Is there any common field across all manufacturing industries that is likely to demand the highest amount of investment and improvement in the next decade? The answer is instrumentation and control. As corporate majors try to increase productivity, one way they are likely to achieve this is through ‘sensorisation’ of all technologies ranging from food processing to mining. Flexibility and efficiency are going to be the differentiators in order to quickly develop and manufacture an increasing number of products to meet the rapidly changing demands of the market.
If you are ready to master a subject that is essentially a ‘mix’ of many other subjects, ‘instrumentation engineering’ can provide you the right foothold for career in many industries. Moreover, with growing competition, “timing and speed are going to become vital for survival and success of the future organisations. No organisation in today’s age can survive without agility and responsiveness to changing environments. Systemic efficiencies can only be brought in and improved through control and instrumentation. With companies becoming more and more complex and dispersed, there is need for efficient manpower,” says Sanjay Mittal, managing director, Yogasa Systems.
Know the field
India’s manufacturing industry, which is spurring the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) growth, is undergoing a major transformation. This sector is scaling up and beginning to seek global competitiveness through a wider application of instruments. This trend is contributing to the robust growth of the instrumentation and control market.
“According to a survey conducted by FICCI on ‘Emerging Skill Shortage in the Indian Industry,’ few sectors have been highlighted with shortage of manpower. Out of which, many cater to the need for instrumentation engineers alone. The shortage of instrumentation engineers is more due to less number of colleges offering B.Tech degree in instrumentation and control in India. Apart from this, automation
of the small-scale industry in India requires well-trained instrumentation engineers having knowledge of computers and instrumentation,” opines Prof. Rekha Agarwal, head of Department of Instrumentation and Control Engineering, Amity School of Engineering and Technology.
Timing and speed are going to become vital for survival and success of the future organisations. No organisation in today’s age can survive without agility and responsiveness to changing environments. Systemic efficiencies can only be brought in and improved through control and instrumentation. With companies becoming more and more complex and dispersed, there is need for efficient manpower.
—Sanjay Mittal, managing director, Yogasa Systems
Instrumentation engineering is one of the complicated but sophisticated branches of engineering discipline that may be studied as a separate branch or along with electronics engineering. The study mainly focuses on the design, configuration and automated systems.
“It deals with measurement of various physical quantities like temperature, pressure, level, flow, speed, sound, light intensity and control of the same in various industries. Instrumentation system is widely used in industries, viz, automotive, pharmaceuticals, chemical, fertilizers, power plants, pollution control, biomedical, food processing, electronic product manufacturing and textile. With the advancement and widespread applications of electronics and computers in instrumentation and control, the syllabus is framed to include core courses of electronics as well as computer engineering,” explains Prof. R.D. Kokate, head of Department of Instrumentation Engineering, MGM’s Jawaharlal Nehru Engineering College.
According to Rohit Sinha, head-human resources, L&T Engineering, E&C Division, “The Indian automation market has acquired the critical momentum to propel the instrumentation and control industry to a higher growth trajectory. Instrumentation is a well-established technology, both in the manufacturing sector and infrastructure. He feels that India’s hope of emerging as an economic superpower depends a lot on how we groom our engineers to leverage this technology. By transferring global-quality learning processes, we can convert a much larger percentage of the emerging manpower to more enriching careers.”
An instrumentation engineer can find a wide range of career opportunities in all sectors of industries ranging from automotive to health-care. The passouts are absorbed in power plants, fertilisers and chemicals industry, petrochemicals industry, pharmaceutical industry, cement factories, healthcare services, consulting services, navigational and aerospace organisations, food processing industry and weather stations to name a few. Among the hundreds of corporate employers, some are Texas Instruments, HCL, TCS, ABB, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), National Instruments, Pepsi, Nagarjuna Fertilizers, Xilinx, Honeywell, Wockhardt, Bechtel and Saint-Gobin. In the public sector, there are SAIL, BHEL, NTPC, ONGC, Indian Oil, etc.
Know your role
Instrumentation and control engineers design, build and manage systems that are used in a range of industrial settings such as manufacturing, health-care, food processing, mining and energy production. “An instrumentation engineer is invariably required where there is an engineering activity,” says Kokate.
Keep in mind, as an instrumentation engineer, you have to monitor, measure, regulate and control physical quantities like pressure and temperature. Further, you may need to control product movement, actuators and positioning devices. Your main objective will be to ensure that the systems and processes operate effectively, efficiently and safely.
The shortage of instrumentation engineers becomes more due to less number of colleges offering B.Tech degree in instrumentation and control in India.
— Prof. Rekha Agarwal, head of Department of Instrumentation and Control Engineering, Amity School of Engineering and Technology
Most of the jobs available in this field can be bucketed under two broad categories. “An instrumentation engineer usually gets involved either in the manufacturing and supply of the instruments or in the companies who use them,” says Mittal. The roles are defined depending on the requirements of the job. “Typically, an instrumentation engineer checks system’s complaints against the instruments, installs new systems or instruments, and evaluates the prototype,” explains Mittal.
The Indian automation market has acquired the critical momentum to propel the instrumentation and control industry to a higher growth trajectory
— Rohit Sinha, head-human resources, L&T Engineering, E&C Division
According to Mittal, with a sound knowledge of instrumentation and control, one may even be involved in designing a robot that can perform critical surgery or a system that follows Fuzzy logic control.
Further, you can also get abundant opportunities for higher studies in Indian and foreign universities.
Know the moolah
A fresh instrumentation engineer may start at Rs 200,000-400,000 per annum. However, the scene is a little bit daunting for diploma holders as their starting salary is only Rs 150,000 to Rs 200,000 per annum. Professionals with five to seven years of experience may get anywhere between Rs 500,000 and Rs 1 million per annum. Note that the salary is on the higher side for design engineers. If you can grab an international opportunity, the minimum salary may be in the range of Rs 2 million within about five years.
You could start at a junior level as part of a major project and grow to become a project leader in 10-12 years’ time. In most cases, salaries are proportional to the cost of the projects. For this kind of position, along with basic engineering, you will need to do project management consultancy to ensure reliable project execution.
Know the selection criteria
I believe, up to this point, you have received enough boosters about the opportunities-to-be grabbed in the instrumentation field. Let’s ask the experts how to get a foothold in this field.
“An individual interested to make his career in instrumentation engineering can take up ‘electronics and instrumentation engineering’ or simply ‘instrumentation engineering’ branch at the undergraduate level,” says C.P. Ravikumar, technical director-University Relation, Texas Instruments.
Mittal points out the opportunities available for diploma holders in the service sector. This field is specifically suitable for engineering professionals with multidisciplinary as well as project management interests, such as project engineering. Exciting and technically satisfying careers can be pursued in the field of technical marketing, design engineering, project management, integration and servicing.
And if you consider technology, I must say wherever there is a need for process control to increase productivity, there is instrumentation. It could be a human gene analysis laboratory or a locomotive workshop.
For working in this field, it is mandatory to have in-depth knowledge of mathematics and physics. With the advancement and widespread applications of electronics and computers in instrumentation and control, the syllabus is framed to include core courses of electronics as well as computer engineering.
Though an engineering degree is the obvious qualification to earn, graduate and postgraduate degree holders in physics also qualify to work in this field.
“The subject of instrumentation is quite vast. It is not fair to expect both breadth and depth from a fresh recruit. At the undergraduate level, the industry expects a good understanding of fundamental concepts,” says Sinha.
In sync with Sinha’s view, Kokate explains these fundamental concepts as a combination of both hardware and software knowledge along with an idea about the application domain. He specifically emphasises on “the knowledge of process plant, quality concerns, and international standards for process control.” Automation challenges in mechanical, electrical, electronic or interdisciplinary applications are also equally important. Additionally, an instrumentation engineer needs to have electrical engineering knowledge related to motors and pumps and chemical engineering knowledge related to reactors. Other than this, skills in SAP, Web designing, Internet protocols, digital communication devices and standards would be an added advantage for any aspiring candidate.
Agarwal expects a well-qualified instrumentation engineer to have sound knowledge of distributed control systems, programmable logic controllers, process control and CAD/CAM. The industry also looks for one who has in-depth knowledge of engineering fundamentals and is able to work in a team. Further, an instrumentation engineer should know how to transform design problems into floor solutions.
Instrumentation deals with measurement of various physical quantities like temperature, pressure, level, flow, speed, sound, light intensity and control of the same in various industries. An instrumentation engineer is invariably required where there is an engineering activity.
— Prof. R.D. Kokate, head of Department of Instrumentation Engineering
The ability to work with good ethics and human values and strong interpersonal skills are must to have. Agarwal defines the application areas as engineering design, industrial process plants, power production, pet rochemical processing, oil extraction and gas refining, fertiliser industry, software automation of industrial plants, instrument manufacturing and automobile assembly line control.
The main metric is grip on control. And as a professional, you are expected to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to design a practical control loop as per that metric. If you can achieve it, instrumentation and maintenance related issues will automatically be on your fingertips.
“Instrumentation plays a very important role in power electronics segment. An aspirant in this field needs to have clear idea about features like feedback, control and communication.”
— R.K. Bansal, managing director, Uniline
MGM’s Jawaharlal Nehru Engineering College
To make maximum use of the situation, you need to have expertise to survive in the globally competitive environment of automation.
Know the final bend
As is always the case, the earlier, the better. Academically, the right time to acquaint yourself with this multidisciplinary field of electronics is when you are in the second or third year of engineering. Try to utilise your industrial training or final-year project for the same.
Mittal points out, “An aspirant of this field can get holistic overview of ‘chip to ship’ of a control loop and instrumentation only after completing a project. Nearly all of our institutes, barring a handful, are woefully lagging in terms of providing students with such opportunities.”
If you feel that you lag behind due to lack of practical exposure, a strategically chosen industrial project may be the solution. I emphasise the word ‘strategically’ because that may decide whether you will get the job passport or your effort will go down the drain. So before choosing the project topic, judge your aptitude, utility of the project and also a suitable guiding environment. For example, involvement in a biosensor development project may provide you an entry ticket for the biomedical industry!
The author is a consultant-editorial, industry & academia interface at EFY