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Open and closed – loop systems

Open Loop

The open and closed loop system describes the two primary types of CNC control systems. Open and closed loop describes the control process of a system. Open loop refers to a system where the communication between the controller system and the motor is one way. Check the image to the right.

As you can see the process for an open loop system is simple. After the user decides what he/she wants to do and generates the g-code or some sort of work file, the NC software then create the necessary step and direction signals to perform the desired task. The computer relays this information to the controller which then energizes the motor/s. After the motor moves to the desired position, there is no feedback to the controller system to verify the action.

In the CNC industry, open loop systems use stepper motors. However, just because a system uses stepper motors does not mean the system is an open loop system. Stepper motors may be outfitted with encoders to provide position feedback just like servo motors.

Stepper motors are able to operate in an open loop system while servo motors are not, for CNC applications at least. Because stepper motors do not require feedback hardware, the price for an open loop CNC system is much cheaper and simpler than a closed loop system. This makes it more affordable for hobbyists to build their own CNC machine.

There are drawbacks to the open loop system. Because there is no feedback to the controller, if the motor does not operate as instructed there is no way for the system to know. The controller system will continue performing the next task as if there is no problem until a limit switch is tripped or the operator resets the machine.

Many do it yourselfers run into trouble by overloading their machine and losing steps with the open loop system. This can ruin the piece or be harmful to the machine or user. However, if the system is constructed properly and not overloaded, there is no reason an open loop system should not function properly.

Closed Loop

The closed loop system has a feedback system to monitor the output of the motors. Closed systems are also able to correct errors in position, velocity, and acceleration, and also fault the system if the error is too large. Refer to the image below.

As you can see from the image to the left, there are two closed loop system shown. The first system returns the feedback to the CNC controller. The second system returns the feedback into the computer. Regardless what some say, both systems are true closed loop systems. The system where the feedback is fed into the signal generator or computer is usually found on high end machines.

The image on the left represents the most common type of closed loop controller system. In this type of system, an encoder, glass scale, or some other type of analog device is responsible for the feedback signal.

Most of these closed loop controllers are PID or proportional–integral–derivative controllers. The encoder output is fed into the motor driver. A PID controller attempts to correct the error between a measured variable and a desired set point by calculating and then outputting a corrective action that can adjust the process accordingly and rapidly, to keep the error minimal. See the image below for a basic concept flow chart.

This type of control loop is set to fault at a preset value. This should

stop the machine in case of excess error. Some people believe that this type

of system can be inaccurate. This

is untrue if setup properly. The

resolution of this type of servo system should be designed to be one order

of magnitude more precise than

the machine. With this setup, even if

the machine were to fault, the error is

still less than the machine tolerance.

If a controller faults when it is 124 steps out of position, the resolution of the

system should be designed so that 124 steps is less than the machine tolerance.

The disadvantages of closed loop systems are cost and complexity. Closed loop controllers can be harder to tune and have more parts that could fail.



The automation of many electromechanical processes, such as the movement of machinery on an assembly line, is done through the use of small computers called programmable logic controllers (PLCs). A PLC contains a programmable microprocessor that is programmed using a specialized computer language. Typically, the program for the automated process is written on a computer and then is downloaded onto the programmable logic controller directly through a cable connection. The program is stored in the programmable logic controller in non-volatile memory.

Inputs and Outputs

Programmable logic controllers typically contain a variable number of input/output (I/O) ports and usually employ reduced instruction set computing (RISC), which consists of simplified instructions that are intended to allow for faster execution. PLCs are designed for real-time use and often must withstand harsh factory environments, such as excessive vibration and high noise levels. The programmable logic controller circuitry monitors the status of multiple sensor inputs, which control output actuators such as motor starters, solenoids, lights, displays and valves.


This type of controller has made a significant contribution to factory automation. Earlier automation systems had to use thousands of individual relays, timers and sequencers, which had to be replaced or rewired whenever the automated process needed to change. In many cases, a programmable logic controller allows all of the relays and timers within a factory system to be replaced by a single controller. Modern PLCs deliver a wide range of functionality, including basic relay control, motion control, process control and complex networking. They also can be used in a distributed control system (DCS).


There are several types of interfaces that are used when people need to interact with programmable logic controllers to configure them or work with them. The interface might be configured with simple lights or switches, or it might include a text display. A more complex system might use an Internet-based interface on a computer running a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system.


PLCs were first created to serve the automobile industry. The first programmable logic controller project was developed in 1968 for General Motors to replace hard-wired relay systems with electronic controllers. PLCs have remained widely used in the early 21st century within manufacturing sectors such as the automobile industry.

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