System Integration & Control Systems Design

Project-based learning challenges the modern engineering student

December 2019 System Integration & Control Systems Design

Projects that inherently challenge students to use innovative design thinking often involve interacting with an unknown process or device. Students are encouraged to understand the unknown through theory, simulation and experimentation. However, projects that introduce the unknown in messy, multisystem environments tend to challenge the students to be more innovative.

“Designing a test in this style requires not only knowledge of the specifications, equipment limitations, and fundamental concepts being applied, but also the ability to contend with outside factors and grasp how one change can have a cascading effect on the experimental setup,” says Stephen Plumb, sales manager at Test Dynamics.

He adds that engineering students must see the concepts they are taught in the context of real systems to fully understand them. They must explore fundamental topics used in engineering systems, while working in teams, and apply them in practical designs quickly and effectively.

A collaborative environment

NI ELVIS unites software, hardware, instrumentation, and control in a collaborative environment to prepare the next generation of engineers. With its hands-on approach, the system helps educators teach students practical, experimental engineering skills. Built on the concept of teamwork, this solution connects students to their experiments, enabling them to collaborate using the same technology as over 35 000 companies worldwide. It combines the precision and accuracy of seven benchtop instruments with the speed and customisation of industrial embedded controllers in one single platform. Students can use its easy, prebuilt interfaces to customise at a level not available in any other educational laboratory equipment.

“To effectively analyse concepts this way, students need the ability to not only instrument and analyse the experiment but also precisely control and manipulate the type and behaviour of the inputs to the system,” points out Plumb. “NI ELVIS III is an engineering laboratory solution that combines seven traditional instruments with fully customisable I/O to enable the complete implementation of the concepts in this approach.”

Because the platform is network connected, it enables collaboration on experiments through multi-user access. Each of the seven instruments can be accessed simultaneously by different students connected wirelessly to the system. Also, the control I/O can be programmed independently by students accessing the instrumentation. This means that in a group of students, each individual can interact to perform part of an experiment, so everyone is involved in a completely collaborative experimentation environment.

Similarly, since NI ELVIS III can be remotely accessed, teaching assistants find assessing student work much simpler. Rather than designating time to meet in person with each student, the TA can be a remote resource logging in to each device after students complete the assignment.

“NI ELVIS III removes barriers to collaboration and enables more students to progress through a laboratory in less time,” concludes Plumb. “This increases student satisfaction and makes the best use of teaching staff resources.”

The team at Test Dynamics believes that this teaching aid will change the way that both lecturers and students look at engineering studies. Demonstrations are available on request.

For more information contact Stephen Plumb, Test Dynamics, +27 62 217 0063,,


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