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My Impressions From The TI Industrial Control Workshop

I went to the three day TI Industrial Control Workshop in Santa Clara.  Instead of repeating stuff (such as class outline) that you can read on the wiki link (above), I am going to give my impressions.

The bottom line: yes, the workshop is well worth attending if you like to (or just have to) control motors.  5/23/2013: I also want to add that I think this workshop is good for automation developers like myself.  OK, I’m not sure it’s worth flying to another city to attend, but if there’s one close (next one is 17-19 September 2013 at Brookfield, WI) then it’s good to attend — you’ll learn a lot more about what goes on underneath the covers of your VFD or servo drive.  I know I have a better understanding and appreciation of my drives.  Also, you can just about do the course on your own by downloading the materials, but it’s not the same experience.

Disclaimer:  I paid for this class myself (OK, at $79 it wasn’t a big deal – and the price includes snacks, lunch, and a F28069 controlStick); it was a very nice break from my typical workdays.

Update Feb 2014:I notice TI now has 4 videos from a more recent Control Theory Seminar, with the first episode here, and videos for the C2000 One Day Workshop, with the first module here (there’s also an older set of video modules).  I couldn’t find videos for Day 2 (Motion Control Theory), although TI has a wide variety of other motor control videos.  So download the materials, watch these videos, and you’re almost there!  (But I still recommend attending in person if you can).

Overall Notes

Considering TI must be subsidizing the workshop, it had amazingly little marketing content – less than a typical trade mag article.  There was no mention of TI products at all on the first day (control theory) and very little on the second day (mostly pride in TI’s new instaSpin solutions).  The third day was all about TI products (F28x DSP), but it was all about the product (architecture, peripherals, Code Composer Studio, etc), not marketing.

Overall, there were many good discussions, and lots of questions.  I enjoyed learning about what other people are doing.

I think all three instructors did a good job; the biggest issue was time – each class easily could’ve been at least a week, so they had a real challenge trying to fit in as much material as possible, explaining it in an understandable manner, while still answering questions (and all three did a good job of answering the many questions).

Day 1 – Control Theory (Richard Poley)

On day 1 I felt like I was back in college; it was like a month (or more!) of college stuffed into one day — and the soft-spoken instructor, Richard Poley,  reminded me of a college professor.

You do need to have a good math background to follow the theory.  Fortunately I had a lot of math in college, and I did some reviewing via wikipedia before the workshop.  I won’t claim I understood everything perfectly, but I felt I remembered enough to follow the basic concepts.

The theory got a little practical at the end of the day with sections on Digital Controller Design, Implementation Considerations, and a Suggested Design Checklist.

I’m pretty sure the vast majority of attendees don’t use control theory day to day.  I know I don’t; for example, we rarely have problems tuning motion controller PID loops.  So for me, the theory isn’t very useful for my day today tasks; in fact, trying to use it when it’s not necessary is a waste of time.

But it’s still good to know the theory for when the normal experienced-based approach doesn’t work.  (The same applies to programming, say sorting: if you have a small set of data, all sorting methods will be reasonably quick.  But if you have large data sets, knowing the theory of different sorting methods is critical).

I’m now interested in learning about state variable control theory, which is covered in the two day version of the Control Theory seminar, but it will be a while before I’ll be able to find time for project.

Day 2 – Motor Control Theory (Dave Wilson)

Dave Wilson is a motor geek and a primary contributor to TI’s Motor Control blog, which is a treasure trove of motor control information (even if you don’t use TI chips, since most of info isn’t TI-specific).

Dave Wilson emphasized AC induction motors and servo motors, because none of us were interested in stepper motors.  He covered motor control theory and all the common algorithms (such as field oriented control).  He discussed advantages and disadvantages of the different motor types and motor control algorithms.  He did a good job of answering the many questions.  And, yes, he is very excited by TI’s instaSPIN solutions (especially instaSPIN-FOC).

I really like Dave Wilson’s Power Point and VisSim animations that graphically showed what was going on to make the motors spin.

Day 3 – Intro to F28x (Ken Schachter)

This day was a rapid fire introduction to the F28x DSP series.  The instructor, Ken Schachter, gave an overview of the peripherals, an overview of the available software such as controlSuite, and then we spent a lot of time doing labs that showed off some of the Code Composer Studio (CCS) goodness (like graphing memory).

I’d call the class an orientation – I wouldn’t even say I become comfortable, but I do feel like I got my feet wet with the tools, and have a better idea of how to start.  CCS is pretty intimidating at first, and TI does provide a lot of libraries and examples.

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