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Automation Industry in India – A Historical Perspective

April 10, 2012 9:37 am

Today, the opening of India’s economy provided huge impetus for global automation suppliers to enter the expanding market. Rajabahadur V Arcot, VP & GM at ARC Advisory Group depicts the journey of automation industry in India
Automation or control & instrumentation as it was called in the past plays a very important role in the productive operations of industries. In order to operate a plant efficiently and effectively, it is necessary not only to measure various parameters such as pressure, temperature, flow, conductivity, level and others; but also automatically control or regulate some of them. Control and instrumentation devices help to measure and regulate various process parameters. They operate on diverse principles – mechanical, electrical and electronics, pneumatic, and hydraulic.
Control & Instrumentation Technology: Global PerspectivePanel-based C&I SystemsTraditionally manufacturing companies invest in automation from safety, health, and environmental considerations and treat automation systems as tools necessary to manage shop or production floor operations. However, as processes complexities increased and companies sought sustainable competitiveness, automation has become a business enabler. Manufacturing companies, operating in all industrial verticals such as automotive, cement, chemical, electric power oil & gas, metals & mining, pharmaceuticals, and others, extensively deploy automation. Over the years, the types of control and instruments used have gone through tremendous changes. In the beginning, plants mostly used mechanical instruments, such as pressure and temperature gauges or electrical instruments such as ammeters, voltmeters, and cross-coil indicators that were mounted either directly on the equipment or on local panels near the equipment. Then came the era of pneumatic instruments consisting of panel mounted indicators, recorders, and controllers mounted either on local panels or in central control rooms. The pneumatic instruments served their purpose well but with the advent of electronics and with plant sizes becoming bigger, the demand for electronic instruments expanded. It took a while for electronic control and instrumentation systems to establish their sway. Initially, the industry acceptance was low because the electronic instruments then were built on vacuum tube technology, which did not function as reliably as the well-proven pneumatic instruments. However, with the electronics-technology taking quantum leaps, electronic instruments gained rapid acceptance.
Corresponding transformation was taking place at the field instruments’ end as well. To begin with, the signal transmission from sensors to instruments – indicators, recorders, and controllers – was either mechanical or direct electrical. Subsequently, the use of transmitters, which converted process parameters into unified signals and sent over long distances, came into vogue. The advent of pneumatic transmitters and instruments made it possible to transmit signals over longer distances or to remotely located control rooms. Different manufacturers used proprietary signals but the most common air signal was 3-15 psig, which later became 0.2-1 bar. The advent of electronic instruments witnessed each instrument company using their own signal for their instruments; 10-50 ma, 0.25-1.25 Volts, 0-10 Volts, 1-5 volts, and 4-20 ma, until the 4-20 ma came to be accepted as the standard.
Microprocessor-based Automation SystemsWhile greater acceptance of the concept of central control largely contributed to the development of control and instrumentation technology, the developments in the field of computers and microprocessors contributed to the development of Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA). In early 1970, Honeywell developed and introduced distributed control systems to meet the demands of process industries such as oil and gas and refining. Around the same time, Dick Morley, working for a development company associated with Modicon (now part of Schneider) developed Programmable Logic Controllers that replaced traditional relay logic circuits and met the automation requirements of discrete industries. However, the use of computers in the control and instrumentation field began with the application of large computers and mini computers for data acquisition and for not for control applications. These computer-based systems were called as Data Acquisition Systems (DAS) and often the architecture involved redundant computers and a full-scale back up for panel-based systems. However, the advent of powerful, affordable, and reliable microprocessors contributed to the rapid development and industry acceptance of DCS. The evolution that began with the development of microprocessor based automation systems, such as DCS, PLC, and SCADA, continues and these systems are becoming powerful, collaborative and user friendly.
While the industrial growth spurs the growth of the automation or control and instrumentation technology, the automation technology advancements, in equal measure, contribute to bringing about manufacturing transformation. The industrialisation, which began in the middle of 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and North America, contributed to the gradual growth of control and instrumentation market in developed economies.
Evolution of Control and Instrumentation Technology in IndiaElectronic Controls and Instrumentation: India LeapfrogsIndia, which missed taking the path of industrialisation in an organic manner, had to wait for many decades before it could embark on this journey. India’s first five-year plan (1951-1956) paved the way and the country began to establish industries such as cement, steel, electric power plants, and others. During the early stages of India’s industrialisation, most of these plants were set up with the necessary expertise (know how) coming through country-to-country bilateral agreements. The licensor organisations or collaborators supplied the control and instrumentation packages along with main plant and equipment and process knowledge. With the industrialisation picking up significantly in mid-1960, the need for producing controllers and instruments in India arose and the country’s ministry of industries and other associated government departments took necessary initiatives. Resulting from these initiatives, the ministry of industries established Instrumentation Limited (IL) at Kota under a licensing agreement with Pramoshexport, one of the licensing arms of the erstwhile USSR and now Russia.

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