Automation and Instrumentation

Automation in the industry has been existing since a few decades and the sophistication has been increasing year after year. Instrumentation may form part of automation. There are cases where there is no automation but there is Instrumentation. There must be instrumentation. In process industry there is a control room full of instruments and 5 to 6 experts sit over there with micro phones. They detect any abnormality at a particular place. They instruct the supervisor in-charge about the abnormality and how to correct the same. In large plants these places are given numbers so that the supervisors can easily follow the instructions.

Automation is fully applied to the line and cannot be to the entire plant. The automation can be partial. In case of heavy machinery automation is applied to the manufacturer and they grind special shapes of the required accuracy.

The decision regarding automation is normally taken at the start-up of a new plant and there it is decided which part of the plant should be automated. The instruments applicable to these plants are standardized and therefore a separate decision need not be taken regarding instrumentation. If and when required, the instruments are installed at that point to give the accurate reading.

The most common form of automation is automobile industry and packing line of  small products. In this case humans do not  touch the products and they are there only for putting the labels in case of packages. In case of the automobile industry after the wielding is done by Robots the workers check the same and pass on to the next station.

I will take up the case of sophisticated machine tools. If the quantity of components are identical and large and the accuracy is beyond human elements. Automation comes into picture. This is mostly applicable  for very high accuracy, machining and grinding. The automation is not used for heavy machinery. However, there can be instrumentation in case of heavy machinery. Same is also applied to civil work like bridges, large ducts and large structures which are eventually converted into commercial offices and residential places.

In case of process industry particularly Pharma, there can be full automation. In case of Pharma, human hand never touches either the medicine inputs or finished products. They are packed, sealed and come out of one end where workers send them to the finished goods stores. From there these medicines are sent to various destinations as per the instructions of the marketing department.

Nowadays, in the process industry bulk items like chemicals, fertilizers and cements are also automated in their floor and finally packed in 25 kg bags. At the end of the packing line few workers load them into trucks or send them to warehouses. After completing excise formalities. Even components required for a computer made by the original manufacturer undergo automation and no humans touch them until they are properly packed.

To monitor all this automation and flow of materials there is instrumentation room where experts control all the operations and the methodology has already been mentioned above.

There are various advantages of automation. Labour problems are minimized and productivity is at its highest. We can talk of superior quality of products may be intermediary and finished. By automation and proper instrumentation the inputs or additives are well controlled and they are utilized optimally.

First, let us take the instrumentation room. It is air conditioned kept neat and clean and the instruments can be digital or analog. The area where automation is implemented is also environmentally conditioned and you will have a neat and clean place. In automation apart from cleanliness there is no wastage of material either in process industry or engineering industry. The disadvantage that we can have is if  the process is not collected in time for  quantity and quality it can lead to a lot of wastage of materials. A simple example, is printing of  Account statements in large quantities on offset printing machines and if the numbers have to be corrected it is not possible until a new lot is loaded. There may be total loss of materials.

Indian corporates are diversifying or expanding their products it can be backward integration, vertical integration or forward integration. All these are considering automation and more of instrumentation so that the productivity and quality of goods manufactured is much superior. But automation is possible only in cases where it is applicable. In some cases it may not be possible to apply automation.

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