Process control is a statistics and engineering discipline that deals with architectures, mechanisms and algorithms for maintaining the output of a specific process within a desired range. See also control theory.
Process control is extensively used in industry and enables mass production of continuous processes such as oil refining, paper manufacturing, chemicals, power plants and many other industries. Process control enables automation, with which a small staff of operating personnel can operate a complex process from a central control room.
For example, heating up the temperature in a room is a process that has the specific, desired outcome to reach and maintain a defined temperature (e.g. 20°C), kept constant over time. Here, the temperature is the controlled variable. At the same time, it is the input variable since it is measured by a thermometer and used to decide whether to heat or not to heat. The desired temperature (20°C) is the setpoint. The state of the heater (e.g. the setting of the valve allowing hot water to flow through it) is called the manipulated variable since it is subject to control actions.
A commonly used control device called a programmable logic controller, or a PLC, is used to read a set of digital and analog inputs, apply a set of logic statements, and generate a set of analog and digital outputs. Using the example in the previous paragraph, the room temperature would be an input to the PLC. The logical statements would compare the setpoint to the input temperature and determine whether more or less heating was necessary to keep the temperature constant. A PLC output would then either open or close the hot water valve, an incremental amount, depending on whether more or less hot water was needed. Larger more complex systems can be controlled by a Distributed Control System (DCS) or SCADA system.