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2.

37

Tuning Interacting Loops, Synchronizing Loops


M. RUEL

(2005)

INTRODUCTION

The reader is advised to also read Sections 2.6, 2.12, and


2.22. This is desirable to gain a full understanding of the
phenomenon of interaction and decoupling; the methods discussed in this section cannot be used in all cases, and a full
understanding of the other options for overcoming interactions between control loops can be helpful.

MULTILOOP SYSTEMS
When a unit process is controlled by several control loops,
there is no magic formula that can tell whether one loop will
affect another. This information will only come through an
in-depth understanding of the process. If one loop directly
interacts with another, oscillation in the first loop will cause
oscillation in the second and possibly in other downstream
loops. If the same pump feeds two flow loops, oscillation in
one loop can cause oscillation in the second.
When a loop is cycling, it is essential to determine whether
the process is causing cycling, or whether the cycling is attributable to other loops or possibly to the loop itself. To check
the cause, one can switch the particular loop to manual mode;
if the cycling continues, it is probable that the cycling is being
caused by an external source.
There is also hidden cycling, which occurs if a cycle is
present but is hidden by noise. To uncover a hidden cycle,
the readings should be collected in the manual mode, and
power spectral density analysis should be used on the data
collected. In that case, the hidden cycles will show up as
peaks.
In some installations the problem is not that the loops
interact, but it is imperative that they respond with the same
speed. In either case, one should be knowledgeable about
the tools that are available to determine loop health and
performance:
Control Loop Analysis
The following criteria should be met for a control system to
perform in an optimal manner:

The power spectral density should be flat, no cycling


present.

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Cumulative power spectral density should be continuous.


Statistical analysis: Data distribution should be a bell
curve, variability should be small, valve movements
should be minimized.
Development of a process model is desirable to validate the process and to find tuning parameters.
Robustness analysis is recommended to validate tuning parameters.
The process should be analyzed to check for hysteresis
and backlash, stiction, noise, process model inaccuracy, hidden cycling, and nonlinearities.
Oscillation should be evaluated by determining the
area under the curve, which is a good indicator of
control quality.
Cross-correlation and multivariate techniques can be
used to measure interaction between signals and loops
They can also help to determine whether multivariable
control should be considered.
Performance indexes, such as variability, IAE, and
Harris index, should all be monitored.

INTERACTING LOOPS
An example of a control system with potentially interacting
multiple loops is illustrated in Figure 2.37a. Here two liquids

FC1
FT 1
PT

FT 2

PC

FC 2

FIG. 2.37a
Illustration of potentially interacting control loops.

2.37 Tuning Interacting Loops, Synchronizing Loops

1. Another user valve is suddenly closed and this disturbance causes the line pressure to increase.
2. If the pressure control loop is not faster than the flow
loop, the flow through FC1 will increase.
3. To correct for the flow increase, FC1 will close down
its valve, which in turn will cause the pressure to rise.
4. Eventually the pressure loop will slow down the pump,
which will cause the flow to decrease.
5. As the flow drops, FC1 will open its valve to compensate, which will cause the pressure to decrease.
6. In response to the drop in pressure, the PC will speed
up the pump, causing the flow to increase again.
In this configuration, if PC is not faster than FC1, steps 3, 4,
5, and 6 will repeat continuously and the two loops will
oscillate and potentially resonate.
Likewise, since FC1 controls the process fluid feed to the
flow loop controlled by FC2, flow loop 1 must be faster than
2. If this is not the case, a disturbance in flow 1 could cause
both flow controllers to react, and oscillation would result.
Tuning to Eliminate the Interaction
When loops interact, it is necessary to make sure that their
response speeds are not the same and not even similar
because speeds that differ but are close also have the potential
to oscillate. To be on the safe side, one should select response

2006 by Bla Liptk

speeds that differ by a factor of three to five. If speeds are


closer than 3:1, loops may one day start to oscillate. In case
of loops that are highly interactive, a speed ratio of up to
10:1 may be required to fully decouple them.
For the control system described in Figure 2.37a, this
means that the response time of the pressure loop will determine the response time of flow loop #1, and the response
time of flow loop #1 will determine the response time of flow
loop #2. In tuning interacting loops, one would do that by
placing the downstream loop in manual while tuning the
upstream loop; once the upstream loops speed of response
is determined, use a multiple of that to set the downstream
controller.
So, for the control system in Figure 2.37a, one would
place FC1 and FC2 in manual, while aggressively tuning
the pressure controller to provide a high speed of response.
The response time of the pressure control loop will determine
the system response time. Once the PC is tuned, one would
place the pressure loop in automatic so that to the rest of the
control system, it would seem as if it were part of the process.
Flow controller FC1 is tuned next, while FC2 is still in
manual. FC1 must be tuned for a response time that is at least
three times slower than that of the pressure loop response time.
For ideal separation it should be 5 to 10 times slower. Once
FC1 is tuned, both the PC and FC1 are left in automatic, while
FC2 is being tuned. Again, FC2 should be tuned for a response
time which is at least 3 times (ideally 5 to 10 times) slower
than flow loop FC1.
Therefore, one can sum up the tuning of the three interacting loops into the following three steps:
Step 1. Tune PC for quick response, while other loops
are in manual mode. For the purposes of an example,
assume that the settling time of this fastest loop turns
out to be 30 seconds (Figure 2.37b).
Step 2. Tune FC1 for moderate response, while PC
remains in automatic and FC2 in manual mode.
Tune FC1 for a settling time of at least three times
that of the PC, or at least 90 seconds (Figure 2.37c).
Step 3. Tune FC2 for a slow response while PC and
FC1 both remain in the automatic mode. The settling
time of FC2 should be at least three times that of
the FC1, or at least 270 seconds (Figure 2.37d) .

30 s
Process variable

are being mixed. The expensive process fluid is controlled


by FC1 at a flow rate of 100 GPM. The second flow controller
(FC2) adds water to dilute the process fluid by maintaining
the total flow between 200 and 400 GPM.
All three of these loops have the potential to be fast. A
response time of less than 30 seconds is attainable on all three
loops, but which loop should be the fastest? What is the logic
behind this decision and why should one be faster than the
others in the first place?
The reason why the speeds should be different is because
if they are not, the loops can oscillate whenever an upset
occurs because the correction generated by one loop upsets
the others and this generates cycling. As to which loop should
be the fastest, one should evaluate the process to determine
which controlled variable needs to be constant in order for
the other loop(s) to operate properly.
In Figure 2.37a, by observing the process we would
conclude that in order for the flow loop (FC1) to function
properly, the upstream pressure to its control valve has to be
constant. Because that upstream pressure has to be constant
regardless what the flow is, therefore, the pressure loop must
be faster than flow loop #1.
If this was not the case, if the pressure loop and the #1
flow loop were tuned to have the same speed of response,
they may work for a while, but eventually, when a disturbance
occurs, it will cause the two loops to oscillate. For example
the following sequence of events could cause oscillation in
this control configuration:

443

50

42
40

80

120

160

200

240

280

FIG. 2.37b
After the fastest loop is tuned, measuring its response time (settling
time), which in this case is 30 seconds.

444

Control Theory

Process variable

90 s

TABLE 2.37e
The Sequence of Steps to be Used in Tuning Any Number of
Interacting Control Loops

50

Fast

42

Slow
40

80

120

160

200

240

280

FIG. 2.37c
Tuning the less fast loop for a response time (settling time) that is
three times that of the fastest loop or in this case is 90 seconds.

Steps

Loop1

Loop2

Loop3

...

Loopn

Tune

Manual

Manual

Manual

Manual

Tune

Manual

Manual

Manual

Tune

Manual

Manual

...

...

...

2 Automatic

3 Automatic Automatic

For a summary of the steps required in tuning any number


of interacting loops, refer to Table 2.37e.
The method of removing interaction by reducing the
speed of response has disadvantages because this can cause
the control loops to become sluggish and unable to effectively
correct upsets and disturbances. If this is the case the use of
more sophisticated techniques of decoupling is recommended, as discussed in Section 2.12.
Cascade loops is another case of interacting loops. Hopefully, in a cascade system, the inner loop has to be faster than
the outer loop. (See Section 2.6.)
SYNCHRONIZING LOOPS
In some control systems, the loops do not interact but they
do work together. Such configurations are called synchronized loops, and it is desirable for such loops to have the
same response time. It is important to note that synchronized
loops should be so designed that there is no physical link
between them that could cause interaction.
Batch mixing is one example of a control system that
should be synchronized. Figure 2.37f illustrates a control
system for mixing three ingredients in a mix tank. The goal
of such a control system is to maintain the required ratio of
the ingredients even during startup or shutdown or when the
rate of production changes.
Because the control valves and pipe volumes associated
with the three flow control loops are substantially different, it
is probable that their process gains, dead times, and time con-

...

...

n Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic

Tune

n + 1 Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic

stants also differ. In such cases, if all three loops were tuned
for 10% overshoot (or any other criterion), the response times
of the loops would not be the same. Therefore, when the rate
of production rises and the level controller calls for increased
flows, the recipe flow ratios will be out of balance until all
three flows reach their new set points and regain stability.
To ensure that all three loops move at the same speed,
one should determine the response time of the slowest loop
and match the response times of the others to it. Normally,
the slowest loop is also the one with the largest dead time.
The steps involved in tuning synchronizing loops are:
1. Apply an upset (bump test) to each loop. This can be
a temporary change of set point.

FC 3
FT 3
FC2

1"

FC 1

FT 2

FT 1
Process variable

270 s

6"

50
10"

42
LC
40

80

120

160

200

240

280

FIG. 2.37d
Tuning the least fast loop for a response time (settling time), which
is three times that of the less fast loop or in this case is 270 seconds.

2006 by Bla Liptk

LT

FIG. 2.37f
In order to keep the ratio of ingredients constant during load
changes, the loops have to be synchronized (their speed of response
has to be the same).

2.37 Tuning Interacting Loops, Synchronizing Loops

software, the expected speed can be specified. If done by hand,


techniques such as pole placement, Internal Model Control, or
Lambda tuning should be used.

TABLE 2.37g
Summary of Steps Required in Tuning to Synchronize
Control Loops
Steps
1

Loop1

Loop2

Loop3

...

Test

Test

Test

Test

Loopn
Test

Slowest
Tune at
maximum
speed

Tune at same speed

5 Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic

2. From the responses of the loops, determine which is


slowest.
3. Tune the slowest loop for maximum speed of response
and measure the response time that results.
4. Adjust the tuning parameters of the other loops so that
they will also have approximately the same response
time.
When tuning loops that need to work in harmony, select tuning
parameters that give similar response times. If this is done using

2006 by Bla Liptk

445

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