Block Diagrams in FE Electrical Exam

Block diagrams in the FE electrical exam are considered one of the most crucial topics per the NCEES ® FE electrical exam guidelines. The importance of block diagrams in the FE Electrical Exam cannot be overlooked. 

They serve as a visual aid to understand complex systems, analyze circuits, and design solutions. Block diagram analysis for the FE Electrical Exam helps solve problems efficiently.

In a professional trajectory, they aid in designing, troubleshooting, and documenting electrical systems, enhancing an engineer’s effectiveness and communication skills.

This detailed study guide will help you cover all the crucial preparation points of block diagrams in the FE Electrical exam. Let’s discuss this in detail.

Fundamentals of Block Diagrams

A block diagram is a graphical representation that provides a simplified, high-level view of a system or process. It is commonly used in engineering, control systems, electronics, and other fields to analyze, design, and communicate complex systems. 

The primary purpose of a block diagram is to:

  • Provide Overview – Block diagrams offer a concise and easy-to-understand overview of a system’s major components and their interconnections. They help engineers and stakeholders grasp the system’s structure quickly.
  • Identify Relationships – Block diagrams highlight the relationships between different components or stages of a system. This can be crucial for understanding how signals or information flow within the system.
  • Design and Analysis – Engineers use block diagrams for system design, analysis, and troubleshooting. They serve as a starting point for understanding system behavior and making improvements.
  • Documentation –  Block diagrams are valuable for documenting existing systems or designs, making it easier for others to understand and work with the system.

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Fundamental Elements and Symbols in Block Diagrams

block diagram symbols

Block diagrams in the FE Electrical exam use simple geometric shapes and symbols to represent various elements within a system. The key elements and symbols commonly found in block diagrams include:

  • Blocks – These rectangular or square shapes represent individual components or functional units within the system. Each block typically contains a label describing its function.
  • Arrows – Arrows or lines connect blocks to illustrate the flow of signals, data, or information between components. The direction of the arrows indicates the flow direction.
  • Summing Points – Summing points, often represented as circles, indicate points where signals are combined or summed. They are used to show the addition or mixing of signals.
  • Take-off Points – similar to summing points, take-off points are represented as circles but indicate points where signals are extracted or branched off from a main flow.
  • Transfer Functions – In control system block diagrams, transfer functions are represented using a ‘G’ symbol followed by a mathematical expression. These functions describe the relationship between input and output signals.
  • Feedback Loops – Feedback loops are depicted using arrows that loop back from the output of a block to its input. They represent a closed-loop system where the output affects the input.
  • Signal Flow Direction – In block diagrams for electrical and control systems, arrows or notations indicate the direction of signal flow. This is essential for understanding how information travels through the system.

Block Diagram Reduction Techniques

Block diagram reduction techniques are used to simplify complex block diagrams, making them more manageable for block diagram analysis for the FE Electrical exam and design. Some standard techniques include:

  • Series and Parallel Connections – Blocks connected in series can be combined into a single block, while blocks in parallel can be summed or simplified.
  • Feedback Loops –  Feedback loops can be analyzed and simplified using techniques like the Mason Gain Formula or eliminating unnecessary loops.
  • Cascaded Blocks – Blocks connected in a cascade (one after the other) can be multiplied to simplify the diagram.
  • Block Elimination – Blocks that do not affect the system’s output can be eliminated from the diagram to reduce complexity.

Continue Reading – The upcoming sections will discuss the standard practices for block diagram reduction problems and solutions with governing laws and examples.

Signal Flow and Interconnections in Block Diagrams

example of flow and connections in block diagrams

Block diagrams are handy for understanding signal flow and interconnections within a system. Here’s how signal flow is typically represented:

  • Input and Output – Block diagrams clearly show where the system’s inputs enter and where the outputs are generated. This helps in understanding how the system processes information.
  • Signal Paths – Arrows connecting blocks indicate the paths signals or data take as they traverse the system. This is crucial for identifying signal dependencies and potential bottlenecks.
  • Feedback Loops – Feedback loops, when present, are essential for understanding how a system responds to its output. They can represent control mechanisms or stability considerations.
  • Signal Processing – By examining the blocks and their connections, one can deduce how signals are processed or transformed as they pass through the various components.

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How to Make a Block Diagram

block diagram transformation

Creating a block diagram is fundamental in various technical disciplines, including engineering, control systems, and electronics. It helps visualize the structure and signal flow within complex systems. 

block diagram concepts in fe electrical exam

Here’s a technical guide with best practices on how to create a block diagram with precision and accuracy:

Step 1: Identify the System and Components

  • System Identification –  Clearly define the system you intend to illustrate using the block diagram. Understand its purpose and boundaries. This initial step is crucial to avoid unnecessary complexity.
  • Component Identification – Identify the major components, subsystems, or functional units within the system you want to represent in the block diagram. These components should be significant regarding their function or role within the system.

Step 2: Select the Right Tools

  • Choose Software – Select a suitable software tool for creating block diagrams. Popular options include SmartDraw, Microsoft Visio, Lucidchart, or drawing tools like Adobe Illustrator. These tools provide pre-defined shapes and connectors for ease of use.
  • Use Templates – Many software applications offer block diagram templates with predefined symbols and shapes related to electrical engineering, control systems, or specific domains. Starting with a template can save time and ensure consistency.

Step 3: Create and Label Blocks

  • Add Blocks – Begin by creating blocks to represent the identified components. Blocks are typically represented as rectangles or squares. Use the software’s drawing tools to create these shapes.
  • Label Blocks – Label each block with a clear and concise description of the component or function it represents. The labels should be placed inside or adjacent to the blocks for easy identification.

Step 4: Connect Blocks with Arrows

  • Draw Arrows – Use arrows or lines to connect the blocks and indicate the flow of signals, data, or information between the components. Pay close attention to the direction of the arrows to represent the correct signal flow.
  • Arrows for Input and Output – Mark the input and output points on the blocks using arrows or labels. The input arrow should indicate the source or activation point, while the output arrow should represent the result or output of the block.

Step 5: Verify Accuracy and Completeness

  • Consult Stakeholders – Collaborate with subject matter experts and stakeholders to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your block diagram. Verify that all relevant components and connections are represented correctly.
  • Review for Clarity – Ensure the block diagram is clear and easy to understand. Avoid clutter and excessive detail that may hinder comprehension.

Step 6: Save and Share

  • Save Your Work – Save your block diagram project in a suitable file format supported by your chosen software tool. This allows you to make revisions or share it with others in the future.
  • Export or Share – Depending on your needs, you can export the block diagram as an image, PDF, or other file format for sharing with colleagues, clients, or team members.

Block diagrams are often dynamic representations of systems that may evolve. Be prepared to revise and update your diagram as the system changes or new information becomes available.

Block Diagram Representation

Here’s how block diagrams are used in different contexts:

1. Transfer Function Representation in Block Diagrams

Block diagrams represent a system’s transfer function in control systems and signal processing. Transfer functions describe the relationship between the input and output of a system in the frequency domain.

Components

  • Blocks – Each block represents a component or subsystem of the system. In transfer function representation, these blocks typically contain transfer functions in the form of Laplace transforms.
  • Arrows – Arrows connecting blocks indicate the flow of signals or information. The direction of the arrows shows the signal path from input to output.

Use

  • Transfer Function Derivation – Engineers use block diagrams to derive the overall transfer function of a complex system by combining individual block transfer functions.
  • System Analysis – Block diagrams facilitate the analysis of system stability, transient response, and frequency response.

2. State-Space Representation in Block Diagrams

State-space representation is another way to describe dynamic systems, commonly used in control engineering and modern control theory. Block diagrams can be employed to represent state-space models graphically.

Components

  • State-Space Blocks – Blocks in this context represent state-space matrices, including the state matrix (A), input matrix (B), output matrix (C), and feedthrough matrix (D).
  • Arrows – Arrows denote the flow of state variables and inputs between the state-space blocks.

Use

  • System Modeling – Engineers use block diagrams to model and represent complex physical systems in state-space form.
  • Controller Design – Block diagrams help visualize the interactions between the state-space matrices and the controller design process.

3. Feedback and Forward Paths in Block Diagrams

Block diagrams are extensively used to illustrate the concept of feedback control systems, where a portion of the output is fed back to the input to regulate the system’s behavior.

Components

  • Summing Points – These are circles in the block diagram indicating points where signals are summed. They represent the sum of various input signals.
  • Transfer Functions – Blocks in the forward and feedback paths represent the transfer functions of different components in the control system.
  • Arrows– Arrows show the direction of signal flow, including the forward path (from input to output) and the feedback path (from output to input).

Use

  • Stability Analysis – Engineers use feedback block diagrams to analyze system stability, including gain margin and phase margin criteria.
  • Controller Design – Block diagrams aid in designing controllers to achieve desired system performance by adjusting feedback loops.

4. Multiple Input and Multiple Output (MIMO) Systems in Block Diagrams

Purpose

In some systems, there are multiple inputs and multiple outputs, making the representation more complex. Block diagrams can handle MIMO systems, allowing engineers to analyze and design such systems.

Components

  • Multiple Blocks – Each input-output pair may involve multiple blocks, each representing the transfer function for that particular pair.
  • Arrows – Arrows show signal flow for each input-output connection, accounting for the interactions between different inputs and outputs.

Use

  • System Analysis – Block diagrams help engineers understand how multiple inputs affect multiple outputs and vice versa.
  • Controller Design – Engineers design controllers for MIMO systems by considering the interactions between inputs and outputs.

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Block Diagram Reduction Techniques in FE Electrical Exam

The industry-accepted block diagram reduction techniques in the FE Electrical Exam include a systematic approach to simplify a complex block diagram by applying rules. Below are some rules for block diagram reduction problems and solutions. 

Rule 1 – Series Blocks Simplification

Check for blocks connected in series and simplify them into a single block.

When two or more blocks are connected end-to-end (in series), they can be combined into a single block with an equivalent transfer function.

Rule 2 – Parallel Blocks Simplification

Check for blocks connected in parallel and simplify them into a single block.

Blocks that are connected in parallel can be combined using algebraic operations to create a single block with an equivalent transfer function.

Rule 3 – Feedback Loop Simplification

Check for blocks connected in a feedback loop and simplify them.

Feedback loops can often be challenging to analyze. Rule 3 guides us in simplifying the loop and its associated blocks to make the diagram more manageable.

Rule 4 – Shifting Take-off Points

If you encounter difficulty with a take-off point while simplifying, shift it towards the right.

Take-off points represent points where signals are branched off from a main flow. Adjusting their position in the diagram can facilitate the reduction process.

Rule 5 – Shifting Summing Points

If you struggle with a summing point while simplifying, shift it towards the left.

Summing points are where signals are combined or summed. Moving them strategically helps simplify the diagram.

Rule 6 – Repeating the Steps

Repeat the above steps iteratively until you obtain the simplified form, which ideally results in a single block.

Block diagram reduction is often an iterative process. Repeating these rules as needed will gradually simplify the diagram further.

These rules help us in block diagram transformation by turning a convoluted diagram into a more concise and understandable representation.

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Sample Block Diagram Reduction Problem and Solution

Let’s illustrate these rules with an example. Consider the following block diagram:

block diagram reduction problem and solution

Step 1 – We start with Rule 1 and Rule 2. Blocks G1 and G2 are in series, so we simplify them. Similarly, blocks G3 and G4 are in parallel. Our modified diagram looks like this:

step 1

Step 2 – Rule 3 comes into play as we tackle blocks G1, G2, and H1, as well as shifting the take-off point after block G5 (Rule 4):

step 2

Step 3 – Rule 1 is applied to the blocks (G3+G4) and G5:

step 3

Step 4 – Continuing with Rule 3 for blocks (G3+G4)G5 and H3:

step 4

Step 5 – Rule 1 is used again to simplify blocks connected in series:

step 5

Step 6 – Finally, we apply Rule 3 to address the feedback loop:

step 6

At this point, we have simplified the block diagram to its most concise form, and we can calculate the overall transfer function of the system, which is:

calculate the overall transfer function

Calculating Transfer Functions

To calculate the transfer function of the system, follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – Find the transfer function for each input individually by setting all other inputs to zero.
  • Step 2 – Repeat Step 1 for each remaining input.
  • Step 3 – Obtain the overall transfer function by adding all the individual transfer functions.

While block diagram reduction is a powerful technique, it can be time-consuming for complex systems. In such cases, signal flow graphs provide an efficient alternative for representation and analysis.

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Conclusion

Block diagrams in the FE electrical exam are potent tools that play a significant role in electrical engineering. Whether preparing for the FE electrical exam or pursuing a professional career in electrical engineering, mastering the block diagrams is crucial to success per the NCEES®.

For FE Electrical exam preparation, check out our detailed resource library. We offer tailored prep FE Electrical courses and study materials at Study for FE to help you succeed in your crucial career exam.

wasim-smal

Licensed Professional Engineer in Texas (PE), Florida (PE) and Ontario (P. Eng) with consulting experience in design, commissioning and plant engineering for clients in Energy, Mining and Infrastructure.