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Closed-loop Systems

In the previous tutorial we saw that systems in which the output quantity has no effect
upon the input to the control process are called open-loop control systems, and that
open-loop systems are just that, open ended non-feedback systems. But the goal of any
electrical or electronic control system is to measure, monitor, and control a process.
One way in which we can accurately Control the Process is by monitoring its output and
feeding some of it back to compare the actual output with the desired output so as to reduce
the error and if disturbed, bring the output of the system back to the original or desired
response. The measure of the output is called the feedback signal and the type of control
system which uses feedback signals to control itself is called a Close-loop System.
A Closed-loop Control System, also known as a feedback control system is a control system
which uses the concept of an open loop system as its forward path but has one or more
feedback loops (hence its name) or paths between its output and its input. The reference to
feedback, simply means that some portion of the output is returned back to the input to form
part of the systems excitation.
Closed-loop systems are designed to automatically achieve and maintain the desired output
condition by comparing it with the actual condition. It does this by generating an error signal
which is the difference between the output and the reference input. In other words, a closed-
loop system is a fully automatic control system in which its control action being dependent on
the output in some way.
So for example, consider our electric clothes dryer from the previous open-loop tutorial.
Suppose we used a sensor or transducer (input device) to monitor the temperature or dryness
of the clothes and fed the signal back to the controller as shown below.
Closed-loop Control

This sensor would monitor the actual dryness of the clothes and compare it with (or subtract it
from) the input reference. The error signal (error = required dryness actual dryness) is
amplified by the controller, and the controller output makes the necessary correction to the
heating system to reduce any error. For example if the clothes are too wet the controller may
increase the temperature, if the clothes are nearly dry it may reduce the temperature so as not
to overheat or burn the clothes, etc.
Then the closed-loop configuration is characterised by the feedback signal, derived from the
sensor in our clothes drying system. The magnitude and polarity of the resulting error signal,
would be directly related to the difference between the required dryness and actual dryness of
the clothes.
Also, because a closed-loop system has some knowledge of the output condition, it is better
equipped to handle any system disturbances or changes in the conditions which may reduce its
ability to complete the desired task.
For example, as before, the dryer door opens and heat is lost. This time the deviation in
temperature is detected by the feedback sensor and the controller self-corrects the error to
maintain a constant temperature within the limits of the preset value. Or possibly stops the
process and activates an alarm.

Schaum's Outline of Feedback and Control Systems, 2nd Edition (Schaum's Outline Series)
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As we can see, in a closed-loop control system the error signal, which is the difference between
the input signal and the feedback signal (which may be the output signal itself or a function of
the output signal), is fed to the controller so as to reduce the systems error and bring the output
of the system back to a desired value. In our case the dryness of the clothes. Clearly, when the
error is zero the clothes are dry.
The term Closed-loop control always implies the use of a feedback control action in order to
reduce any errors within the system, and its feedback which distinguishes the main differences
between an open-loop and a closed-loop system.
The accuracy of the output thus depends on the feedback path, which in general can be made
very accurate and within electronic control systems and circuits, feedback control is more
commonly used than open-loop or feed forward control.
Closed-loop systems have many advantages over open-loop systems. The primary advantage
of a closed-loop feedback control system is its ability to reduce a systems sensitivity to external
disturbances, for example opening of the dryer door, giving the system a more robust control as
any changes in the feedback signal will result in compensation by the controller.
Then we can define the main characteristics of Closed-loop Control as being:
To reduce errors by automatically adjusting the systems input.
To improve stability of an unstable system.
To increase or reduce the systems sensitivity.
To enhance robustness against external disturbances to the process.
To produce a reliable, repeatable performance.
Whilst a good closed-loop system can have many advantages over an open-loop control
system, its main disadvantage is that in order to provide the required amount of control, a
closed-loop system must be more complex by having one or more feedback paths. Also, if the
gain of the controller is too sensitive to changes in its input commands or signals it can become
unstable and start to oscillate as the controller tries to over-correct itself, and eventually
something would break. So we need to tell the system how we want it to behave.
Closed-loop Summing Points
For a closed-loop feedback system to regulate any control signal, it must first determine the
error between the actual output and the desired output. This is achieved using a summing point,
also referred to as a comparison element, between the feedback loop and the systems input.
These summing points compare a systems set point to the actual value and produce a positive
or negative error signal which the controller responds too. where: Error = Set point Actual

The symbol used to represent a summing point in closed-loop systems block-diagram is that of
a circle with two crossed lines as shown. The summing point can either add signals together in
which a Plus ( + ) symbol is used showing the device to be a summer (used for positive
feedback), or it can subtract signals from each other in which case a Minus ( ) symbol is used
showing that the device is a comparator (used for negative feedback) as shown.
Summing Point Types

Note that summing points can have more than one signal as inputs either adding or subtracting
but only one output which is the algebraic sum of the inputs. Also the arrows indicate the
direction of the signals. Summing points can be cascaded together to allow for more input
variables to be summed at a given point.
Closed-loop System Transfer Function
The Transfer Function of any electrical or electronic control system is the mathematical
relationship between the systems input and its output, and hence describes the behaviour of the
system. Note also that the ratio of the output of a particular device to its input represents its
gain. Then we can correctly say that the output is always the transfer function of the system
times the input. Consider the closed-loop system below.
Typical Closed-loop System Representation

Where: block G represents the open-loop gains of the controller or system and is the forward
path, and block H represents the gain of the sensor, transducer or measurement system in the
feedback path.
To find the transfer function of the closed-loop system above, we must first calculate the output
signal o in terms of the input signal i. To do so, we can easily write the equations of the given
block-diagram as follows.
The output from the system is equal to: Output = G x Error
Note that the error signal, e is also the input to the feed-forward block: G
The output from the summing point is equal to: Error = Input - H x Output
If H = 1 (unity feedback) then:
The output from the summing point will be: Error (e) = Input - Output
Eliminating the error term, then:
The output is equal to: Output = G x (Input - H x Output)
Therefore: G x Input = Output + G x H x Output
Rearranging the above gives us the closed-loop transfer function of:

The above equation for the transfer function of a closed-loop system shows a Plus ( + ) sign in
the denominator representing negative feedback. With a positive feedback system, the
denominator will have a Minus ( ) sign and the equation becomes: 1 - GH.
We can see that when H = 1 (unity feedback) and G is very large, the transfer function
approaches unity as:

Also, as the systems steady state gain G decreases, the expression of: G/(1 + G) decreases
much more slowly. In other words, the system is fairly insensitive to variations in the systems
gain represented by G, and which is one of the main advantages of a closed-loop system.
Multi-loop Closed-loop System
Whilst our example above is of a single input, single output closed-loop system, the basic
transfer function still applies to more complex multi-loop systems. Most practical feedback
circuits have some form of multiple loop control, and for a multi-loop configuration the transfer
function between a controlled and a manipulated variable depends on whether the other
feedback control loops are open or closed.
Consider the multi-loop system below.

Any cascaded blocks such as G1 and G2 can be reduced, as well as the transfer function of the
inner loop as shown.

After further reduction of the blocks we end up with a final block diagram which resembles that
of the previous single-loop closed-loop system.

And the transfer function of this multi-loop system becomes:

Then we can see that even complex multi-block or multi-loop block diagrams can be reduced to
give one single block diagram with one common system transfer function.
Closed-loop Motor Control
So how can we use Closed-loop Systems in Electronics. Well consider our DC motor
controller from the previous open-loop tutorial. If we connected a speed measuring transducer,
such as a tachometer to the shaft of the DC motor, we could detect its speed and send a signal
proportional to the motor speed back to the amplifier. A tachometer, also known as a tacho-
generator is simply a permanent-magnet DC generator which gives a DC output voltage
proportional to the speed of the motor.
Then the position of the potentiometers slider represents the input, i which is amplified by the
amplifier (controller) to drive the DC motor at a set speed N representing the output, o of the
system, and the tachometer T would be the closed-loop back to the controller. The difference
between the input voltage setting and the feedback voltage level gives the error signal as
Closed-loop Motor Control

Any external disturbances to the closed-loop motor control system such as the motors load
increasing would create a difference in the actual motor speed and the potentiometer input set
This difference would produce an error signal which the controller would automatically respond
too adjusting the motors speed. Then the controller works to minimize the error signal, with zero
error indicating actual speed which equals set point.
Electronically, we could implement such a simple closed-loop tachometer-feedback motor
control circuit using an operational amplifier (op-amp) for the controller as shown.
Closed-loop Motor Controller Circuit

This simple closed-loop motor controller can be represented as a block diagram as shown.
Block Diagram for the Feedback Controller

A closed-loop motor controller is a common means of maintaining a desired motor speed under
varying load conditions by changing the average voltage applied to the input from the controller.
The tachometer could be replaced by an optical encoder or Hall-effect type positional or rotary
Closed-loop Systems Summary
We have seen that an electronic control system with one or more feedback paths is called
a Closed-loop System. Closed-loop control systems are also called feedback control systems
are very common in process control and electronic control systems. Feedback systems have
part of their output signal fed back to the input for comparison with the desired set point
condition. The type of feedback signal can result either in positive feedback or negative
In a closed-loop system, a controller is used to compare the output of a system with the required
condition and convert the error into a control action designed to reduce the error and bring the
output of the system back to the desired response. Then closed-loop control systems use
feedback to determine the actual input to the system and can have more than one feedback
Closed-loop control systems have many advantages over open-loop systems. One advantage is
the fact that the use of feedback makes the system response relatively insensitive to external
disturbances and internal variations in system parameters such as temperature. It is thus
possible to use relatively inaccurate and inexpensive components to obtain the accurate control
of a given process or plant.
However, system stability can be a major problem especially in badly designed closed-loop
systems as they may try to over-correct any errors which could cause the system to loss control
and oscillate.
In the next tutorial about Electronics Systems, we will look at the different ways in which we can
incorporate a summing point into the input of a system and the different ways in which we can
feed signals back to it.