Automation Industry in India – A Historical Perspective [Apr 2012]

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.
Under the licensing agreement, Pramoshexport provided engineering drawings, technical expertise including training, and production equipment to manufacture a range of sensors, transmitters, electronic instruments such as indicators and recorders. The product portfolio included resistance thermometers, thermocouples, transmitters (which worked on differential transformer principle and used to measure pressure, differential pressure, level, and flow), electronic indicators and recorders (bridges and potentiometers to measure temperature from resistance thermometers and thermocouples respectively) and electronic single loop controllers to work in conjunction with resistance thermometers, thermocouples, and differential transformer transmitters. With this broad portfolio of offerings, IL acquired the capacity to meet the essential C&I requirements of process plants. The company also realised that it needs to build system engineering (application engineering so that the company can operate as a main instrumentation contractor) capabilities and panel fabrication facilities. IL quickly built these capabilities and production facilities. With these offerings and production facilities under its fold, IL positioned itself as a supplier capable of designing, engineering, installing, and commissioning C&I packages to process industries and secured the first turnkey project order from Harduaganj Thermal Power Station in Utter Pradesh, India. Harduaganj TPS was a coal-fired power plant comprising of two units of 50 MW each. BHEL supplied the boilers and steam turbines and the contract involved turnkey supply of entire control room C&I package along with other associated field devices, such as analytical instruments control valves, actuators, orifice plates, and flow nozzles and others. IL adopted a multi-pronged strategy. It resorted to specifying and procuring compatible items wherever possible and integrating them with the rest and deliver total automation systems. IL’s approach to understand the customer’s requirement for a comprehensive automation solution was a unique concept. IL also worked closely with other companies in developing few other instrumentation products such as annunciation systems. Even globally, very few automation companies adopted the main automation contractor approach in nineteen sixties or nineteen seventies. Looking from the automation industry perspective, this customer winning strategy was way ahead of the time.
IL, driven by its strategy to emerge as a turnkey supplier of control and instrumentation systems, went on to expand its product range to include analytical instruments and control valves. It entered into collaboration with automation companies such as Hartmann and Braun, Germany and Yamatake Honeywell, Japan. Later, Hartmann and Braun became part of ABB and Yamatake Honeywell became Azbil.
IL’s initial product portfolio consisted of electronic instruments and controllers and offered these instruments essentially to numerous power plants of generating capacities ranging from 50 MW to 210 MW. Later, as IL began to supply control and instrumentation systems to fertiliser plants and refineries, the company began to manufacture pneumatic instruments. When steel industry began to grow, IL expanded its product portfolio to include ferrodynamic instruments and supplied them to steel plants at Bhilai and Bokaro.
Controls & Instrumentation Market ExpandsAt around the same time, there were a few other instrumentation companies in India, such as Taylor Instruments and Bells Controls. H. Guru and few other companies made pressure and other gauges. While Taylor Instruments made and offered a comprehensive range of pneumatic instruments, which included pneumatic transmitters, indicators, recorders, and controllers, Bells Controls focused on pneumatic indicators and recorders. In later years, Bells Controls expanded its product portfolio to include George Kent’s range of pneumatic indicators, recorders, controllers, and valve positioners. While George Kent, UK entered into licensing arrangement with Bells Controls to manufacture and market its range of pneumatic instruments, it also licensed IL to manufacture and market its range of electronic instruments.
Export and Product Development InitiativesWhile IL, with its electronic instruments, catered to electric power and metals industries, Taylor Instruments and Bells Controls focused on fertiliser and oil & gas industries. IL with strong system engineering capabilities also took a bold decision to position itself as a main automation supplier to electric power plants at the global level and succeeded in getting an order for a power plant in Malaysia. The contract involved the supply of control and automation systems to two units of thermal power plants of capacity 120 MW in Malaysia. A leading engineering consulting company headquartered in the UK acted as the engineering consultant for the utility organisation in Malaysia. The specification included the supply of Data Acquisition Systems (DAS), first up annunciator, sequence control equipment, back up uninterrupted power supply, and such others. IL developed in-house the first up annunciator, sequence control equipment, and the DAS. IL developed the DAS architecture and built it around IBM 1800, the most powerful computer then. The IL team successfully developed the DCS software including the sequence of event recorder software, tested, demonstrated the functionality, installed, and commissioned the completely integrated DAS. Based on its project track record, IL secured yet another C&I package order from the National Electricity Board of Malaysia.Large scale entry of global automation companies into IndiaThe success stories of IL, Taylor Instruments, and Bells Controls and growing C&I market opportunities in India began to attract the attention of the global automation suppliers. At around the same time, conventional panel-based control and instrument systems began to give way to computer or microprocessor based automation systems. The automation market in India became very active; a spate of collaboration and joint venture agreements came into existence. Keltron established Keltron Controls in collaboration with Control Bailey, France and later entered into an agreement with Hitachi, Japan. Uptron started an automation company in Lucknow in collaboration with Leeds and Northrup, USA. Bells Controls entered into a joint venture agreement with Foxboro, now known as Invensys and established a new factory at Mysore. IL signed an agreement with Toshiba, Japan to make and market DCS. Westinghouse and Bailey controls also entered the automation market in India. Keonics and Blue Star joined to start a joint venture company with technical collaboration from Yokogawa, Japan to make and supply DCS. Subsequently Yokogawa bought out the share holdings of Keonics and Blue Star to emerge as an independent company. Out of these numerous new automation startup companies, only Bells Controls, Keltron, and Yokogawa made significant progress and went on to secure some key contracts.
While the industrial activity in segments such as fossil-fired power, steel, and fertiliser plants provided impetus for the growth of automation industry in India and spurred IL, Bells Controls, Keltron, and Yokogawa to emerge as leading automation supplier companies, Electronic Corporation of India (ECIL) forayed into automation market for nuclear power plants. Atomic Energy Commission, with a mandate to establish the nuclear power technology in the country, set up ECIL. ECIL’s focus was to develop the entire gamut of professional electronic components and control systems to meet the country’s need.The company had separate business divisions that focused on developing and producing automation and control systems for nuclear power plants including nuclear instruments and reactor control systems. Strong commitment to design and development was ECIL’s core strength. The company, apart from having a separate computer and software division, also had special working arrangement or value added partner relationship with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), known in those days, as a leading supplier of minicomputers (PDP 11 series) especially for real time industrial applications. Based on these strengths, ECIL built DAS for thermal power plants. ECIL developed and produced the country’s first Programmable Logic Controllers and supplied them for applications in steel plants and power plants. ECIL and BHEL jointly manufactured and supplied automatic turbine run up systems.
The growing electric power industry and the resulting demand for C&I systems spurred BHEL, the country’s primary supplier of power plant equipment, such as boilers and turbine, to enter the automation market. BHEL started making automation systems in collaboration with Brown Boveri, which later on became ABB. Later the company entered into a licensing agreement with Metso Automation and this arrangement continues. BHEL, with a near monopoly as a supplier of main equipment to the country’s electric power industry, has become a formidable player in the country’s automation market.
The opening of India’s economy provided further impetus for almost all global automation suppliers to enter the country’s expanding market. ABB, Emerson Process Management, GE, Invensys Operations Management, Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Yokogawa and others have emerged as leading market players. The automation industry in India is well established and the country provides robust growth opportunities to automation companies.(This article is authored by Rajabahadur V Arcot, VP and GM, ARC Advisory Group, India. The information provided and views expressed in this article are personal and based on his long association with the C&I industry and personal recollections. He can be contacted at raja@arcweb.com)

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