Machines are increasingly getting intelligent and this intelligence is provided by software. Currently, more functionalities are being defined by software rather than hardware. Sharing his point of view, PrasadBhatt, vice president, Product Engineering Solutions, Wipro, says that, “We observe that IT has a very important role to play on the shop floor, and to drive this trend, the industry needs automation engineers who understand the interplay of software and machines.
Starting from waste and water management to any production assembly line, there is a need for control and automation systems, believes Partamita Kapat, head-HR, eInfochips. She adds, “Synchronised signals and correct signal indications can create an efficient system to make life easier. Intelligence can be added to such systems by ‘monitoring’ the traffic and flow.”
It’s a multi-disciplinary field
The control and automation domain is a multi-disciplinary field. It requires a convergence of various engineering fields—CS/IT, electrical, mechanical, chemical and electronics to develop a solution. “Control and automation requires a blend of process knowledge, logic theory, software/platform knowledge, instrumentation and IT,” says Amit Kumar Kushawaha, product manager (EMS-Energy Management Systems), Rishabh Instruments Pvt Ltd, Nashik.
The basic premise of automation is to pass on the intelligence to a system with the objective of making it efficient and economical. “Systems such as energy management are an investment and lead to savings in aspects of consumption, man hours and enhanced system availability,” Kushawaha adds.
The control and automation domain is currently in a situation in which demand far outstrips supply. “In fact, this is one of the few technical areas in the electrical/electronic-engineering field where the knowledge or skills available in India are seriously inadequate, and students, engineers and experts in these areas will be required by the industry in the immediate future,” says Nilesh Sawant, head, SITRAIN India, Siemens Ltd. Prasad Bhatt believes that in India, the adoption of automation has lagged behind countries in Europe and North America. He adds, “However, some companies, especially those in process industries such as steel, cement and oil & gas, have been leading adopters of automation technologies.”
The Indian market for automation is evolving, believes Kushawaha. With the rising cost of resources, stringent regulations, and the increasing concern for the environment and safety, companies are making systems efficient. But within the current economic scenario, the decision to switch to automation is also based on concerns about cash flow and capex. There is also the need to raise awareness among end customers. Kushawaha says, “Automation has percolated to several new areas including security, lighting, fire detection, entertainment and energy management. The market comprises large players like Rockwell, Schneider, Siemens and several fragmented players who have developed capabilities in specific fields. Rishabh Instruments, over three decades, has developed expertise in electrical equipment and systems like energy management.”
Rajeev Sharma, general manager-Strategic Planning and Business Development, Mitsubishi Electric India Pvt Ltd, says, “Automation Industry is increasing at the rate of 12 to 13 per cent every year, but in the Indian automation market technology used in machinery is not at par with developed countries. Indian market is good for F&B and Pharma industry which is a very attractive market for automation.”
The job scenario
There is considerable demand for control and automation engineers in India, say industry experts. “The scenario for jobs in control and automation clearly shows a serious demand for students and engineers from the branches of electrical, electronics and instrumentation engineering,” says Nilesh Sawant. He adds, “All types of industries, including automobiles, food and beverages, pulp and paper, cement, mining, chemical, pharma, construction, infrastructure or even power generation and transmission, use automation engineering and technology in small, medium or high levels, depending on the machinery or process. Hence, individuals gaining knowledge in basic or advanced levels of automation will have access to a variety of job opportunities.”
Considering India’s industrial growth, many multinational companies that provide automation solutions have entered or are entering into the Indian market, informs Partamita Kapat. She says, “These companies have to rely on local resources. The manpower can be for office staff (designing and manufacturing) or for onsite deployment. If a skilled workforce is not available locally, these MNCs have to ‘import’ talent, which increases the cost of the solution.” She adds, “There is a large requirement for products used in control and automation. Most of the raw material used for automation solutions is imported. The industry needs substitutes for the imports.”
Kushawaha thinks that those aspiring to enter this field should take up internship opportunities during college, at companies involved in such operations. Plant start-ups are a great place to experience systems integration and functioning. Another avenue for learning are the various competitions held at educational institutes across the country. He says, “Aspirants should get out of their comfort zones and take up such challenges. Rishabh Instruments offers internship opportunities to students in the field of energy management and systems integration. Students get to dirty their hands on actual systems, which leaves them with an intense learning experience.”
Scope and entry level roles in the control and automation sector
Automation is a rapidly expanding field and in a developing country like India, there are immense growth opportunities for an individual. Kushawaha says, “An aspect of crucial importance here is that an exposure to operations gives you an edge over others, as it helps you to acquire a holistic picture of the systems involved.” Talking about entry level jobs, he says, “The entry level roles do involve getting into installation, commissioning, etc, and these experiences help one come up with efficient and safe designs in automation projects.”
Regarding the scope for career development in this field, Prasad Bhatt informs, “Broadly, an engineer can work in three different kinds of companies. The first are pure-play automation companies that are suppliers of automation equipment and software to various industries. Then there are industrial users of automation products and services, such as companies in automotive, power and the oil & gas sectors. Finally, there are services companies, which provide consultancy and services to integrate products from pure-play automation companies with the manufacturing processes of the industrial users.” These services add high value by adapting standalone machines and middleware, and customise them to the specific needs of optimisation and control, remote management and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications. Talking about entry level jobs, he adds, “Typically, entry level roles involve validation of automation and control systems’ designs. Gradually, the engineer moves into designing and modelling of the systems.”
According to Nilesh Sawant, there are two broad categories of firms that absorb freshers or engineers with one or two years of experience. The first are hard core electrical or electronic engineering companies like Siemens, which hire for projects, design, engineering, commissioning, sales and servicing of the automation products and systems. The automation product and systems could be PLC, HMI, SCADA, networking systems, DCS, sensors, etc. The second type are the hard core manufacturing or consumer industries (involving the use of automation), where these engineers would be required in large numbers. Companies in the consumer industry include Cadburys, Times of India, Ford, Tata Iron & Steel, Ranbaxy, CEAT Tyres, etc. The jobs could be in areas like plant and projects, plant maintenance, plant purchase, plant engineering/commissioning, plant production, etc.