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MaintenanceCircleTeam Page 1 May 14th 2007

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Word for the day: PID

PID stands for Proportional Integral Derivative and is one of the most popular & reliable methods of controlling many
processes some of which include temperature, motor speed, flow, pressure control. The list can be endless since PID
controllers are finding their use in every application. To understand the origin of PID and what methods were followed
earlier to control a process, let us study a simple application. A heater controller is required to maintain certain
temperature. It is switching on and switching off a heater after comparing the feedback from a J type thermocouple.
Let us consider following values for understanding purpose.

Set temperature, °C – 200; Present temperature, °C – 30; Thermocouple – J type; Heater capacity – 2 kilowatts


Difference Signal
220V AC 1Phase

Thermocouple Feedback

Set Value, 200°C

Figure 1

The “comparator e” compares difference between set & actual value and sends a signal to the controller. In real
application, this will be a part of controller, but for understanding purpose it has been shown outside here. The
switching contactor – which supplies voltage to heating element – will be turned on and off by Temperature Controller
System. When the process starts, difference between set (200°C) and present (30°C) is 170°C which keeps Switching
Contactor continuously ON supplying power to heating element, thus raising the temperature. After some time, the
temperature reaches 200°C which commands temperature controller to turn off switching contactor. Since the heating
is stopped exactly at 200°C, the temperature actually overshoots and may reach 220°C. By heat transfer to load,
temperature drops again to little less than 200°C which again turns ON the Switching Contactor. The cycle repeats and
process may never stabilize at 200°C. This process of attaining set value is called Hunting.

Now let us make some improvements to this process step-by-step and get closer to the concept of PID. Readers please
be informed that this is only a very general overview of PID controller from practical point of view. Complex
mathematics and logics are involved in its actual design process and can be difficult to understand by general readers.

Instead of turning off the contactor at 200°C, controller can be programmed with a value less than 200°C at which it
will turn off. Let us say this value is 190°C. Even though the contactor is turned off at 190°C, temperature may rise up
to 200°C or exceed also. This hunting may be less than earlier system, but still exists and temperature may or may not
reach 200°C. This method of controlling a process is called Proportional Control and can be suitable for many
applications, which does not demand high accuracy. For example, water level control in a tank, placing a product on
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MaintenanceCircleTeam Page 2 May 14th 2007
the conveyor, adjusting pressure in compressed air system and many more. The present value difference represents
something called gain in a system. If this gain is adjusted too close to set value, the controller may become very
sensitive. On the other hand, if this gain is adjusted too far, the controller may become very slow and will never reach
the set value. For this kind of system, the proportional value is usually expressed in % of the set value.

We have understood that contactor switches off at the preset value. But how to ensure that controller switches off the
contactor at such a particular point so as to reach set value? In order to compensate for this question, we will introduce
Integral Control. This will calculate the rate at which temperature is rising AFTER switching off the contactor. Based
on the speed of temperature rise, it will make controller switch on and off the contactor repeatedly at short intervals,
whose frequency is adjustable. Since this control checks the previous values for controlling the contactor switching
frequency, it may not reach the set value but provides more accuracy compared to Proportional Control. For this kind
of system, the integral value is usually expressed in seconds or minutes. This Proportional + Integral Control system
can be suitable for applications which demand reasonable accuracy. For example, low speed robots, bottling plants,
tool machining, hydraulic pressure system and normal temperature controllers, fan speed controllers and many more.

Since Integral Control checks the previous values for adjusting contactor switching on-off frequency, it may not
precisely reach the set value. Now we will introduce Derivative Control which will continuously monitor how the
current cycle is reaching set value and make continuous corrections to Integral Control, which in turn will adjust the
contactor switching on-off frequency. All servo motors, drives, high speed welding robots (used in automobile
industry), indexing tables, modern MPFI system on automobiles and many more such precision applications use
Proportional + Integral + Derivative Control. For this kind of system, the derivative value is usually expressed in
seconds or minutes.

The modern controllers adjust P, I, D value themselves

based on application, its speed and error. This process is
called Auto tuning. For example, if a heater is changed,
controllers can study the time taken to reach set value
and adjust P, I, D constants accordingly. Users can also
feed the values if auto tuning is not desired. Following
is a small block diagram of modern PID control system,
for reference. It is essential to choose P or PI or PID
system based on the application and its accuracy.
Improper selection will result in unnecessary hunting of
Figure 2 various elements like motor and contactors. For
example, if an improper selection is made or wrong
constants are entered, a motor may change directions too many times to reach certain set point, which may lead to its
breakdown or too much mechanical wear. It is better to reach the set point slow rather than fast causing overshoot and

PS: To understand the PID concept more easily let us consider a STOP signal and a car reaching this signal. In
conventional method, driver applies full brake exactly at stop sign. Based on vehicle’s speed, it overshoots by certain
distance. Now the driver uses reverse gear and again applies brake exactly at stop sign. It will overshoot again and
process continues for long time and may or never reaches the STOP signal.

With Proportional control, driver will applies full brake few meters before the stop sign. Again, based on
vehicle’s speed, it may reach or miss the signal. The driver can judge and apply brakes exactly at such point
that vehicle exactly stops at stop sign. This needs time and expertise.

With Proportional + Integral control, even though driver applies full brake few meters before the stop sign, he keeps
speeding up, braking till the car almost reaches stop signal. With this system, the driver is judging based on previous
experience he had on same road, previous condition of the vehicle.

With Proportional + Integral + Derivative control, driver is continuously monitoring the speed, applying brake,
speeding up very precisely till the car exactly stops at stop sign. Here, apart from previous experience, driver is also
monitoring present parameters like vehicle condition, road, and speed to ensure that it exactly stops at stop sign,
possibly FIRST TIME!!
If you like to improvise this article or contribute or comment please mail us at:
This document contains information for reference only. We assume no responsibility for its implication.