Advanced ECU Engineering Principles

A block diagram of a PID controller in a feedback loop

The cornerstone of ECU calibration is PID control, understanding this is a must in order to comprehend whats happening within any ECU.

proportional-integral-derivative controller (PID controller) is a control loop feedback mechanism (controller) widely used in automotive and industrial control systems. A PID controller calculates an error value as the difference between a measured process variable and a desired setpoint. The controller attempts to minimize the error by adjusting the process through use of a manipulated variable.

The PID controller algorithm involves three separate constant parameters, and is accordingly sometimes called three-term control: the proportional, the integral and derivative values, denoted P, I, and D. Simply put, these values can be interpreted in terms of time: P depends on the present error, I on the accumulation of past errors, and D is a prediction of future errors, based on current rate of change. The weighted sum of these three actions is used to adjust the process via a control element such as the position of a control valve, a damper, or the power supplied to a heating element.

In the absence of knowledge of the underlying process, a PID controller has historically been considered to be the best controller. By tuning the three parameters in the PID controller algorithm, the controller can provide control action designed for specific process requirements. The response of the controller can be described in terms of the responsiveness of the controller to an error, the degree to which the controller overshoots the setpoint, and the degree of system oscillation. Note that the use of the PID algorithm for control does not guarantee optimal control of the system or system stability.

Some applications may require using only one or two actions to provide the appropriate system control. This is achieved by setting the other parameters to zero. A PID controller will be called a PI, PD, P or I controller in the absence of the respective control actions. PI controllers are fairly common, since derivative action is sensitive to measurement noise, whereas the absence of an integral term may prevent the system from reaching its target value due to the control action.



  • 1 Control loop basics
  • 2 PID controller theory
    • 2.1 Proportional term
      • 2.1.1 Droop
    • 2.2 Integral term
    • 2.3 Derivative term
  • 3 Loop tuning
    • 3.1 Stability
    • 3.2 Optimum behavior
    • 3.3 Overview of methods
    • 3.4 Manual tuning
    • 3.5 Ziegler–Nichols method
    • 3.6 PID tuning software
  • 4 Limitations of PID control
    • 4.1 Linearity
    • 4.2 Noise in derivative
  • 5 Modifications to the PID algorithm
    • 5.1 Integral windup
    • 5.2 Overshooting from known disturbances
    • 5.3 PI controller
    • 5.4 Deadband
    • 5.5 Set Point step change
    • 5.6 Feed-forward
    • 5.7 Bumpless Operation
    • 5.8 Other improvements
  • 6 Cascade control

Control loop basics

A familiar example of a control loop is the action taken when adjusting hot and cold faucets to fill a container with water at a desired temperature by mixing hot and cold water. The person touches the water in the container as it fills to sense its temperature. Based on this feedback they perform a control action by adjusting the hot and cold faucets until the temperature stabilizes as desired.

The sensed water temperature is the process variable (PV). The desired temperature is called the setpoint (SP). The input to the process (the water valve position), and the output of the PID controller, is called the manipulated variable (MV) or the control variable (CV). The difference between the temperature measurement and the setpoint is the error (e) and quantifies whether the water in the container is too hot or too cold and by how much.

After measuring the temperature (PV), and then calculating the error, the controller decides how to set the tap position (MV). The obvious method is proportional control: the tap position is set in proportion to the current error. A more complex control may include derivative action. This considers the rate of temperature change also: adding extra hot water if the temperature is falling, and less on rising temperature. Finally integral action uses the average temperature in the past to detect whether the temperature of the container is settling out too low or too high and set the tap proportional to the past errors. An alternative formulation of integral action is to change the current tap position in steps proportional to the current error. Over time the steps add up (which is the discrete time equivalent to integration) the past errors.

Making a change that is too large when the error is small will lead to overshoot. If the controller were to repeatedly make changes that were too large and repeatedly overshoot the target, the output would oscillate around the setpoint in either a constant, growing, or decaying sinusoid. If the amplitude of the oscillations increase with time, the system is unstable. If they decrease, the system is stable. If the oscillations remain at a constant magnitude, the system is marginally stable.

In the interest of achieving a gradual convergence to the desired temperature (SP), the controller may damp the anticipated future oscillations by tempering its adjustments, or reducing the loop gain.

If a controller starts from a stable state with zero error (PV = SP), then further changes by the controller will be in response to changes in other measured or unmeasured inputs to the process that affect the process, and hence the PV. Variables that affect the process other than the MV are known as disturbances. Generally controllers are used to reject disturbances and to implement setpoint changes. Changes in feedwater temperature constitute a disturbance to the faucet temperature control process.

In theory, a controller can be used to control any process which has a measurable output (PV), a known ideal value for that output (SP) and an input to the process (MV) that will affect the relevant PV. Controllers are used in industry to regulate temperature, pressure, force, feed, flow rate, chemical composition, weight, position, speed and practically every other variable for which a measurement exists.

PID controller theory

The PID control scheme is named after its three correcting terms, whose sum constitutes the manipulated variable (MV). The proportional, integral, and derivative terms are summed to calculate the output of the PID controller. Defining <math>u(t)</math> as the controller output, the final form of the PID algorithm is:



B3cc86cb8d6e751560751bd13037f029.png: Proportional gain, a tuning parameter
8507937d8ce1123d9d3540357d09a0c8.png: Integral gain, a tuning parameter
975259f63a873a0e5f9c2553618716c7.png: Derivative gain, a tuning parameter
E1671797c52e15f763380b45e841ec32.png: Error 9b0dae12b11771c2e40a9c579ad5f290.png
E358efa489f58062f10dd7316b65649e.png: Time or instantaneous time (the present)
81a69207104f00baaabd6f84cafd15a0.png: Variable of integration; takes on values from time 0 to the present <math>t</math>.

Proportional term

Plot of PV vs time, for three values of Kp (Ki and Kd held constant)

The proportional term produces an output value that is proportional to the current error value. The proportional response can be adjusted by multiplying the error by a constant Kp, called the proportional gain constant.

The proportional term is given by: 3f80d26e2e621e0f123bb26e80e609e5.png

A high proportional gain results in a large change in the output for a given change in the error. If the proportional gain is too high, the system can become unstable (see the section on loop tuning). In contrast, a small gain results in a small output response to a large input error, and a less responsive or less sensitive controller. If the proportional gain is too low, the control action may be too small when responding to system disturbances. Tuning theory and industrial practice indicate that the proportional term should contribute the bulk of the output change.Template:Citation needed


Because a non-zero error is required to drive it, a proportional controller generally operates with a steady-state error, referred to as droop.The only exception is where the target value is the same as the value obtained when the proportional gain is equal to zero. Droop is proportional to the process gain and inversely proportional to proportional gain. Droop may be mitigated by adding a compensating bias term to the setpoint or output, or corrected dynamically by adding an integral term. Note that this term is also referred to as Offset.

Integral term

Plot of PV vs time, for three values of Ki (Kp and Kd held constant)

The contribution from the integral term is proportional to both the magnitude of the error and the duration of the error. The integral in a PID controller is the sum of the instantaneous error over time and gives the accumulated offset that should have been corrected previously. The accumulated error is then multiplied by the integral gain (<math>K_i</math>) and added to the controller output.

The integral term is given by:


The integral term accelerates the movement of the process towards setpoint and eliminates the residual steady-state error that occurs with a pure proportional controller. However, since the integral term responds to accumulated errors from the past, it can cause the present value to overshoot the setpoint value (see the section on loop tuning).

Derivative term

Plot of PV vs time, for three values of Kd (Kp and Ki held constant)

The derivative of the process error is calculated by determining the slope of the error over time and multiplying this rate of change by the derivative gain Kd. The magnitude of the contribution of the derivative term to the overall control action is termed the derivative gain, Kd.

The derivative term is given by:


Derivative action predicts system behavior and thus improves settling time and stability of the system. An ideal derivative is not causal, so that implementations of PID controllers include an additional low pass filtering for the derivative term, to limit the high frequency gain and noise. Derivative action is seldom used in practice though – by one estimate in only 20% of deployed controllers – because of its variable impact on system stability in real-world applications.

Loop tuning

Tuning a control loop is the adjustment of its control parameters (proportional band/gain, integral gain/reset, derivative gain/rate) to the optimum values for the desired control response. Stability (no unbounded oscillation) is a basic requirement, but beyond that, different systems have different behavior, different applications have different requirements, and requirements may conflict with one another.

PID tuning is a difficult problem, even though there are only three parameters and in principle is simple to describe, because it must satisfy complex criteria within the limitations of PID control. There are accordingly various methods for loop tuning, and more sophisticated techniques are the subject of patents; this section describes some traditional manual methods for loop tuning.

Designing and tuning a PID controller appears to be conceptually intuitive, but can be hard in practice, if multiple (and often conflicting) objectives such as short transient and high stability are to be achieved. PID controllers often provide acceptable control using default tunings, but performance can generally be improved by careful tuning, and performance may be unacceptable with poor tuning. Usually, initial designs need to be adjusted repeatedly through computer simulations until the closed-loop system performs or compromises as desired.

Some processes have a degree of nonlinearity and so parameters that work well at full-load conditions don’t work when the process is starting up from no-load; this can be corrected by gain scheduling (using different parameters in different operating regions).


If the PID controller parameters (the gains of the proportional, integral and derivative terms) are chosen incorrectly, the controlled process input can be unstable, i.e., its output diverges, with or without oscillation, and is limited only by saturation or mechanical breakage. Instability is caused by excess gain, particularly in the presence of significant lag.

Generally, stabilization of response is required and the process must not oscillate for any combination of process conditions and setpoints, though sometimes marginal stability (bounded oscillation) is acceptable or desired.

Optimum behavior

The optimum behavior on a process change or setpoint change varies depending on the application.

Two basic requirements are regulation (disturbance rejection – staying at a given setpoint) and command tracking (implementing setpoint changes) – these refer to how well the controlled variable tracks the desired value. Specific criteria for command tracking include rise time and settling time. Some processes must not allow an overshoot of the process variable beyond the setpoint if, for example, this would be unsafe. Other processes must minimize the energy expended in reaching a new setpoint.

Overview of methods

There are several methods for tuning a PID loop. The most effective methods generally involve the development of some form of process model, then choosing P, I, and D based on the dynamic model parameters. Manual tuning methods can be relatively inefficient, particularly if the loops have response times on the order of minutes or longer.

The choice of method will depend largely on whether or not the loop can be taken “offline” for tuning, and on the response time of the system. If the system can be taken offline, the best tuning method often involves subjecting the system to a step change in input, measuring the output as a function of time, and using this response to determine the control parameters.

Manual tuning

If the system must remain online, one tuning method is to first set <math>K_i</math> and <math>K_d</math> values to zero. Increase the <math>K_p</math> until the output of the loop oscillates, then the <math>K_p</math> should be set to approximately half of that value for a “quarter amplitude decay” type response. Then increase <math>K_i</math> until any offset is corrected in sufficient time for the process. However, too much <math>K_i</math> will cause instability. Finally, increase <math>K_d</math>, if required, until the loop is acceptably quick to reach its reference after a load disturbance. However, too much <math>K_d</math> will cause excessive response and overshoot. A fast PID loop tuning usually overshoots slightly to reach the setpoint more quickly; however, some systems cannot accept overshoot, in which case an over-damped closed-loop system is required, which will require a <math>K_p</math> setting significantly less than half that of the <math>K_p</math> setting that was causing oscillation.

Ziegler–Nichols method


Another heuristic tuning method is formally known as the Ziegler–Nichols method, introduced by John G. Ziegler and Nathaniel B. Nichols in the 1940s. As in the method above, the <math>K_i</math> and <math>K_d</math> gains are first set to zero. The proportional gain is increased until it reaches the ultimate gain, <math>K_u</math>, at which the output of the loop starts to oscillate. <math>K_u</math> and the oscillation period <math>P_u</math> are used to set the gains as shown:

These gains apply to the ideal, parallel form of the PID controller. When applied to the standard PID form, the integral and derivative time parameters <math>T_i</math> and <math>T_d</math> are only dependent on the oscillation period <math>P_u</math>. Please see the section “Alternative nomenclature and PID forms”.

PID tuning software

Most modern industrial facilities no longer tune loops using the manual calculation methods shown above. Instead, PID tuning and loop optimization software are used to ensure consistent results. These software packages will gather the data, develop process models, and suggest optimal tuning. Some software packages can even develop tuning by gathering data from reference changes.

Mathematical PID loop tuning induces an impulse in the system, and then uses the controlled system’s frequency response to design the PID loop values. In loops with response times of several minutes, mathematical loop tuning is recommended, because trial and error can take days just to find a stable set of loop values. Optimal values are harder to find. Some digital loop controllers offer a self-tuning feature in which very small setpoint changes are sent to the process, allowing the controller itself to calculate optimal tuning values.

Other formulas are available to tune the loop according to different performance criteria. Many patented formulas are now embedded within PID tuning software and hardware modules.

Advances in automated PID Loop Tuning software also deliver algorithms for tuning PID Loops in a dynamic or Non-Steady State (NSS) scenario. The software will model the dynamics of a process, through a disturbance, and calculate PID control parameters in response.

Limitations of PID control

While PID controllers are applicable to many control problems, and often perform satisfactorily without any improvements or only coarse tuning, they can perform poorly in some applications, and do not in general provide optimal control. The fundamental difficulty with PID control is that it is a feedback system, with constant parameters, and no direct knowledge of the process, and thus overall performance is reactive and a compromise. While PID control is the best controller in an observer without a model of the process, better performance can be obtained by overtly modeling the actor of the process without resorting to an observer.

PID controllers, when used alone, can give poor performance when the PID loop gains must be reduced so that the control system does not overshoot, oscillate or hunt about the control setpoint value. They also have difficulties in the presence of non-linearities, may trade-off regulation versus response time, do not react to changing process behavior (say, the process changes after it has warmed up), and have lag in responding to large disturbances.

The most significant improvement is to incorporate feed-forward control with knowledge about the system, and using the PID only to control error. Alternatively, PIDs can be modified in more minor ways, such as by changing the parameters (either gain scheduling in different use cases or adaptively modifying them based on performance), improving measurement (higher sampling rate, precision, and accuracy, and low-pass filtering if necessary), or cascading multiple PID controllers.


Another problem faced with PID controllers is that they are linear, and in particular symmetric. Thus, performance of PID controllers in non-linear systems (such as HVAC systems) is variable. For example, in temperature control, a common use case is active heating (via a heating element) but passive cooling (heating off, but no cooling), so overshoot can only be corrected slowly – it cannot be forced downward. In this case the PID should be tuned to be overdamped, to prevent or reduce overshoot, though this reduces performance (it increases settling time).

Noise in derivative

A problem with the derivative term is that it amplifies higher frequency measurement or process noise that can cause large amounts of change in the output. It does this so much, that a physical controller cannot have a true derivative term, but only an approximation with limited bandwidth. It is often helpful to filter the measurements with a low-pass filter in order to remove higher-frequency noise components. As low-pass filtering and derivative control can cancel each other out, the amount of filtering is limited. So low noise instrumentation can be important. A nonlinear median filter may be used, which improves the filtering efficiency and practical performance.

Modifications to the PID algorithm

The basic PID algorithm presents some challenges in control applications that have been addressed by minor modifications to the PID form.

Integral windup


One common problem resulting from the ideal PID implementations is integral windup. Following a large change in setpoint the integral term can accumulate an error larger than the maximal value for the regulation variable (windup), thus the system overshoots and continues to increase until this accumulated error is unwound. This problem can be addressed by:

  • Increasing the setpoint in a suitable ramp
  • Disabling the integration until the PV has entered the controllable region
  • Preventing the integral term from accumulating above or below pre-determined bounds
  • Back-calculating the integral term to constrain the regulator output within feasible bounds.

Overshooting from known disturbances

For example, a PID loop is used to control the temperature of an electric resistance furnace where the system has stabilized. Now when the door is opened and something cold is put into the furnace the temperature drops below the setpoint. The integral function of the controller tends to compensate this error by introducing another error in the positive direction. This overshoot can be avoided by freezing of the integral function after the opening of the door for the time the control loop typically needs to reheat the furnace.

PI controller

Basic block of a PI controller

PI Controller (proportional-integral controller) is a special case of the PID controller in which the derivative (D) of the error is not used.

The controller output is given by


where 659d23f0ed16cdb87b1d41c7b58b52f4.png is the error or deviation of actual measured value (PV) from the setpoint (SP). 659d23f0ed16cdb87b1d41c7b58b52f4.png\Delta = SP – PV</math>.

A PI controller can be modelled easily in software such as Simulink or Xcos using a “flow chart” box involving Laplace operators:

<math>C=\frac{G(1+\tau s)}{\tau s}</math>


<math>G = K_P</math> = proportional gain
<math>G/\tau = K_I</math> = integral gain

Setting a value for <math>G</math> is often a trade off between decreasing overshoot and increasing settling time.

The lack of derivative action may make the system more steady in the steady state in the case of noisy data. This is because derivative action is more sensitive to higher-frequency terms in the inputs.

Without derivative action, a PI-controlled system is less responsive to real (non-noise) and relatively fast alterations in state and so the system will be slower to reach setpoint and slower to respond to perturbations than a well-tuned PID system may be.


Many PID loops control a mechanical device (for example, a valve). Mechanical maintenance can be a major cost and wear leads to control degradation in the form of either stiction or a deadband in the mechanical response to an input signal. The rate of mechanical wear is mainly a function of how often a device is activated to make a change. Where wear is a significant concern, the PID loop may have an output deadband to reduce the frequency of activation of the output (valve). This is accomplished by modifying the controller to hold its output steady if the change would be small (within the defined deadband range). The calculated output must leave the deadband before the actual output will change.

Set Point step change

The proportional and derivative terms can produce excessive movement in the output when a system is subjected to an instantaneous step increase in the error, such as a large setpoint change. In the case of the derivative term, this is due to taking the derivative of the error, which is very large in the case of an instantaneous step change. As a result, some PID algorithms incorporate some of the following modifications:

Set point ramping
In this modification, the setpoint is gradually moved from its old value to a newly specified value using a linear or first order differential ramp function. This avoids the discontinuity present in a simple step change.
Derivative of the process variable
In this case the PID controller measures the derivative of the measured process variable (PV), rather than the derivative of the error. This quantity is always continuous (i.e., never has a step change as a result of changed setpoint). This modification is a simple case of set point weighting.
Set point weighting
Set point weighting uses different multipliers for the setpoint in the error in the proportional and derivative element of the controller. The error in the integral term must be the true control error to avoid steady-state control errors. These two extra parameters do not affect the response to load disturbances and measurement noise and can be tuned to improve the controller’s set point response.


The control system performance can be improved by combining the feedback (or closed-loop) control of a PID controller with feed-forward (or open-loop) control. Knowledge about the system (such as the desired acceleration and inertia) can be fed forward and combined with the PID output to improve the overall system performance. The feed-forward value alone can often provide the major portion of the controller output. The PID controller primarily has to compensate whatever difference or error remains between the setpoint (SP) and the system response to the open loop control. Since the feed-forward output is not affected by the process feedback, it can never cause the control system to oscillate, thus improving the system response without affecting stability. Feed forward can be based on the setpoint and on extra measured disturbances.

For example, in most motion control systems, in order to accelerate a mechanical load under control, more force is required from the actuator. If a velocity loop PID controller is being used to control the speed of the load and command the force being applied by the actuator, then it is beneficial to take the desired instantaneous acceleration, scale that value appropriately and add it to the output of the PID velocity loop controller. This means that whenever the load is being accelerated or decelerated, a proportional amount of force is commanded from the actuator regardless of the feedback value. The PID loop in this situation uses the feedback information to change the combined output to reduce the remaining difference between the process setpoint and the feedback value. Working together, the combined open-loop feed-forward controller and closed-loop PID controller can provide a more responsive control system.

Bumpless Operation

PID controllers are often implemented with a “bumpless” initialization feature that recalculates an appropriate integral accumulator term to maintain a consistent process output through parameter changes.

Other improvements

In addition to feed-forward, PID controllers are often enhanced through methods such as PID gain scheduling (changing parameters in different operating conditions), fuzzy logic or computational verb logic.

Further practical application issues can arise from instrumentation connected to the controller. A high enough sampling rate, measurement precision, and measurement accuracy are required to achieve adequate control performance. Another new method for improvement of PID controller is to increase the degree of freedom by using fractional order. The order of the integrator and differentiator add increased flexibility to the controller.

Cascade control

One distinctive advantage of PID controllers is that two PID controllers can be used together to yield better dynamic performance. This is called cascaded PID control. In cascade control there are two PIDs arranged with one PID controlling the setpoint of another. A PID controller acts as outer loop controller, which controls the primary physical parameter, such as fluid level or velocity. The other controller acts as inner loop controller, which reads the output of outer loop controller as setpoint, usually controlling a more rapid changing parameter, flowrate or acceleration. It can be mathematically provenTemplate:Citation needed that the working frequency of the controller is increased and the time constant of the object is reduced by using cascaded PID controllers.

For example, a temperature-controlled circulating bath has two PID controllers in cascade, each with its own thermocouple temperature sensor. The outer controller controls the temperature of the water using a thermocouple located far from the heater where it accurately reads the temperature of the bulk of the water. The error term of this PID controller is the difference between the desired bath temperature and measured temperature. Instead of controlling the heater directly, the outer PID controller sets a heater temperature goal for the inner PID controller. The inner PID controller controls the temperature of the heater using a thermocouple attached to the heater. The inner controller’s error term is the difference between this heater temperature setpoint and the measured temperature of the heater. Its output controls the actual heater to stay near this setpoint.

The proportional, integral and differential terms of the two controllers will be very different. The outer PID controller has a long time constant – all the water in the tank needs to heat up or cool down. The inner loop responds much more quickly. Each controller can be tuned to match the physics of the system it controls – heat transfer and thermal mass of the whole tank or of just the heater – giving better total response.