The most common final control element in the process control industries is the control valve. The control valve manipulates a flowing fluid, such as gas, steam, water, or chemical compounds, to compensate for the load disturbance and keep the regulated process variable as close as possible to the desired set point.
Control valves may be the most important, but sometimes the most neglected, part of a control loop. The reason is usually the instrument engineer's unfamiliarity with the many facets, terminologies, and areas of engineering disciplines such as fluid mechanics, metallurgy, noise control, and piping and vessel design that can be involved depending on the severity of service conditions.
Any control loop usually consists of a sensor of the process condition, a transmitter and a controller that compares the "process variable" received from the transmitter with the "set point," i.e., the desired process condition. The controller, in turn, sends a corrective signal to the "final control element," the last part of the loop and the "muscle" of the process control system. While the sensors of the process variables are the eyes, the controller the brain, then the final control element is the hands of the control loop. This makes it the most important, alas sometimes the least understood, part of an automatic control system. This comes about, in part, due to our strong attachment to electronic systems and computers causing some neglect in the proper understanding and proper use of the all important hardware.
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