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Abstract

Continuous solution copolymerization is an important industrial process in the manufacture of commodity and engineering plastics. The addition of comonomers and solvent, and the rate of heat exchange must be simultaneously manipulated to maintain safety, operability, and the product quality adequately, yielding a process with nonlinear behavior, strong and asymmetric input–output multivariable coupling, and potential for open-loop instability and state multiplicity, as shown in earlier dynamics and control studies. Accordingly, the key control objectives of the copolymerization reactor are: the compensation of interaction, the preclusion of input multiplicity and the robustness (i.e., tolerance to modeling and tuning errors) of the controller. In principle, these control issues should be considered within a nonlinear setting. Otherwise, the reactor may have to be operated with a conversion that is conservatively below what can be handled by standard mixing and heat-exchange equipment. To assess the inherent control possibilities and limitations of a given copolymerization reactor, a methodology to address the control problem is proposed such that the nonlinearity, interaction, input multiplicity, and robustness issues are explicitly confronted. The result is a linear multivariable interaction compensator whose tuning can be done with notions and tools from conventional control. This method is tested with the copolymerization of vinyl acetate with methyl methacrylate, dissolved in ethyl acetate.