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Block Diagrams


Any system can be describes by a set of differential equations or can be represented by the schematic diagram containing all components and their connections.

The objectives of a block diagram

To provide an understanding of the signal flows in the system To enable modelling of complex systems from simple building blocks To allow us to generate the overall system transfer function A few rules allow us to simplify complex block diagrams into familiar forms

Component of Block Diagram

Transfer Function Variables Processes Summing point Take off point

Transfer Function


Variables are represented by arrows in block diagrams Variables correspond to a physical and measurable quantity
Example: suppose youre modeling a process for

producing a dye for clothing You must have a way of quantifying the dye color!

Variables must have physical units

Actual speed units are MPH or km/hr

Physical units

Determining the physical units of some quantities is not a trivial task! Example - setting the desired speed in the cruise control system This is actually an electrical signal in volts, but can we still call it MPH? It depends on what youre looking at how the vehicle speed will vary on a steep slope vs. the function of the cruise control electronics


Processes are represented by the blocks in block diagrams:

variable variable


Processes must have at least one input variable and at least one output variable


Most processes transform units:

Accelerator depth (deg) Engine Engine speed (rpm)

glucagon (mg/dl)
insulin (mg/dl) Tissues

Glucose (mg/sec)


Processes can encompass sub-processes A system is just a process w/ sub-processes!

Actual glucose a & b cells measure glucose Actual glucose Measured glucose a & b cells release hormones Glucagon Insulin

a & b cell process

Glucagon Insulin

Measurement Processes

Processes that measure system outputs are called sensors Input is physical property (MPH, mg/dl, etc.) Output is electrical or mechanical signal Typically model output to have units of input
Actual speed Measured speed


Feedback Control Systems

Many systems measure their output and use this measurement to control system behavior This is known as feedback control the output is fed back into the system The summing junction is a special process that compares the input and the feedback Inputs to summing junction must have same units!
input process output


Summing point

Moving past a summing point

To the left past a summing junction

To the right past a summing junction

Take off Point

Moving past take off point

To the left past a summing junction

To the right past a summing junction

Typical Block Diagram Elements

Cascaded Systems

Parallel Systems

Generic Feedback Control System

Input is the output we want the system to have Summing junction subtracts the measured output from the desired output, difference is error signal Controller acts based on magnitude of error signal Actuator provides external power to system and effects changes based on controller output Plant is the process we are trying to control
desired output
controller actuator plant



Generic Feedback Control System

This is a general model, and may not be the same for every feedback control system Systems can have additional inputs known as disturbances into or between processes Can combine processes; typically controller and actuator are combined Describe and draw schematic, then recast your model into this form if possible
desired output
controller actuator plant



Cruise Control System Revisited

input: desired speed output: actual speed error: desired speed minus measured speed disturbance: wind, hills, etc.

controller: cruise control unit actuator: engine plant: vehicle dynamics sensor: speedometer

wind, hills

desired speed

cruise control



actual speed


Glucose Regulation Revisited

input: desired blood glucose output: actual blood glucose error: desired minus measured blood glucose disturbance: eating, fasting, etc.

controller: a and b cells actuator: glucose storing or releasing tissues plant: glucose metabolism sensor: a and b cells (again)

eating, fasting

desired glucose

a&b cells

glucose tissues

glucose metabol.

actual glucose

a&b cells

Thermostat Example

Set thermostat to desired room temperature Thermostat measures room temperature Furnace or AC turn on if measured <> desired Air from furnace or AC changes room air temperature
external air

desired temp.


furnace or AC

room air

actual temp.


Toilet Flush Example

Float height determines desired water level Flush empties tank, float is lowered and valve opens Open valve allows water to enter tank Float returns to desired level and valve closes

desired level



water tank

actual level