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Monday, April 6, 2015

University of Kentucky uses InduSoft Web Studio to Automate Lab Experiments

  • University of Kentucky Undergraduate engineers use InduSoft Web Studio to automate lab experiments and collect individualized data.

  • Students conduct tests on packed columns and then use the system to analyze the data for their experiments and make conclusions about the effects of different tests on the column.

  • Based on the results of the installation, five additional automated experiments are being developed.

Figure 1: The experiment HMI offers basic controls and allows students and faculty to start or stop data logging for the duration of the experiment.


For the University of Kentucky’s undergraduate engineers, a hands-on approach is used to demonstrate core engineering principals. Jerry Rougeux, the manager of the Chemical and Materials Labs at the university worked with InduSoft to develop an application that could demonstrate these principals in a controlled setting and record accurate data for later analysis.

Packed columns have multiple applications in engineering. They can be used to remove contaminants from a gas stream via absorption, remove the volatile liquids from a liquid stream by stripping it with an inert gas, or aid in tricky distillation techniques.

This kind of hands-on experience is invaluable to future engineers who will be expected to develop efficient solutions to a variety of complex challenges. But with aging components and inefficient methods of tracking data, the University decided it was time to upgrade to a more modern and efficient solution for student experiments in the labs. Jerry Rougeux had some experience with HMI software such as InduSoft Web Studio, and reached out to InduSoft’s Educational program for assistance in bringing a modern HMI to the classroom. With help from InduSoft Web Studio experts, the Chemical and Materials Labs were able to offer students a much more modern approach to the packed columns experiment.

InduSoft Web Studio is available to academic institutions and research facilities. Free licenses for the educational version of InduSoft Web Studio mean that students and classes can make full use of HMI/SCADA software at no cost. This enables many universities such as the University of Kentucky an opportunity to offer students access to the kinds of tools they’ll have available when they reach the work force. Lab instructors and teachers can also use InduSoft Web Studio to develop richly interactive experiments that demonstrate real-world principles and provide data to students or research teams.

Figure 2: The experiment consists of three packed columns.

The Challenge

An experiment designed by Chemical and Materials Labs uses the basics of packed column engineering to show how the water and air flow to a column affect pressure along the column. For this experiment there are 3 columns, each containing different packing material. One iteration includes different types of Raschig rings and one of a plastic wadding similar to shotgun shell wadding. There is a water pump on a drive to control water flow to the top of the columns and a valve to adjust the amount of air being injected into the bottom of the columns. At six points along the column, there are pressure sensors to measure air pressure.

Students select one of three columns. Then by adjusting the water and air flows, conduct a number of experiments on that column. They then repeat the tests on the other two columns. After all the tests are complete, they take their data offline to analyze the results of altering the water and air flows across the various packing materials to determine the effect different materials have on the pressure along the column. This is important for determining, for instance, the efficiency of a scrubber or separator column.

Before the InduSoft Web Studio installation the system was controlled by a proprietary system constructed in the 1970s. A computer was added in the 1980s, and was still being used on a Windows 98 operating system.

The previous control system was no longer recording data from some of the pressure sensors and the data that was recorded was wildly erratic. Reliable data was almost impossible to collect. The computer was so old that it only had a floppy drive, and the source files for the application were lost, so no upgrades or debugging could be done to the program.

The various electronic components were failing and it was determined that the entire application needed to be updated to more modern components.


Figure 3: Manual controls allow students to test the effects of different levels of water and air pressure on the columns.

The Solution

The new solution is installed on a new computer, and makes use of InduSoft Web Studio v7.1. The experiment is controlled using an Automation Direct Click PLC. Because InduSoft Web Studio offers drivers for these PLCs, communication connections were very straightforward. The PLCs control the opening and closing of the air and water valves, as well as the connection point for the pressure sensors.

Databases and security were more challenging. The system had to be designed to allow ten groups of four students to select one of three separate columns, turn on various field devices, then log data from the selected column for a specific amount of time.  After completing a number of experiments, each group must then transfer the collected data to a thumb drive for offline analysis.  Each group’s data must be kept separate from other group data.  The system had to be easy to use and reliable in operation.

These challenges were solved by implementing InduSoft Web Studio’s security features, which allowed the application to enable individual groups of students to log in and record their data separately and send the information to the correct databases to be sorted by user. In addition, access to certain administrator screens is restricted to those who have the proper username and password credentials. This keeps the application safe from tampering and preserves data integrity.



Figure 4: The data collected afterward is then collected by the system and analyzed by students.

The Results

Thus far, the new HMI solution for the packed column experiment has been received well by students and faculty who find that it is easy to use and reliable. Data is no longer being lost or reported erratically due to failing equipment. The new InduSoft Web Studio system is easy to change and upgrade, and the application serves as an excellent template for future experiments in the lab.

Currently the Chemical and Materials Lab is developing a second application that will act as the HMI for five additional experiments.


Figure 5: The system is installed on a single PC running the educational edition of InduSoft Web Studio v7.1.

For more information contact your local distributor or InduSoft directly at info@indusoft.com or 877-INDUSOFT (877-463-8763877-463-8763) or 512-349-0334512-349-0334.

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