06 Nov Automation and Control
We all might have heard of the term automation and control on a frequent basis and we can get somewhat of an idea from its name and about what automation actually is. If it is to be explained in the simplest of terms, Automation and Control engineering is all about reducing the human involvement in a production process in order to reduce or eliminate the human error and to enhance and boost ht production at the same time. We live in an era of rapidly evolving technologies and the advancements and everyday there is something new to discover in the technological world. After the third industrial revolution, the amount of research and development in the areas of computerized machinery has exploded and the industry keeps on seeking the new ways to gain increased rendements. To that end, entire production processes are being automated and being controlled with very little to no human input. In general, the utilization of the information resulting from the research in industry and other production systems has led to emerge a new branch of engineering,”Control and Automation Engineering”. Control and Automation engineering is a branch of engineering which develops and implements information and technology providing electrical, electronic, mechanical and computer-based all industrial systems to work intended and planned manner.
In the simplest terms, it is an automated system which acts and controls the whole production process by acting on the feedbacks from its sensing units.
The automation and control mechanisms are nothing new in the human world. Ancient Greeks and Arabs were quite adept in creating simple water clocks which worked with a water regulating feedback quite similar to the flush tank mechanisms. These clocks would be quite accurate and would be used till the 14th century when they became obsolete with the invention of the mechanical clock. With the 2nd industrial revolution, the requirements for the automation and control of the self regulating machines had increased drastically which resulted in the inventions of pressure regulators, temperature regulators, float regulators and speed control devices. These are all sensing devices whose modern day variants, transmit their day to the control unit of the machine. The innovations resulting in more and more advanced control and automation of the machinery was very slow until the dawn of the 20th century where the rapid advancements in the field of technology were made which were followed by the 1st and the 2nd world war which saw massive advancements in the fields of the mass communications and signal processing. Various encoding and encryption devices like the Enigma machine, developed by the German scientist during World War II, were developed and decoding devices like Turing’s Bombe machine, which was a computer specifically designed to crack Enigma code, were developed along the war. Other key advances in automatic controls that happened during the second world war include differential equations, stability theory and system theory, frequency domain analysis, ship control, and stochastic analysis. Around the end of 1950s, Texaco’s Port Arthur Refinery became the first chemical plant to use digital control. Conversion of factories to digital control began to spread rapidly in the 1970s as the price of computer hardware fell leading to today’s advancements in the form of PLCs, microcontrollers and SKADA based systems.
Advantages over the Conventional System
With the help of PLCs, microcontrollers, SKADA and similar systems, a number of advantages can be achieved over the conventional methods. The first, foremost and the most obvious advantage among these is the higher productions as compared to the conventional production methods. By reducing the manual input in the production, the whole process become streamlined with exact and calculated times which free the production plants from a lot of restraining factors like delayed response from the production team because of fatigue, errors, mistakes and mishaps and most of all, the need for a 24 hours supervision and maintenance. Most of the times, the companies need to hire three shifts of personnel in order to maximize their production efforts which still does include all of the human error risks but also drastically adds to the costs of production. Automation removes all of these factors which not only improves the production but also reduces the operational costs of the machinery. It also results in the higher quality of the product because unlike humans, machines do are not fatigued ever so the chances of any kind of mistake are completely eliminated. Higher flexibility is another one of these advantages since the robots can be programmed to do any kind of task while in the conventional system, a new trained worker would be required to handle that task. Better and more accurate data collectivity as a result of automation, allows you to collect accurate information about the whole process and you can reduce the waste and further improve the production by making the right decisions with the accurate information. Most important of all the advantages is the improved safety of the staff since the machines handle the most hazardous tasks minimizing the risks of accident and injuries.
Scale of Automation in Pakistan
Although a lot of industries try to keep their technology updated to enhance their production, most of the industry in Pakistan is still using the conventional production methods and do not try to improve their technology. This is usually happens because of the high initial costs of automating the entire production process but once it had been done, the advantages and benefits completely overshadow the initial installation costs. Most of all, it saves on the production costs in the long term and easily cover up its initial installation costs. The foresight to see such advantages is the most lacking factor in the industrial leadership in Pakistan at the moment.
What can be done to improve the situation
Awareness campaigns need to be launched to make the industry owners realize the huge benefits of switching to an automated and controlled production system from the conventional methods. Pakistan already is making strides in the automation and control sector and full advantage of these developments need to be taken in order to maximize the production efforts.