Alpha Omega Engineering, Inc.

An engineering consultancy on the Central Coast of California

Dynamic System Modelling − Simulation

Simulation plays a major rôle in designing all sorts of systems nowadays, from a simple tank system to a complicated airplane. Simulations can be used to see how a real system will react to input changes before a single piece of hardware is even built. For example pilots know how to fly a new airliner before the plane is even built because they have learned already to fly the airplane on a simulator. Dangerous manœuvers can be practiced on the simulator rather than staging them on the real airplane. Though these examples cite airplanes, the same is true for most vehicles and industrial processes and systems too.

A second reason for making a model of a system is that this forces the modeller to think about how the system behaves and what physical laws are in play that govern the behavior of the system. One can see whether or not the system oscillates, how fast it responds, and gauge other dynamic characteristics of the system.

This methodology of using simulations as a design and analysis tool for physical systems gained widespread use in the 1980s and 1990s with the development of less expensive modelling/simulation software (see sidebar).

Professor Owen was involved in the early 1990s with PC-Trax Corporation (Lynchburg, Virginia) in the development of a simulator for Alabama Power's 690-MW Miller Steam Plant. He then studied controls at the PhD level at the University of Texas at Austin, where his PhD project and thesis dealt with a 6-axis motion controller for a hydraulically-driven Large Scale Manipulator. Since arriving at Cal Poly he has helped build out the curriculum by integrating Simulink into the Mechanical Engineering curriculum. He has also taught the use of Simulink to model mechanical systems at the Munich University of Applied Sciences and at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, both in Germany.


In the 1980s and 1990s the Matlab simulation language was developed to model physical systems. Toward the end of the 1990s, Simulink was developed as a graphics-based modeller for dynamic systems. Simulink uses block diagrams to construct models of physical systems. Extensive Simulink "toolboxes" have been developed for specific modelling purposes.

To see more, visit the MathWorks, the creator of Matlab/Simulink.