,… let’s review:

– An ON/OFF or Bang-Bang controller has only two output conditions and switches abruptly between these two conditions.

– In a PID Controller, P stands for Proportional, I stands for Integral, and D stands for Derivative.

The PID Controller is responsible for ensuring that the Process remains as close to the desired value as possible regardless of various disruptions.

– The PID controller determines how much and how quickly correction is applied by using varying amounts of P, I, and D action.

– The proportional block creates an output signal proportional to the magnitude of the Error Signal.

– The integral block creates an output proportional to the duration and magnitude of the Error Signal.

– The derivative block creates an output signal proportional to the rate of change of the error signal.

– Controller Tuning involves correctly setting the controller P, I, and D values for specific process requirements either manually or automatically.

If you have any questions about PID Controller or about PID Tuning, add them in the comments below and we will get back to you in less than 24 hours.

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Ted Mortenson

Ted Mortenson

Automation Engineer

Updated on Dec 20th, 2021

Ted Mortenson

Ted Mortenson

Automation Engineer

Updated on Dec 20th, 2021

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