Improving Student Understanding of Instrumentation and Measurement in US Engineering Undergraduate Programs

ABSTRACT This paper discusses the importance of improving engineering student understanding of measurement and instrumentation in undergraduate engineering programs. It also describes a method for increasing understanding based on a graduate level course that has been offered for several decades at Oakland University. Efforts are described related to the development of a more powerful “measurement culture” in our institution, and to create the potential to open a new, measurement-oriented, program option. 1. Introduction The 1999 NASA experience with mismatched English and metric units that led to a loss of a $125 million dollar Mars orbiter strengthened our belief that an early, systematic approach to teaching instrumentation and measurement courses is a good idea1. There is a compelling need to teach engineering students how to select, prepare, and use proper measurement procedures and measurement systems; as well as to understand system specifications and their limits; to calibrate and test systems; and to acquire, validate, process, and interpret data2,3. But which engineering students should be targeted for such an educational effort? Electrical? Mechanical? Computer? At what stage in their curriculum should students receive this information? And what type of prerequisites should be mandated? This last question is complex—the following subjects have been bruited about as necessary preparation for instrumentation and measurement: calculus, Fourier analysis, differential equations, Laplace transformation, functions of complex variables, probability and statistics, analog and digital electronics, devices, electromagnetics and electromagnetic compatibility, communication systems, control systems, noise problems, component and system modeling and model parameter measurements, optics, knowledge of mechanical processes and their parameters related to strain, heat and temperature, pressure, and motion. Moreover, there is a need to use software for simulations, modeling, and interfacing, as well as the issue of the preparation necessary for medical and biomedical measurements. Ultimately, the complexities are far more involved than might initially be supposed. II. University Instrumentation and Measurement Courses It appears that most university level instrumentation and measurement courses are offered to mechanical and civil engineering students. (For examples, see4-7.) In general, mechanical engineering students have a limited exposure to electrical engineering concepts. At the same time, most test and measurement environments are oriented towards mechanical systems. Both

These issues are particularly critical in bio-measurements. Signal conversion A/D D/A is necessary for further processing and storage. Since the beginning. our undergraduate engineering program is packed with mandatory offerings.electrical and mechanical engineering students need a good understanding of measurement and instrumentation at the undergraduate level in order to be successful industrial engineers. The course was included in the GM masters program guided by Purdue University. given a second-order system response. The sinusoidal and pulse inputs with the first. Our University Course on Instrumentation and Measurement As with most universities. To strengthen signal analysis. and computer engineering material so that electrical and computer engineers in particular could not only review important mechanical engineering material. error compensation – threshold compensation by modification of static characteristics of interfaces to reduce deadband problem in the case of closing the feedback loop8. Later. the course was added to Oakland University Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Program. the demonstrations show the disappearance of even harmonics in the spectrum of a square wave. specialized pulse generators with variable rise and fall times. errors. system parameters. models. and lastly. The basic signals are analyzed using software such as MATLAB and PSPICE in order to verify analytical calculations. students are asked find such parameters as static . but could also acquire more physics background related to mechanical processes. all this leads to the question: how much information about electrical measurements and electronic instruments should be included in any course so as to show limitations of electronics? Other important pedagogical points include statistics. With these considerations in mind. including their parameter description and analysis in the time and frequency domains. mechanical. For instance. instrumentation and measurement engineers need to be aware of interference problems due to both the process and the connections (which includes the effects of long cables and grounding). sensors (transducers) are used. error corrections. In building the energy conversion bridge between electrical and mechanical systems. The course begins with a review of signals. the spectral bandwidth dependence upon the speed of rising and falling edges of a periodic pulse wave. and continued to be taught for more than five years. Data collection and processing in digital form is preferred since it has large dynamic range while analog data processing is limited due to noise. Theoretical signals are compared with practical results. A graduate course on Instrumentation and Measurements was first taught by a professor from the Electrical Engineering Department in 1992 at General Motors (GM). For the instrumentation and measurement educator. For instance. After introducing these concepts. in mid-nineties. the course structure has maintained a balanced orientation between electrical. the course continues with a discussion of typical measurement system configurations. and influence of transmission line reflections on the spectra of pulses. together with generalized static and dynamic characteristics of these systems. so an instrumentation and measurement course is available only as an elective for undergraduate students. and spectrum analyzers. practical demonstrations are performed with general function generators. III. Both ME and EE practicing engineers were enrolled.and second-order system responses are analyzed thoroughly to create a basis for error analysis and system parameter identification.

and the results are presented to all students participating in the course. participation. Additional materials distributed to the students have been mostly used to enhance the electrical engineering parts of the book.4 credits” Of note is that the course belongs to the following Electrical and Computer Engineering options: Controls. and calibration. and more particularly. Dynamic errors made during such processes are also analyzed. It is important for students to understand the limitations of these instruments. The identified transfer function is ultimately verified via software such as MATLAB (SIMULINK) and PSPICE. Application and Design have provided structure for the course over the years12. digital oscilloscopes and their limitations. IV. and other instruments. interfaces. It is at this stage that analysis of critical concepts such as the analysis and interpretation of measurement errors. The transfer function of the identified system is then used to establish the acceptable sampling moment for signal digitization. which is based out of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. some mechanical engineering faculty members have audited the course. Laboratory Component Most of our graduate students work for local companies that have a number of measurementoriented projects. Oakland University’s graduate instrumentation and measurement course has had a very good enrollment. their major characteristics and limitations leading to measurement errors11. frequency and time measurements and instruments. either as instructor’s notes or from the application notes available on internet. and natural frequency. VI. Projects are prepared by teams or individuals. Additionally. including sensors. . Details of the Text Book Several editions of Doebelin’s Measurement Systems. which include equipment designed by Feedback and Hampden Corporations. a brief description of salient material is provided from the current graduate level instrumentation and measurement course. Over last decade. will also serve as a base for a new Mechanical Engineering Department course that is intended to be developed soon in close collaboration with Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.sensitivity. “ECE 525: Instrumentation and Measurements. but also at work. The book covers far more than one semester’s worth of material. how to prepare experiments in order to perform correct measurements and analyze the results10. As a consequence. with a minimum of 17 and a maximum of 32 students. A/D and D/A converters. Current XXX Course Description It can be helpful to see how a course is developed and described. not only to collect material. If other. but many of the graduate students taking the course work for industry. Moreover. takes place9. they can use in-house university resources. V. either in research or manufacturing areas. Topics such as measurement amplifiers. but also to observe student reactions. As such. Electronics. The course. the application of standards. to support work on their projects. Modern experiments often need highly sophisticated instruments. and course material modifications. This means that the students can use company resources. and they have found the text useful not only in the class. resources are also available in our mechatronics and autonomous vehicle laboratories. active and passive filters. non-working students have projects. shielding and grounding in instrumentation have been added. the course also includes a discussion of instrumentation block structures. damping factor.

Electrical quantities and their measurements (b. Temperature and heat-flux measurements (b. Measurement errors. 1. General performance characteristics of instruments (a) 3. A/D and D/A data conversions. b. PSPICE. e) 9. k (also as indicated in the course objectives). k) Each student participating in the course is supplied with a CD ROM that includes approximately 350 MB of software to be installed. e) 7. lecture notes. PSPICE is applied to model sensors and interfaces. Motion and dimensional measurements (b. samples of old project presentations. EMC. and MATLAB with SIMULINK. Course Outline: The following topics are covered in the course. j) 11. lecture notes from other universities. standards. The alphabet listed within the bracket refers to the ABET criteria. e) 4. which are used as follows: • EXCEL is applied to statistical error analysis and to pseudo-random number generation to produce a file for PSPICE in order to generate noise signals and demonstrate noise signal filtering. Great Britain. e) 6. Components of electronic instruments (b. First and second order systems are primarily used so the results can also be analytically obtained and discussed. and Mechatronics. It is felt to meet ABET EC 2000 Criteria a. EMI (j. Pressure measurements (b. Software applied in simulations The simulation software used in the course includes: EXCEL. e) 5. MATLAB is helpful in measurement system parameter identification when the system frequency or time-domain system response to excitation signals is given and system parameters have to be determined. application notes. General configuration of measurement and control systems (a) 2. j) 12. i. . e) 10. and elsewhere. Flow measurements (b. The course also belongs to Systems Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering electives. Data acquisition and processing (i. e) 8. analyze signals. g. b. Introduction to shielding and grounding in instrumentation. and tutorial materials from USA. • • Selected examples of PSPICE simulations are shown in Figures 1-7 below. data sheets of analog interface circuits. calibration (a.Energy. Canada. Data transmission and interfacing (i. sensors information. and analyze operation of linear and nonlinear systems. e. j.

. The PSPICE capability of the temperature sweep is used in this example. or zero. Figure 2: This figure shows the temperature changes of the sensor voltage (upper line) and the temperature changes of the amplifier output voltage. and increase sensitivity of the measurement system. The output signal has the desired positive slope and includes a DC offset introduced by the amplifier to show “out of balance” changes where the balance.Figure 1: This figure shows a semiconductor diode (base-emitter diode of a transistor) connected to a measurement amplifier composed of three operational amplifiers in order to compensate a DC. establish zero voltage output between 20 and 25 C. is chosen for one temperature.

. The upper eight waves show the digital representation of the ramp D/A conversion. The input ramp voltage is converted into its equivalent digital binary signal.Figure 3: This figure shows A/D and D/A converters. and this signal is converted back into its analog equivalent signal. Figure 4: The lower signal (ramp) is the A/D converter input signal.

The A/D and D/A conversions are used in measurement and control systems where a computer is in the loop. Figure 6: A Second order system step response analyzed by means of PSPICE to verify the system parameters identified from the time-domain response. The staircase wave shows the reconstructed input ramp signal. Figure 7: The input and output signals of the system.Figure 5: Digital signals (the upper eight waves) are applied to the inputs of the D/A converter. . The expanded image of the staircase demonstrates the discrete structure of the recovered ramp signal from its digital representation after the first conversion.

Sample topics from recent projects are listed below. Fabrication of Sensors for Measurement Sensors play an important role in the measurement of such physical phenomena as pressure. almost all Oakland University graduate students work for local industry. VII. and portable consumer electronics. temperature. collected data and processed the data in order to analyze the results. Calibration Errors in GPS. Vehicle Speed Signal Analyzers. Pyrometric Measurements . the integration of mechanical elements.VII. Such devices as MEMS accelerometers have a number of applications—they are used in vehicle safety airbag systems. actuators and electronics on a common silicon substrate through micro-fabrication technology. sensors. Capacitive MEMS strain gauge. Tire Pressure Monitor.e. Magnetic Angle Sensors. Several slides from the presentation related to magnetic angle sensors are shown below (Figures 8-10) to provide a feel for the quality and scope of coverage of the projects. The student constructed a test system for a selected sensor. Measurement of Radiated Susceptibility Using a Reverberation Chamber. The theory of sensors fabrication on silicon wafer is briefly covered. Projects As previously mentioned. and humidity. The project results are presented near the end of the semester.” Of particular importance are concepts related to Micro-ElectroMechanical systems (MEMs). among other uses. i. Hall Effect Sensors . health monitoring. Turbine Engine Sensors. Figure 8: Details of project construction related to an Anisotropic Magnetoresistance (AMR) sensor . Collision Avoidance Radar. We introduce the fundamental concepts behind sensor fabrication through the Doebelin textbook’s chapter on “Measurement Systems Applied to Micro and Nanotechnology. strain. performed tests. and the practical portions of the currently offered course are based on projects oriented towards the needs of those companies and businesses.

optical transducers. linear variable differential transformers.Fe u n yA ay i C n r P sti n r q e c n l ss e te o i o 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 5 9 1 3 1 7 2 1 2 5 2 9 3 3 3 7 4 1 4 5 4 9 5 3 5 7 6 1 Mg a Figure 9: Frequency analysis related to an Anisotropic Magnetoresistance (AMR) sensor. The available transducer list includes: variable resistance transducers. Laboratory Experiments As far as laboratory requirements for the instrumentation and measurement course to date. . extant equipment has been used to demonstrate processes of sensor calibration. Figure 10: MEMS capacitive strain gauge VIII. variable inductance transducers. Data collection and processing are based on HP measurement instruments controlled by HPVEE software13. temperature transducers . The transducers and interfaces were manufactured by Feedback Corporation and Hampden Engineering Corporation. interfacing and data collection. including strain gauges. variable capacitance transducers .

org/conferences/sclv/pdfs/Wright%20-%20Dynamic %20Test%20Measurements. available from available from http://www. "Mechatronics and Measurement System Course at Colorado State University". mechanical. Measurement Systems: Application and Design: McGraw-Hill. D. Hall. "What's wrong with dynamic test measurements today?".ineer. 2008. available from http://www. C. Applied Measurement Engineering: How to Design Effective Mechanical Measurement Systems: Prentice Hall PTR. 2006. R.civil.pdf. computer.hep. R. Johnson. Accessed on Feb 8 2009. Wright. 2000. Design and Analysis of Experiments: Wiley. London. Helsel. 2008. B. Accessed on Feb 8 Airey.colostate.engr. 2007. X. Sadly. 1999. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] . Process Control Instrumentation Technology. Development of a sound measurement and instrumentation course at an undergraduate level would not only prevent mishaps such as the expensive loss of the multimillion dollar Mars orbiter.html. M. "Units Blunder Sent Craft Into Martian Atmosphere". "CIVL 2511: Instrumentation & Measurement". including electrical. Conclusion One problem that has long been noted in academia is the development of separate silos of Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives: Delacorte Press. E. Wilson.XI. G. D. C. Histand. 2003. 1996. available from http://www. and other types of engineers." Personal Engineering. Visual Programming with HP VEE: Prentice Hall. King.htm. C. References [1] [2] [3] D. Introduction to Data Acquisition with LabVIEW: McGraw-Hill. available from http://www. Wright.ic. UK". Montgomery. Accessed on Feb 8 2009. this occurs even between the separate categories of engineers. Wright. "Practice-Based Course in Insturmentation and Measurement". Imerial College. G.html. D. 2007. Alciatore and M. Accessed on Feb 8 2009. Sorid. 2004. "Instrumentation Course. D. Accessed on Feb 6 2009. 1995. Himbert. "Why isn’t there any real test and measurement education in American universities?.au/courses/civl2511/.org/Events/ICEE2000/Proceedings/papers/WB94. but would also help tie engineering disciplines together and ultimately allow an ideal mechanism for interfacing with disciplines ranging from medicine to music. Accessed on Feb 8 2009. 1997. available from http://www.

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