Open-loop controller

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In an open-loop controller, also called a non-feedback controller, the control action from the controller is independent of the "process output", which is the process variable that is being controlled.[1]

It does not use feedback to determine if its output has achieved the desired goal of the input or process "set point". An open-loop system cannot engage in machine learning and also cannot correct any errors that it could make. It will not compensate for disturbances in the process being controlled.

Open-loop and closed-loop (feedback) control[edit]

Remote manipulator arms for working with radioactive materials – an open-loop mechanism, controlled by hand controls.

Fundamentally, there are two types of control loop: open loop control, and closed loop (feedback) control.

In open loop control, the control action from the controller is independent of the "process output" (or "controlled process variable"). A good example of this is a central heating boiler controlled only by a timer, so that heat is applied for a constant time, regardless of the temperature of the building. The control action is the switching on/off of the boiler. The process output is the building temperature.

In closed loop control, the control action from the controller is dependent on the process output. In the case of the boiler analogy this would include a thermostat to monitor the building temperature, and thereby feed back a signal to ensure the controller maintains the building at the temperature set on the thermostat. A closed loop controller therefore has a feedback loop which ensures the controller exerts a control action to give a process output the same as the "reference input" or "set point". For this reason, closed loop controllers are also called feedback controllers.[2]

The definition of a closed loop control system according to the British Standard Institution is "a control system possessing monitoring feedback, the deviation signal formed as a result of this feedback being used to control the action of a final control element in such a way as to tend to reduce the deviation to zero."[3] Likewise, a "'Feedback Control System' is a system which tends to maintain a prescribed relationship of one system variable to another by comparing functions of these variables and using the difference as a means of control."[4]

The advanced type of automation that revolutionized manufacturing, aircraft, communications and other industries, is feedback control, which is usually continuous and involves taking measurements using a sensor and making calculated adjustments to keep the measured variable within a set range.[5] The theoretical basis of closed loop automation is the discipline of control theory.


An open-loop controller is often used in simple processes because of its simplicity and low cost, especially in systems where feedback is not critical. A typical example would be a conventional washing machine, for which the length of machine wash time is entirely dependent on the judgment and estimation of the human operator. Generally, to obtain a more accurate or more adaptive control, it is necessary to feed the output of the system back to the inputs of the controller. This type of system is called a closed-loop system.

For example, an irrigation sprinkler system, programmed to turn on at set times could be an example of an open-loop system if it does not measure soil moisture as a form of feedback. Even if rain is pouring down on the lawn, the sprinkler system would activate on schedule, wasting water.

Stepper motors are often used for open-loop control of position. A stepper motor rotates to one of a number of fixed positions, according to its internal construction. Sending a stream of electrical pulses to it causes it to rotate by exactly that many steps, hence the name. Such motors are often used, together with a simple initial datum sensor (a switch that is activated at the machine's home position), for the control of simple robotic machines or even the commonplace inkjet printer head. The drawback of open-loop control of steppers is that if the machine load is too high, or the motor attempts to move too quickly, then steps may be skipped. The controller has no means of detecting this and so the machine continues to run slightly out of adjustment, until reset. For this reason, more complex robots and machine tools instead use servomotors rather than stepper motors, which incorporate encoders and closed-loop controllers.

Open-loop control is useful for well-defined systems where the relationship between input and the resultant state can be modeled by a mathematical formula. For example, determining the voltage to be fed to an electric motor that drives a constant load, in order to achieve a desired speed would be a good application of open-loop control. If the load were not predictable, on the other hand, the motor's speed might vary as a function of the load as well as of the voltage, and an open-loop controller would therefore be insufficient to ensure repeatable control of the velocity.

An example of this is a conveyor system that is required to travel at a constant speed. For a constant voltage, the conveyor will move at a different speed depending on the load on the motor (represented here by the weight of objects on the conveyor). In order for the conveyor to run at a constant speed, the voltage of the motor must be adjusted depending on the load. In this case, a closed-loop control system would be necessary.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Feedback and control systems" - JJ Di Steffano, AR Stubberud, IJ Williams. Schaums outline series, McGraw-Hill 1967
  2. ^ "Feedback and control systems" - JJ Di Steffano, AR Stubberud, IJ Williams. Schaums outline series, McGraw-Hill 1967
  3. ^ Mayr, Otto (1970). The Origins of Feedback Control. Clinton, MA USA: The Colonial Press, Inc. 
  4. ^ Mayr, Otto (1969). The Origins of Feedback Control. Clinton, MA USA: The Colonial Press, Inc. 
  5. ^ Bennett, Stuart (1992). A history of control engineering, 1930-1955. IET. p. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-86341-299-8.
  • Kuo, Benjamin C. (1991). Automatic Control Systems (6th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-051046-7.
  • Ziny Flikop (2004). "Bounded-Input Bounded-Predefined-Control Bounded-Output" (
  • Basso, Christophe (2012). "Designing Control Loops for Linear and Switching Power Supplies: A Tutorial Guide". Artech House, ISBN 978-1608075577