HVAC – The PID Controller and the American Dream

It’s a chilly winter day; you can practically see your breath inside the office. You open an app on your phone or go to the thermostat on the wall to raise the temperature to a more comfortable setting. What is the magic that allows the system to detect changes in the environment and adjust itself to meet the set point of your choosing?  

Unless you are one of the Buidling Geniuses® at KMC, you probably rarely use terms like “proportional-integral-derivative controller” in your everyday vernacular. Yet this important development in control engineering is foundational to getting your office temperature just right—and it has its origins in the Russian Civil War.

When Lenin’s Red Army fought the Bolshevik government, the elected Constitutional Assembly was dismissed at gunpoint. Murder, disease, and malnutrition due to grain confiscation ran rampant. The Tsar’s entire family, including his children, was assassinated.  

Wanting to escape the coming violence, Nicolas Minorsky, an electrical engineer for the Imperial Russian Navy, left Europe with his French wife, Madeline, to make a new life for themselves in America. Woodrow Wilson touted the possibility of the “American Dream” in 1918, while Minorsky joined over 100,000 other immigrants seeking new possibilities in the United States. 

Upon their emigration, Minorsky was able to find work as a researcher for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. He focused his research on creating systems to improve stability and safety for ships in the United States Navy. Stability is especially important for aircraft carriers, as planes need a steady surface on which to land.  

In 1922 Minorsky developed the PID controller, a feedback system that continuously adjusts the control input based on feedback from the system, enabling the system to maintain a set control point. This is the basis for closed-loop control systems, whenever precise and accurate automatic control is needed. The United States Navy quickly saw the benefits of using Minorsky’s PID system, which now serves as the basis for automated control in systems all over the world.

The next time you swipe the screen on your KMC Commander app to adjust the controls for your building, you can thank Nicolas Minorsky, an immigrant whose intuitiveness and innovation helped him to achieve the American Dream. 

Heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) are crucial functions of building automation. Join us in Part 2 of our series “The Patents that Made Us” as we explore electricity and connectivity in the history of the building control industry and the quality and innovation that characterizes American business and invention. 

For more information on this and other KMC Controls products, please visit https://www.kmccontrols.com/, your one-stop turnkey solution for building control. We specialize in open, secure, and scalable building automations, teaming up with leading technology providers to create innovative products that help customers increase operating efficiency, optimize energy usage, maximize comfort, and improve safety. Let our Building Geniuses® take your facility to the next level.