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The first thing Tim taught me about PID control systems was the basic

components. "The first thing you need is a setpoint signal," he said. In our
situation, the setpoint signal was a 0-10 Vdc signal from a potentiometer in the
control room that the operator used to set the level he wanted to maintain in
the tank. "The second thing you need in your system is a feedback signal,"
said Tim. The feedback device in this case was a liquid level transducer that
provided a 4-20 mA signal based on the level of the liquid in the tank. Tim
explained that the last item required in the system is the actual PID controller.

PID optimization
n our experiment to obtain the optimum settings for the PID control loop, we
set the integral and derivative times to zero. The factory setting of the
proportional gain selector switch was 1.0, with a maximum of 2.0, a minimum
of 0.0, and adjustment points broken into 0.25 increments. We adjusted the
proportional gain selector switch to its lowest nonzero setting of 0.25. The
proportional gain is a simple multiplier with higher settings increasing the
response and lower settings reducing it. By adjusting the integral time and the
derivative time to zero, we took the integral and derivative effects out of the
control loop and would see only the effect of the proportional gain setting.
Tim's first lesson for me was to work on only one adjustment at a time. "If you
start making changes to all three controls at once, you can easily get
disoriented," he said.

We started the system with the tank empty and a setpoint of 50% full. We
watched the liquid level indication move slowly toward the 50% setpoint on the
strip chart as the tank filled. It took a little more than 10 min for the liquid level
to reach the 48% mark and maintain that level. We felt that the result of our
first experiment was not acceptable. While the liquid level never overshot the
setpoint, which was a good thing, the gain was set so low that it took a very
long time to fill the tank to its setpoint. Also, the liquid level came close to the
setpoint, but it never really reached it. Tim explained that it is typical to have
some error2% in this casewhen running a control loop with only
proportional control. This error is called offset.
Next, we adjusted the proportional gain setting to 0.50 and ran the experiment
again. This time, the liquid level reached the 50% setpoint in a little more than
2 min, but the level shot right past the setpoint and reached 55% before it
corrected itself and headed back down toward 50%. As I watched the strip
chart, the liquid level signal oscillated back and forth between 52% and 48%
for the next 2 min, reducing the overshoot with each cycle, and then settled
just below the setpoint at about 48%. We were happy that it took only 2 min
for the level to reach the setpoint, but were disappointed with the overshoot
and the oscillations.
For our next experiment, we adjusted the proportional gain to 0.75. This time
the liquid level reached the 50% setpoint in a little less than 1 min, but the
overshoot reached 70% and then oscillated between 60% and 40% for 4 min,
reducing the overshoot with each cycle, and then settled just below the
setpoint at about 48%. It appeared that this adjustment was taking us in the
wrong direction, so we changed the proportional gain setting back to 0.50.
Tim's second lesson for me was: the proportional gain controls how quickly
the process races toward the setpoint. "If you set a very high gain, expect to
reach your setpoint quickly but be prepared for the possibility of drastic
overshoot and oscillations," he said. "If you set a very low gain, you can
prevent the overshoot, but it may take a long time to reach your setpoint. Start
with the integral time, derivative time, and proportional gain all at zero. Then
increase the proportional gain value in small increments until oscillations
occur, then reduce the setting."
The next thing we did was to add some integral time into the control loop. Tim
explained to me that integral time was like an "error eater" and would go to
work on eliminating some of the oscillation we had experienced. He also said
that adding some integral time would get our system to actually track the
setpoint and eliminate the offset we had experienced earlier. The factory

setting of the integral time selector switch was 50 sec, with a maximum of 100
sec and a minimum of 0 sec, and adjustment points divided into 10 sec
increments. Hoping to improve on the performance, we adjusted the integral
time selector switch to 10 sec and ran the experiment again. This time the
liquid level reached the setpoint in about 2 min, but continued to increase to
about 70% before correcting itself; then it continuously oscillated between
60% and 40% and never stopped. The overshoot had stayed the same, but
we had picked up a ringing oscillation, which meant the short integral time
was making the system unstable.
We adjusted the integral time selector switch to provide 30 sec of integral time
for our next experiment. We ran the system again and the liquid level reached
the setpoint in about 2 min, but continued to increase to 55% before correcting
itself. The liquid level signal oscillated between 54% and 46%, reducing the
overshoot with each cycle, and then settled at the setpoint of 50% within 1
min. While the loop performance was much better than our last experiment,
the biggest difference was the time it took for the system to stabilize. Earlier,
when we used proportional only control, the system had stabilized in 2 min
with an offset error. In this experiment, the oscillation was gone in about a
minute without an offset error.
We ran the experiment again with the integral time set at 50 sec and watched
as the liquid level reached the setpoint in about 2 min and overshot to only
52% before correcting itself. The liquid level signal oscillated between 52%
and 48%, reducing the overshoot with each cycle for about 10 sec, and then
settled at the setpoint of 50%. This adjustment had produced some very good
results, we were happy with the progress that we had made, and I realized we
would be back at the shop before lunch after all. Tim's third lesson for me was
that the integral time acts like an error eater. It can help reduce the oscillation
time and remove the offset, but mis-adjustment can cause an increase in
overshoot as well as lead to the system having oscillations. Increase the
integral time value in small increments until the oscillations and the offset
have been eliminated.
The last adjustment was for the derivative time. Tim explained that the
derivative time acts somewhat like a braking system to help prevent
overshoot. However, if derivative is misadjusted, it could severely reduce the
responsiveness of the system. We thought for a second about the
experiments we had run that morning and how we had systematically
improved the control loop's performance. In many PID loops, such as HVAC
systems, the derivative control is not used because a little overshoot typically

would not produce detrimental effects. But in situations where overshoot could
be dangerous, derivative control can be useful.
With our last experiment showing only a 2% overshoot and oscillating for only
about 10 sec, we thought we had done a pretty good job of tuning the PID
loop. But we thought we should try one last experiment to see if we could do
even better. The factory setting of the derivative time selector switch was at
the minimum, 0 sec (disabled) with a maximum of 5 sec and adjustment
points divided into 0.5 sec increments. I adjusted the derivative time to the 0.5
sec setting on the selector switch and we ran the experiment again. We
watched as the liquid level reached the setpoint in about 2 min, smoothly
rolled into the 50% setpoint with only a hair of overshoot, showed one small
dip below the 50% mark, and then tracked the setpoint perfectly. This was by
far the best performance we had seen from the liquid level PID control loop
that morning. I adjusted the liquid level setpoint to 60% and watched the
system correct and track accurately. Then I reduced the setpoint to 40% and
saw the same results. Tim's fourth lesson for me was that the derivative time
provides a braking action to the control loop and is not required in most
applications where a little overshoot is allowable. If it is needed, derivative
control can reduce overshoots but could also lead to a lack of responsiveness.
Increase the derivative time value until the response to process changes is
optimized.
Happy with the performance of the PID control loop, Tim and I packed our
gear and headed to lunch. It has been a number of years since I worked with
Tim, but this experience is one I have always remembered. Using the basic
techniques he taught me has helped me tune PID control loops in a number of
applications.
Tim's PID control loop rules of thumb
1. Work on only one adjustment at a time. If you start making changes to
all three controls at the same time, you can easily get disoriented.
2. Proportional gain controls how quickly the process races toward the
setpoint. If you set a very high gain, expect to reach your setpoint
quickly but be prepared for the possibility of drastic overshoot and
oscillations. If you set a very low gain, you can prevent the overshoot,
but it may take a long time to reach your setpoint. Start with the integral
time, derivative time, and proportional gain all at zero. Increase the
proportional gain value in small increments until oscillations occur, and
then reduce the setting.

3. The integral time acts like an error eater. It can help reduce the
oscillation time and remove the offset, but improper adjustment can
cause an increase in overshoot as well as lead to the system having
oscillations. Increase the integral time value in small increments until the
oscillations and the offset have been eliminated.
4. The derivative time provides a braking action to the control loop and is
not required in most applications where a little overshoot is allowable. If
it is needed, derivative control can reduce overshoots but could also
lead to a lack of responsiveness. Increase the derivative time value until
the response to process changes is optimized.