E-News December 2012 Edition

The Changing Face of Control Engineering, by Professor Mike J Grimble

We have just finished the IEEE’s premier control conference (IEEE Conference on Decision and Control) in the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. It enabled me to reflect on 30 years of these events and the way in which control engineering has emerged as being the core of what might be termed systems engineering. No other subject can provide engineers with the depth of mathematical modelling and systems knowledge across industrial, medical and defence areas. Just a glimpse at the programme for the CDC event reveals sessions on control over networks or network control, bio-medical and bio-molecular systems, switching systems, agents and autonomous systems, quantum information and control, sensor networks, machine learning and many other topics that would not have figured largely, if at all, 30 years ago.

Even our own company ISC Limited (the parent company of the Applied Control Technology Consortium) has changed markedly in the more than two decades it has served the industrial controls community. When it began the main areas were university style studies for steel, marine and the process industries, and the company was based at the University of Strathclyde. As it has matured and moved away from the University, the projects have become more serious and very successful. The recent design prize to Dr Andy Clegg (MD of ISC) and the team is testament to the way larger projects are managed and how successful implementation can be achieved. Details of the offshore wind turbine access system are given below. Even the advanced control consulting projects with companies like GM in Detroit and Toyota in Ann Arbor are over long periods and the expectation is to see useful implementation, rather than just evaluate different control method. The range of control problems tackled by ISC is now enormous but luckily for the control engineer the names on the simulation boxes may change but the underlying control systems science remains the same.

In the early days of the ACTC training programmes the aim was state of the art awareness but now companies wish to be able to use the simulation and design tools (like NI Labview and Matlab Simulink) to solve real problems, and then they need to know how to implement the designs easily. Another change that has occurred is the vast majority of our training activities are conducted at company premises rather than at centrally located training activities/workshops held in the UK or US. Our latest course at Alstom in Barcelona was typical involving advanced robust multivariable control with application to wind turbines. In years gone by only token hands-on examples were expected by companies, but in this recent course detailed design examples were included in the course and a very long wind energy design study was conducted by the attendees at the end of the four days.

During the next decade we expect these trends to continue. That is, the role control has in understanding complex systems like power networks, in analysing uncertain stochastic systems like the human body and in designing high reliability robust and fault-tolerant systems will place it at the core of engineering programmes. The control engineer will probably become the most essential component in design teams across engineering disciplines.

Mike Grimble


Accolades for ISC’s Control System operating the Turbine Access System (TAS)®

Industrial Systems and Control Limited has been recognised with two awards for its development of the control system for an offshore wind turbine access system. The Turbine Access System (TAS) is a lightweight, hydraulic gangway developed by Houlder and BMT Nigel Gee that allows maintenance engineers to safely transfer from workboats to and from offshore wind turbines.

ISC’s control system won the Advanced Control category and also the overall Application of the Year award at the Graphical System Design Achievement Awards (http://uk.ni.com/gsdawards/2012) . These awards are made annually by National Instruments UK & Ireland for the most innovative uses of graphical system design in teaching, research and industrial engineering.

The control system is central to the operation of the TAS, automatically compensating for boat motions to keep the tip of the gangway motionless relative to the tower without being physically connected to it. This will allow work on days when sea conditions would otherwise confine crews to shore – unable to access the towers safely. This provides clear economic as well as safety benefits to wind farm operators. You can see the TAS Demonstration here which was taken at the at Seawork Exhibition this year.

ISC’s expertise was called upon from the outset, using simulations to determine the system configuration and components needed to achieve the required performance. Implementation of the software for the automatic compensation, hydraulic control, operational logic, monitoring and fault handling was implemented in National Instruments LabVIEW graphical development language. The software was deployed onto a CompactRIO rugged real-time controller and waterproof Touch Panel Screens. Factory commissioning and subsequent sea trials revealed the performance of the final system closely matched that predicted by the simulations. The work is fully reported in the Case Study (http://sine.ni.com/cs/app/doc/p/id/cs-14813) .

Andy Clegg, Managing Director of ISC, who played a leading role, commented “This award is testament to the creativeness and rigour ISC has and which allows us to develop bespoke control system solutions. Close co-operation with the engineers at Houlder, ADEX and National Instruments played an important part in making this project such a success.”

Frederic Perdrix, Houlder Chief Technical Officer, “In realising the TAS, we required significant control system expertise. The system ISC delivered very accurately compensates for boat heave, pitch, and roll motions, and exceeded our expectations. The TAS is now well-placed to significantly improve the operation of offshore wind farms.”


NI Week : August 6-9, 2012 - Austin Convention Centre, Austin, Texas

NIWeek, the annual global conference on graphical system design, brings together more than 3,000 leading engineers and scientists across a spectrum of industries, from automotive to telecommunications to robotics to energy. They gather each year to learn new technology that provides disruptive competitive advantages when developing software-defined systems for measurement and control. Since its inception 18 years ago, NIWeek has delivered technical networking and instruction with interactive sessions by NI R&D engineers and guest lecturers; targeted industry summits; hands-on workshops; exhibitions on the latest advancements in design, research, and test; and keynote presentations from leading technology thought leaders. Past keynote speakers include Dr. Neil Gershenfeld of MIT Media, Dr. Michio Kaku of City College of New York, and Tim Samaras of Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers.” Past attendees include engineers, scientists, and executives from organizations such as Boeing, CERN, John Deere, ST-Ericsson, UC Berkeley, and hundreds more. Join us to learn how you can accelerate productivity, innovation, and discovery with National Instruments.

Listen as Dr. Andy Clegg and Dr. Jeannie Falcon talk about the challenges of servicing offshore wind turbine systems. See how they use NI LabVIEW and CompactRIO to develop a Motion Reference Unit that compensates for the heave, surge, and pitch of the boat to get the personnel onto the turbine safely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xiCNlH33tY


Upstream Process Control Training - Houston, Baku, London

ISC continues to deliver Upstream Process Control training for BP, with the tenth running of the course being held near London in November for a full class of 20 young and experienced engineers. This follows courses in Houston and Baku earlier in 2012, again to full classes. This course is delivered jointly by Andy Clegg of ISC and senior engineers from BP, and blends a very useful mixture of general control topics and application specific material on the control of separators, compressors, gas turbines, subsea systems, slugging in risers, fired heaters, as well as the use of MPC and optimisation in upstream applications. The effectiveness of the training is enhanced through the use of group discussions throughout and hands-on exercises using simulations specifically developed for this course. We look forward to working with BP to deliver more courses in 2013.

If you would like to find out more about this course, then please contact Andy Clegg. for more details.


Control Fundamental (3-days), Glasgow, UK

This three days training course is one of our more popular courses. This course allows the delegates/engineers to understand basic control engineering or even as a refresher course for control. Our examples have shown to reinforce the theory as the feedbacks received are ‘The examples helped my understanding’, ‘Yes, hands-on very useful to increase knowledge of tools.’ In overall, Control Fundamental is a very well-received course and the delegates found it relatively easy to understand and would recommend our course (‘I would recommend to individuals interested in control’).


Two Training Courses for Ford, Detroit, US

Prof Mike Grimble and Dr Pawel Majecki have successfully presented two training courses to Ford in Detroit over three days period! In order to minimise disruption to work, each training course was designed to run only half day throughout the three days. As a result, the morning session was Control Fundamental which included a very wide range of engineers that needed work with control specialists or required a refresher course. The afternoon was an intermediate level course on ‘Optimisation and System Identification’ dealing with all aspects of static and dynamic optimisationon the application of automotive.

Both training courses were aimed at automotive applications and were also very well received. We were grateful for the kind support from the manager and for the suggestions for future initiatives the ACTC training should provide.


Wind Energy Training Course (3-days), Glasgow, UK

ISC is proud to present another training workshop in ‘Wind Energy’ for two years running. Based on last year feedback, this new training course has been improved and extended to three days. The first couple of days of the training course focused on the application of wind turbine engine from understanding the principle behind a wind turbine engine to designing and exploring various tuning methods for PID controller on wind turbine control. The last day of the training course focused on wind farm control which included discussion of general problem with wind farm modelling and control, classical & advanced supervisory control for wind farms, and an overview of other advanced control method for wind farm. The feedback showed that the course was well-received and the delegates would recommend the course the their colleagues.


Robust Control with Wind Turbine Hands-On (4-days), Alstom, Barcelona

Alstom requested a bespoke training course focusing on Robust control in wind turbine application focusing in advanced robust multivariable control. This course was presented by Prof Mike Grimble and his colleague Dr Pawel Majecki. The first three days focused on advanced control methodologies with hands-on session and on the last day consisted of a half-day hands-on session focusing on the application of wind turbine control using advanced control.

We were particularly grateful that the organiser of the training program attended the course and was complimentary regarding both the presentations and the hands on material.


Book Review on Handbook of Marine Craft Hydrodynamics and Motion Control

by Thor I. Fossen Published by John Wylie & Sons

There are many excellent problems in the control of marine systems that are very suitable for the application of advanced controls. Thor Fossen has been a major contributor to the development of advanced control systems in ship motion control applications for many years and this text provides the very comprehensive overview that one would expect from him. As with most control design problems the first problem is to model the system. The models for marine control problems are first considered including marine craft hydrodynamics. Nonlinearities have a significant impact on designs and the ship models for both surface and underwater vehicles include full nonlinear equations which are necessary for both simulation and control design stages. Marine control problems are of course stochastic in nature and hence environmental models are covered including wind and wave effects.

The second part of the text concerns the different motion control problems that arise in marine systems. The range of control possibilities from PID design to the use of Kalman filters is explored and even the more subtle problems of control allocation. LQR and LQG design methods have been quite successful in marine systems and examples are provided in addition to nonlinear control methods such as backstepping. Sliding mode control is also considered which has some potential benefits for improving robustness.

This is a very nicely written text which is difficult to do for a handbook. It is liberally illustrated with useful diagrams and figures and the presentation enables the text to be used either for basic studies or as a reference book. It maintains a very nice balance between theory and applications and it is to be recommended for the book shelves of all companies involved in marine systems.

Book Nerd


Book Review on Automotive Control Systems

by A. Galip Ulsoy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Huei Peng, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Melih Çakmakci, Bilkent University, Ankara, Published by Cambridge University Press, Price: £75

There are increasing opportunities for advanced control systems in automotive applications and indeed there has been a significant growth of interest and real applications during the last decade. Two of the authors of this text are from the University of Michigan which is based in Ann Arbor only a short drive from Detroit. It is not therefore surprising that this University is one of the leading, if not the leading, University in automotive systems research worldwide. Moreover, Galip Ulsoy and Huei Peng are well known for their leadership in areas of control applications.

This text does provide an excellent overview of all of the issues that arise in automotive systems control design and application. It is well organised and the material is very accessible. It provides a broad ranging introduction, which is perfect for engineers or researchers trying to understand problems in automotive control and the possible design approaches that can be used.

Most of the work on automotive control tends to focus on engine control but there are of course many other control loops and these are also considered. The modelling information for example covers vehicle motion dynamics and driver modelling in addition to the more traditional engine modelling problems. Transmission control and hybrid vehicle modelling control is also covered including fuel cell control systems. More traditional loops like breaking systems, traction control and cruise control are also covered. Exciting areas such as highway control and collision avoidance are also discussed, together with lane following control.

The ubiquitous PI control is used most often in automotive applications and this is introduced, which is particularly useful when pragmatic solutions are needed. Topics in advanced control are also covered such as optimal control and state estimation methods, and the effects of nonlinearities.


This text is highly recommended for those that wish to understand the full range of control problems that arise in automotive systems. It cannot by its very nature go into great detail in either classical or advance control but it does indicate the opportunities that arise. It also provides some basic modelling information that would be needed to apply advanced model based control. It is highly recommended as an introductory text for students or engineers but it is also of value as a reference book, since it covers so many areas of automotive control.

Book Nerd


2012 American Control Conference (ACC)

The 2012 American Control Conference (ACC) was held on June 27th till 29th at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal.

There are of course two contradictions in this information since one might not expect to find a hotel celebrating the reign of Queen Elizabeth in Montreal which is a French speaking part of Canada and also it is very unusual to have the ACC held anywhere else other than America. The two most important people in the organisation of the conference are of course the general chair Tariq Samad from Honeywell Automation and the Program Chair Dawn Tilbury from The University of Michigan. There were a number of plenary presentations at the conference but the most important was by Carl Johan Austrum from Lund University in Sweden. His talk was entitled “Accomplishments and Prospects of Control”. It was a very wide survey of the fifty year of control finishing up with the strong research more recent areas of biological systems, network systems and safe design of large complex systems. One of his points in the key note talk was that control engineers need to return to a holistic view of systems since many of the early contributions which were so significant where by those in other engineering disciplines. The attendance at the event was excellent particularly considering the recession and it included many distinguished international researchers such as Professor Graham Goodwin from Newcastle, New South Wales. One of the most valuable contributions of this conference stems from the tutorial sessions which are organised within the usual three days of the event. Like other conferences tutorial workshops are included before or after the conference but the ACC has a policy of also including tutorial sessions within the regular more research oriented sessions which was extremely beneficial to those working in industry. There is no extra cost for these sessions.