Adaptive Level Control

Exploring the Complexities of Tuning Level Controllers and How an Adaptive Controller Can Be Used in Level Applications

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Opportunities for Adaptive Control of Conical Tank Level

A linear PID controller with the ISA standard structure was tuned for tight level control at 50% level for a detailed dynamic simulation of the conical tank. Figure 3 shows that for setpoints ranging from 10% to 90%, a decrease in process time constant greater than the decrease in process gain at low levels causes excessive oscillations.

An adaptive controller integrated into the DCS was used to automatically identify the process dynamics (process model) for the setpoint changes seen in Figure 3. The adaptive controller employs an optimal search method with re-centering that finds the process dead time, process time constant, and process gain that best fits the observed response. The trigger for process identification can be a setpoint change or periodic perturbation automatically introduced into the controller output or any manual change in the controller output made by the operator.

The process models are categorized into five regions as indicated in Figure 4. The controller gain and reset settings computed from the lambda tuning rules are then automatically used as the level moves from one region to another. This scheduling of the identified dynamics and calculated tuning settings eliminates the need for the adaptive controller to re-identify the process nonlinearity and tuning for different level setpoints. It was found that the use of lambda time, rather than lambda factors, with protection against going outside the controller gain limits helps provide a more consistent tuning criterion. As seen in Figure 5, the adaptive level controller eliminates the oscillations at low levels, and provides a more consistent level response across the whole level range.

MIT Anna Lab Conical Tank
Figure 5. Performance of adaptive PID level controller for conical tank.

Adaptive level controllers can eliminate tuning problems from the extreme changes in level control dynamics associated with different equipment designs and operating conditions. The integrated tuning rules prevent the user from getting into the confusing situations of upper and lower gain limits and the associated fast and slow oscillations. The smoother and more consistent response allows the user to optimize the speed of the level loop from fast manipulation of column reflux and reactor or crystallizer feed to slow manipulation of surge tank discharge flow control. 


Greg McMillan is a consultant and ControlTalk columnist.
Sridhar Dasani is a graduate of Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) Anna University in Chennai India.
Dr. Prakash Jagadeesan is an assistant professor at Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) Anna University in Chennai India.

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