With the creation of the Electronics and Control Lab housed in The Diamond, now close to 300 first-year engineering students, as well as additional second- to fourth-year students get significant practical laboratory experience and hands-on access to controls. The students come from the Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, as well as Aerospace, Mechanical, Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering departments. Based on their specialization and seniority, the controls lab provides them with the tools and skills to achieve the outcomes of their respective courses.
The large investment into modern engineering lab equipment resulted in a lab well-equipped to provide practical controls teaching: the Electronics and Control Lab now offers 144 seats with 72 workstations, enough to allow students to work in small groups. At the same time, the large number of workstations made it easier to schedule the lab work.
Each workstation is equipped with a Quanser Rotary Servo (SRV02) system. The SRV02 is used as a basic plant for the first year controls course lab offered to the Aerospace Engineering, Bioengineering and Control Systems Engineering students. Using this equipment, students focus mostly on the time domain and a frequency domain analysis. The same equipment is then used in their second year, for more complex systems and control topics, such as compensator design, and discrete time control design Moreover, the same experimental plants are used in the Foundations of Control module of the course taught at the postgraduate level.
The lab is also equipped with 45 units of the Quanser QNET HVAC units, the trainer boards for the NI ELVIS platform. These basic first-order systems are used for the first year controls students. From the perspective of the Multidisciplinary Engineering Education group, the QNET HVAC boards demonstrate the temperature lag really well. That makes them an ideal teaching tool for the third-year Chemical and Process Engineering controls course, where students study different control techniques, including open-loop system characterization in time and frequency domains, and PI temperature control.
The Quanser Magnetic Levitation units, representing quite a complex system, are primarily used for teaching the second-year Automatic Control Systems Program course. The practical teaching in the lab covers topic, such as system modeling, system linearization, feed-forward and PIV control. Introducing Controls in a Large-scale Laboratory: A New Approach to Undergraduate Engineering Education University of Sheffield, UK For example, the lab equipment also plays an important role when introducing students to LabVIEW, making the concepts more tangible. The Rotary Servo system, with a DC motor and a sensor, provides students with a visual reference tool and helps them understand how a system responds to an input signal. While the lectures and control design expose students to MATLAB tools, in the practical lab sessions, LabVIEW provides a seamless integration with the actual hardware. Coming to the lab, students use the parameters obtained from their MATLAB trials as inputs to a variety of LabVIEW-based controllers.