System Models

The next chapter will provide an in-depth discussion about Subsystems. For now, we’ll only discuss the handful of topics related to subsystems that we’ve seen so far.


One distinction that we’ve seen in this chapter between component and subsystem models is that subsystem models include connect statements. To explore how the connect statement works, let’s revisit the MultiDomainControl example from the discussion on Thermal Control. If we strip away all the annotations (which we will discuss shortly), we get a model that looks like this:

within ModelicaByExample.Components.BlockDiagrams.Examples;
model MultiDomainControl
  "Mixing thermal components with blocks for sensing, actuation and control"

  import Modelica.SIunits.Conversions.from_degC;

  parameter Real h = 0.7 "Convection coefficient";
  parameter Real m = 0.1 "Thermal maass";
  parameter Real c_p = 1.2 "Specific heat";
  parameter Real T_inf = from_degC(25) "Ambient temperature";
  parameter Real T_bar = from_degC(30.0) "Desired temperature";
  parameter Real k = 2.0 "Controller gain";

  Components.Constant setpoint(k=T_bar);
  Components.Feedback feedback;
  Components.Gain controller_gain(k=k);
  HeatTransfer.ThermalCapacitance cap(C=m*c_p, T0 = from_degC(90));
  HeatTransfer.Convection convection2(h=h);
  HeatTransfer.AmbientCondition amb(T_amb(displayUnit="K") = T_inf);
  Components.IdealTemperatureSensor sensor;
  Components.HeatSource heatSource;
  connect(setpoint.y, feedback.u1);
  connect(feedback.y, controller_gain.u);
  connect(convection2.port_a, cap.node);
  connect(amb.node, convection2.port_b);
  connect(sensor.y, feedback.u2);
  connect(heatSource.node, cap.node);
  connect(controller_gain.y, heatSource.u);
  connect(sensor.node, cap.node);
end MultiDomainControl;

During our earlier discussion on Acausal Modeling, we talked about equations that are generated for acausal variables in a connector. But the impact of a connect statement depends on the nature of the variables being connected. The MultiDomainControl model is useful because it isn’t restricted to acausal connections.

Before we consider the specific connections in the MultiDomainControl model, let’s first elaborate on what the connect statement actually does. There are some complex cases that arise, but for the sake of simplicity and pedagogy, we’ll only discuss the basic case here.

A connect statement connects exactly two connectors. It then “pairs up” variables across each connector by name. In other words, it takes each variable in one connector and pairs it up with the variable of the same name in the other connector.

For each pair, the compiler first checks to make sure that the two corresponding variables have the same type (e.g., Real, Integer). But what equations are generated and what additional restrictions exists depend on what qualifiers have been applied to the variables. The following list covers all the essential cases:

  • Through variables - These are variables with the flow qualifier. As we covered in our previous discussion on Acausal Modeling, a conservation equation is generated for all variables in the connection set.
  • Parameters - A variable that includes the parameter qualifier does not generate any equations. Instead, it generates an assert call that ensures that the values are identical between the two variables. This is useful when a connector includes Integer parameters that specify the size of arrays in the connector, for example, because it asserts the arrays are the same size.
  • Inputs - A variable that has the input qualifier can only be paired with a variable that has an input or an output qualifier. Assuming this requirement is met, an equation will be generated simply equating these two variables.
  • Outputs - A variable that has the output qualifier can only be paired with a variable that has the input qualifier (i.e., two outputs can never be connected). As with the case for input variables, an equality relationship is generated for such a connection.
  • Across variables - These are variables that lack any qualifiers (unlike the previous cases). As we covered in our previous discussion on Acausal Modeling, a series of equations will be generated equating all the across variables in the connection set.

In our discussion of Block Diagram Components, we describe the input and output qualifiers as “causal”. In fact, the input and output qualifiers do not actually specify the order in which calculations are performed. As discussed above, they just enforce restrictions on how the variables can be connected. In addition to the restriction already mentioned, there is one additional restriction that, within a connection set, there can only be one output signal (for obvious reasons).

In our MultiDomainControl model, we can see several of these cases covered. For example,

connect(setpoint.y, feedback.u1);

Here, an output signal, setpoint.y, is connected to an input signal, feedback.u1. So this is a connection involving only causal signals. On the other hand, we have connections like this:

connect(heatSource.node, cap.node);

This will lead to the types of conservations equations discussed earlier.

In summary, a connect statement is a way to generate equations that automatically manages complex tasks (like generation of conservation and continuity equations) while at the same time checking to make sure that the connection makes sense (e.g.., that the variables have the same type).


In this chapter, we showed how Modelica subsystem models can be represented graphically, e.g.,

Cooling example schematic

All the information required to generate such a diagram is contained in the Modelica model. While this information has been visible in some of the Modelica code listings in this chapter, we haven’t really discussed what information is stored and where.

To render a subsystem diagram, three pieces of information are needed:

  • The icon to use to represent each component.
  • The location of each component.
  • The path for each connection

Component Icon

The icon used for each component is simply whatever drawing primitives are included in the Icon annotation for that component’s definition. The details of the Icon annotation were covered in our previous discussion of Graphical Annotations.

Component Placement

Now that we know what to draw for each component, we need to know where to draw it. This is where the Placement annotation comes in. This annotation appeared in many of the examples in this chapter, e.g.,

  Convection convection(h=0.7, A=1.0)
    annotation (Placement(transformation(extent={{10,-10},{30,10}})));

The Placement annotation simply establishes a rectangular region in which to draw the icon associated with each component. As with other Graphical Annotations, we can describe the Placement annotation in terms of a record definition:

record Placement
  Boolean visible = true;
  Transformation transformation "Placement in the diagram layer";
  Transformation iconTransformation "Placement in the icon layer";
end Placement;

The visible field serves the same purpose as it does in the GraphicItem annotation we discussed earlier, i.e., it is used to control whether the component is rendered or not.

The transformation field defines how the icon is rendered in a schematic diagram and the iconTransformation defines how it is rendered if it is considered part of the subsystem’s icon. Generally, the iconTransformation is only defined for connectors since these are typically the only components that appear in the icon representation.

The Transformation annotation, which is defined as follows:

record Transformation
  Point origin = {0, 0};
  Extent extent;
  Real rotation(quantity="angle", unit="deg")=0;
end Transformation;

The rotation field indicates how many degrees the component’s icon should be rotated and the origin field indicates the point around which this rotation should occur. Finally, the extent field indicates the size of the region the icon will be rendered into.

Connection Rendering

Finally, we have the third topic, rendering the connections. Again, the annotations that govern how connections are rendered have appeared in many examples. Now, finally, we’ll explain what that information represents. Consider the following connect statement from our Thermal Control example:

  connect(controller_gain.y, heatSource.u) annotation (Line(

Note that the connect statement is followed by an annotation. In particular, note that this is a Line annotation. We already discussed the Line. The annotation data is the same in this context as it was then.