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Implementation of Automation Technologies is far higher in Chemical Sector
The chemical industry in India has matured with time. It covers a wide spectrum of industries that deal with chemicals including petrochemicals, rubber, polymers, textiles, paints, etc. The implementation of automation technology within these industry verticals depends upon the scale as well as the requirement. Automation in chemical industry has reached the edge of operating parameters. Compared to other industries, the understanding and implementation of technology is far higher in this sector. If you look at the history of the chemical industry, it has always had to deal with complex controls. As a result, itís quite ahead of other industries when it comes to the adoption and implementation of modern technologies like process automation.

Process automation serves to enhance product quality, master the whole range of products, improve process safety & plant availability and helps in the efficient use of resources. It can also play an important role in lowering the emissions. In rapidly developing countries like India, mass production is the main motivation for applying process automation. As such the greatest demand for process automation is in the chemical industry.

Indian customers are realising the benefits of better technology. Advantages that are commonly attributed to automation include higher production rates and increased productivity, efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety, shorter workweeks for labour, and reduced factory lead times. Among all, the need for higher output and increased productivity has been two of the biggest reasons in justifying the use of automation. Despite the claims of high quality from good workmanship by humans, the automated systems provide an edge by performing the manufacturing process with less variability. In the end, you get greater control and consistency of product quality. Further, increased process control ensures efficient use of materials, resulting in lesser scrap. Also, the products created by automation are not impacted by human errors. Another thing is that while humans can fall sick thus affecting the production quality, there is no such problem with the automation systems.

It helps a company to be in regulatory compliance by improving safety. Thatís why worker safety is another important reason for automating an industrial operation. Automated systems often remove workers from the workplace and hence safeguard them against the hazards of a typical factory environment.

factory environment. Automation technology, if used wisely and effectively, can yield substantial opportunities. Future automation technologies will improve the social and economic environment, where humans can enjoy a higher standard of living and a better way of life. Operating margins in the chemical industry are very low for commodity business. The final 1 to 2 percent increase in the productivity is the profit. One also has to bear in mind the competition from low cost producers from China. Still, better technology and a better understanding of the processes can deliver a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Sometimes, the government policies can be rigid and unfriendly. Safety is another important aspect. One cannot try out new software, which can have an effect on process or safety. Thus adhering to safety norms and absence of such stringent norms and regulations in our country pose a challenge.

Skilled manpower is another major issue. Finding right people has become difficult. Huge demand from other sectors like services, IT, banking, media, etc. is driving away the manpower. We need to identify people who are interested in this industry and are willing to take up the tough work. Having said that, we also need to show them the excellent growth opportunities that this sector offers, along with good packages. China is a growing engine for automation in Asia, in spite of its lower levels of plant automation. High level of Productivity with cost effective approach is the Mantra of Chinese producers. India, too is gaining market shares worldwide. However we can adopt a lot from markets such as South East Asia, Central Europe, Brazil, and Turkey. Indian organisations hesitate to adopt automation as they feel there are risks involved. Due to a lack of confidence, small and medium sized players, think that there are several organisational, cultural and technological challenges in implementing automation. They often choose to play safe by sticking to existing technologies and manual processes. Investment is yet another factor which sometimes is a concern for small manufacturers. With limited capital, it is a challenge to arrange funds to automate a business model. In US and Europe, control system engineering and development is treated as a separate activity than supply. For example, companies would have an annual contract with organisations (like Siemens or Rockwell) from where they will purchase the hardware. This model has worked in the US because it has been a huge market as compared to India. For the model to be replicated here, you need large independent system integrators who have organisational stability and can provide quality solutions. With big companies entering plant automation, this model can surely work in India. Another important and emerging customer trend is that now Indian customers expect larger roles from a single source. Earlier, they worked with different vendors but now they want one entity to manage everything.

Communication is one of the major tools in management, and in this digital age wireless communication has become the norm. As such wireless communication has a lot to offer in the process industry. The technology has attractive features as it reduces the need for complicated and expensive cabling at large chemical plants. Secondly, maintenance personnel on the production floor can remain in contact with the control centre. Further, isolated instrumentation can be integrated into the automation strategy.

Wireless technology also offers the advantage of flexibility. Ease of use, visualisation, parametrisation, and diagnostics through remote links. Nowadays, automation has become more commoditised. The Indian industry is now hooked up to the global industry. It is no more isolated as it was a few years back.

Any global phenomenon has a direct or indirect impact on the Indian industry. This is going to drive more integration. Companies are going to follow and align themselves with global standards. Due to its severe exposure to industrial hazards, the chemical industry is likely to lead the implementation of security norms. Without any doubt, the economic, organisational and technological trends will cause significant changes in automation technology in the coming years.