The Art of Control System Design

Doug Johnson - Embedded Hardware/Firmware Engineer
January 21, 2021
Originally Published:
November 20, 2002

Foreword - Often in the business of electronic  control system design, while the tools of the trade change and shift to  meet an ever-accelerating technological landscape, the methodology  behind the designs tend to permeate well into the future. Such is the  case with semi-custom control system design, which in fact is more  effective now than ever before, with the growing prevalence of  community-based support and higher focus on powerful development tools  by hardware developers. Because the concepts detailed in this paper are  as relevant now as they were when this paper was written 20 years ago,  it is being republished with only aesthetic revisions as of January  2021.


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The Art of Control System Design

The problem is... no two applications should have the exact same  control system. Industries, machines, and intended users, are all  different and one of the goals of the system designer is to deal with  the differences and provide results that are "intuitive". Most control  systems address these differences by using "off the shelf" circuit  boards and modules that can be configured in different ways. What if the  application really needs something that isn't available off the shelf?  What if your "vision" and creative inspiration yields a solution that  surpasses the current state of the art, but there is no "module" that  does what you want?


Architecting a control system for an  application is as much an art as a science. Simple applications (i.e.  temperature control) require less artistic input, but multi-function  applications have complex interactions that must be managed by the  control in a consistent, easy to understand manner. This is where  artistic vision can have a huge impact and create the illusion of  simplicity to something that is inherently complex.


Unfortunately,  artistry and engineering rarely come together. Think again about the  "off the shelf" control components that are available and you'll see  that they are all about "function" and "technology". These are critical  issues to be sure, but the artist in me says that "how" the control is  applied and used, is more important. In other words, the "function" and  "technology" should be flexible, and subservient to the "form" of the  implementation.


This is one of the fundamental ways that  ProductMaker is different from other control systems. The "function" and  "technology" have been designed to be virtually invisible to the  designer, relieving him of the underlying complexity, yet they remain  flexible, allowing him to concentrate on the "form" of the  implementation. This is further augmented by the "development platform"  nature of ProductMaker whose intended purpose facilitates "custom"  packaging thus allowing the designer to "free his mind" beyond the  constraints of "off the shelf" components, and allowing artistry and  creativity to take place.