A student using a self-built machine

Process Automation MSc

This MSc is a long-established programme having previously been taught by Sheffield University, Newcastle University and Imperial College London. It transferred to Lancaster University in 2020.

Process automation makes the sort of plant and equipment used in the chemicals and process industry sector come alive. It is through their control systems that plants are started up and operated. And those systems underpin all aspects of operability, productivity, quality, reliability, safety, sustainability, viability and so on. Modern automation systems are complex and designing them, putting them together, getting them to work, operating and maintaining them is challenging. It requires a breadth and depth of knowledge across a range of disciplines involving a variety of theory and techniques, technology and practice, skills and knowhow. This is an exciting area to work in with no shortage of opportunities.

If you would like to contact us for more information or to arrange a discussion, please email engineering@lancaster.ac.uk

Tab Content: Course overview

The significance of automation in the chemical and process industries has grown and continues to increase inexorably. That growth has been partly driven by developments in control and information technology with the control systems themselves having evolved in both flexibility and functionality. However, the primary driver has been economic, recognising that the technology can deliver substantive benefits in terms of operability, productivity, quality, reliability, safety, sustainability and viability. 

This programme will develop your expertise in the design and development, application, operation and management of control and related systems.

For both the MSc and PGDip, you will select eight modules from the options below. This flexibility allows you to tailor your studies to suit your interests, needs and background. Each module takes approximately three months to complete, consisting of a 1-week block of teaching followed by an assignment and an exam. Students will typically study two or three modules per year. There is a five-year time limit for completion of the MSc which includes the industrial project, and a four year limit for the Postgraduate Diploma.

Students enrolled on the Postgraduate Diploma may transfer to the MSc upon successful completion of four modules.

Tab Content: Apprenticeship

You can take the MSc degree as part of the level 7 apprenticeship in process automation (PA7). Organisations in England whose payroll costs are £3 million or more per annum, pay a training levy of 0.5% of their payroll costs to the Government. These companies are eligible for Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funding for sponsorship of employees as apprentices on PA7. That funding is worth £27,000 per apprentice to cover the MSc degree fees and PA7 administration costs.

Tab Content: Schedule

The calendar year 2021

PA/262 15th-19th March Chemical Engineering Principles 28th May
PA/263 10th-14th May Instrumentation and Measurement 23rd July
PA/264 12th-16th July Control Systems Technology 1st October
PA/265 13th-17th September Control Schemes and Strategies 3rd December
PA/266 15th-19th November Functional Safety and Security 28th January 2022

The calendar year 2022

PA/267 January Chemical Engineering Principles March
PA/268 February Classical Control Systems Design April
PA/269 March Instrumentation and Measurement May
PA/270 April Management of Automation Projects June
PA/271 May Modelling and Simulation July
PA/272 June Control Systems Technology September
PA/273 July Process Analytical Technology September
PA/274 September Advanced Process Automation* November
PA/275 October Control Schemes and Strategies January 2023
PA/276 November Functional Safety and Security January 2023
PA/277 December Optimisation and Scheduling* February 2023

The calendar year 2023

PA/278 January Chemical Engineering Principles March
PA/279 February Classical Control Systems Design April
PA/280 March Instrumentation and Measurement May
PA/281 April Management of Automation Projects June
PA/282 May Modelling and Simulation July
PA/283 June Control Systems Technology September
PA/284 July Process Analytical Technology September
PA/285 September Modern Control Systems Design* November
PA/286 October Control Schemes and Strategies January 2024
PA/287 November Functional Safety and Security January 2024
PA/288 December Advanced Process Control* February 2024

*Although the pattern of modules repeats annually, these modules are only offered biennially. 

Exams are normally held on the Friday closest to the end of the month as shown, but dates may be adjusted to accommodate bank holidays and other substantive factors. 

The course is offered in one-week blocks of intensive tuition that would usually be delivered on a face-to-face basis on campus at Lancaster University. However, on account of the coronavirus situation, as an interim measure, the first few modules will be delivered on a remote/webinar basis using Microsoft Teams. The situation will be kept under review and decisions about the mode of delivery will be made as appropriate in the light of developments.

Tab Content: Fees and entry requirements


Course Cost
MSc degree £21,000
Diploma £16,800
CPD module £2,100 per module
Industrial project £4,200

Modules may be paid for either on a module-at-a-time basis or on a lump sum basis.  Students (or their organisations) will be invoiced at the time of a module. 

In the case of students who are PA7 apprentices, payment is in accordance with ESFA rules: that is, taken from their employers' levy accounts over the planned 5-year horizon of the apprenticeship rather than linked to module delivery.

Entry requirements

Course Academic requirementsPrior industrial experience
MSc degree BSc, BEng, MEng etc with 2.2 Hons in an appropriate discipline Desirable
Diploma HNC, HND etc in an appropriate discipline Significant and relevant experience
CPD modules Sufficient prior knowledge and experience to benefit from doing the module 

Employment in the chemicals and process industry sector with a job function in instrumentation, control or automation is required for all options.

For students whose first language is not English, a minimum score of 6.5 in the IELTS test is also required.

Tab Content: PACT

The Partnership in Automation and Control Training (PACT) was originally formed in 1992. It consists of a consortium of companies and bodies representative of the UK chemicals and process industry. The PACT aims to enable companies in the chemicals and process sector to maintain and improve their competitive edge by creating a supply of personnel who understand and can apply modern automation techniques effectively.

In 2020, the PACT signed a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Lancaster University in which, together, they committed to the delivery of the MSc degree and level 7 apprenticeship in Process Automation (PA7). That MoU underpins the long term provision of and support for the MSc/PA7.


The current PACT members includes the following companies:

Note: AstraZeneca subject to confirmation.

And the following trade bodies:


On account of the coronavirus situation, as an interim measure, all modules until April 2021 will be delivered on a remote basis using Microsoft Teams or other online platforms. The situation will be kept under review and decisions about the mode of delivery will be made in the light of developments.


  • Advanced Process Automation
    • Stochastics
    • Multivariate statistics: multiple linear regression, principal component analysis
    • Statistical process control
    • Management information systems
    • Batch process automation
    • Underlying principles of fuzzy systems, neural networks and artificial intelligence.
  • Advanced Process Control
    • Identification and estimation
    • Least squares methods
    • Observers and filters
    • Adaptive and self-tuning control
    • Minimum variance
    • Extended horizons
    • Model predictive control
    • Case studies
    • Recursive implementation
    • Integration with optimisers
    • Non-linear control.
  • Chemical Engineering Principles
    • Survey of unit operations
    • Principle of operation and principal characteristics of items of plant
    • Physical relationships
    • Mass and energy balances
    • Use of steam
    • Stoichiometry
    • Recycle processes
    • Fluid flow, pumps and piping
    • Heat transfer and exchangers
  • Classic Control Systems Design
    • Ordinary differential equations: revision
    • Use of Laplace transforms
    • Transfer functions
    • Delay
    • Block diagram algebra
    • Characteristic equation: nature of stability
    • Frequency response
    • Bode stability criterion
    • Root locus
    • S-plane and significance of poles and zeros
  • Control Schemes and Strategies
    • Feedback control
    • Effect of PID settings
    • Controller tuning
    • Cascade, ratio and feedforward control strategies
    • P&I diagrams: translation into block diagrams
    • Process of determination
    • Schemes for control of various items of plant and equipment
    • Sequence control and structures.
  • Control Systems Technology
    • Architecture: evolution from SCADA & DCS
    • Enabling technologies: comms and networks, real and virtual
    • System hardware and I/O subsystems
    • Redundancy
    • System software
    • Application software: IEC 61131
    • Operator interface
    • Introduction to relational databases
  • Functional Safety and Security
    • Nature of risk
    • Layers of safety
    • Hazard analysis: limitations of HAZOP, LOPA, fault trees
    • Determination of reliability
    • Proof testing
    • IEC 61508 and 61511
    • Protection system design
    • SIL ratings
    • Cybersecurity
    • Threat management
    • Firewalls and demilitarised zones
  • Instrumentation and Measurement (I&M)
    • Metrics
    • Measurement of flow, level, weight and temperature
    • Use of dp cells
    • Location
    • Valve design and sizing
    • Variable speed drives
    • Sustainability case study
    • Fieldbus and wireless technologies
    • Hazardous areas and intrinsic safety
    • System layout and segregation
  • Management of Automation Projects
    • Project life cycle and waterfall model
    • Costs and benefits analysis
    • Turnkey projects
    • Management roles
    • Requirements specifications (URS and FDS)
    • Testing (FAT and SAT)
    • Model forms of contract: lumpsum vs reimbursable
    • Quality and TQM
    • Human factors
  • Modelling and Simulations
    • First principles model development
    • Linearisation and deviation variables
    • Assumptions and approximations
    • Transfer function and state-space models
    • Input-output relationships
    • Dynamic simulation
    • Process and plant models: exchangers, columns, reactors
  • Modern Control Systems Design
    • Matrix algebra: revision
    • State space
    • Multiloop control and RGA
    • State feedback regulators
    • Observer design
    • Multivariable controllers
    • Introduction to model reference and adaptive control
    • Sampled data systems
    • Pulse transfer functions
    • Impulse compensator design
  • Optimisation and Scheduling
    • Linear programming
    • Objective function and constraints
    • Simplex method
    • Branch and bound
    • Steepest descent
    • Lagrangian functions
    • Slack variables
    • Quadratic programming
    • Real-time optimisers
    • Integration with model predictive controllers
    • Genetic algorithms
  • Process Analytical Technology
    • Chromatography
    • NIR and FTIR spectroscopy
    • Online analysers
    • Sampling systems
    • Calibration, validation and operation
    • Pharma applications and FDA
    • Emissions monitoring
    • Sensors for gas species
    • Electrochemical measurements
    • Introduction to chemometrics
  • MSc Industrial Project

    Your project consists of some research, development or design work undertaken in your company, and which is documented in a submitted dissertation. The project must be of sufficient importance to your sponsoring company to justify the time and cost involved. It must also satisfy the academic criteria of relevance and difficulty to justify the award of the MSc degree.

How you will learn

We place great emphasis on interactive learning, and you will learn from our academic experts and leading industrialists. We provide a balance of theory and practice, technology and techniques, information and understanding. Modules will typically include group discussions, demonstrations, presentations, problem-solving, case studies, practical work and simulation exercises.

Short courses for CPD

Each of the modules can be taken as a standalone continuing professional development (CPD) course with assessment optional.


The programme has previously been accredited by three professional bodies: IChemE, IET and InstMC. They have been approached about re-accreditation of the programme for further learning to Masters level at Lancaster, and we are confident of the outcome. Subject to the requirements of relevant experience and a position of responsibility, for those admitted with an accredited BEng degree, the award of the MSc degree should lead to Chartered Engineer (CEng) status.

PACT Award

The PACT Student Award is awarded annually to recognise achievement and to promote the industry. The Award is sponsored by GAMBICA, the trade association for instrumentation, control, automation and laboratory technology in the UK.