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Interview: Challenges of automation industry

April 03, 2011

Technological advancement is rampant in every walk of life since the pioneering days of Industrial Revolution in the West. It was by way of this trend that processes and production procedures were continuously perfected to attain efficient productivity through achievement of standardisation in quality by way of engaging human capital.

As the decades went by, the scale of activity increased dramatically and it was clear to the quality pundits that automated mechanised capital is a far better choice in terms of quality, productivity, efficiency and standardisation.

In our country the industrial sector is persistently assailed with challenges of growth prospects coupled with dwindling interest of both local and foreign investors. Nevertheless, it has failed to deter the contemporary young engineers to venture into the discipline of industrial automation. A remarkable example of persistent belief in personal passion for automation is Mohammad Anas, a graduate in electronics engineering from GIK Institute who is currently undergoing masters’ in industrial electronics at the NED University, Karachi.

Cognizant of preference for conventional engineering, you still opted to specialise in industrial process automation. What made you choose this discipline and how did you navigate into the mainstream industry?

It is my belief that the era today is of specialisations; but you have to endure fierce competition. The inspiration and encouragement to take up this specialisation came mainly from my family. Our modest family outlet was initially engaged in servicing and maintenance of industrial equipment, which evolved into industrial automation. Over a period of time, my interest grew into a passion and I took up studies in this field. Soon after my graduation, I started visiting industrial areas for maintenance assistance, troubleshooting and indigenous development of automated interfaces.

Which are the areas where automation is being employed and what are your experiences with it?

Technological advancements in process monitoring, control and industrial automation over the past decades have contributed greatly to improve the productivity of virtually all manufacturing industries throughout the world. Apart from the speed, what accrues from automated manufacturing are: simplification of production, improved work flow, higher consistency, quality and reduced handling.

Even the workers feel motivated when a satisfactory implementation of automation is made. My experience with the industry has been rewarding all along. I suppose it is my complete immersion in the technical intricacies of control systems that I manage to resolve difficult issues, able to devise suitable interfaces, conduct calibration and successful defect rectification. We have also designed and manufactured control system parts and assemblies that are in satisfactory operation.

To get some idea of the specialisation, can you quote some example of the automation task that you have conducted?

People sometimes import low-priced machines that are liquidated or used; therefore, they arrive with missing parts and documentation. These not only require refurbishing and customisation to meet clients’ needs but also complete installation with automation systems specifically designed for the industrial process. We are also system integrators who have to tailor the machines to satisfy the clients’ needs.

One of our clients had imported a single unit which we commissioned successfully. Thereafter at the client’s request, we collaborated with him to produce additional units locally using the client’s strong machining capabilities and our control systems expertise.

In what ways does the government encourage production in the field of industrial process?

Concession on tax levy is there for goods manufactured in the country, but the parallel imports of machinery cancels out the effects of industrial motivation. Automotive industry is a typical example where Suzuki did follow a stern deletion policy but the concomitant import of used vehicles had an adverse effect on the overall picture.

Are the fresh graduates getting enough job opportunities in the field of automation?

Contrary to the curriculum of doctor’s training, young graduate engineers have a limited two months’ internship, a PEC prerequisite, which is not enough to conduct viable practical training. Firms extending internships usually employ students on routine office tasks, e.g. preparing inventories, indexing, etc. which leaves the interns professionally insecure. Furthermore, the fresh engineers assume that to work on the floor is a technician’s task; hence they prefer an office environment instead of getting their hands dirty.

What would you advise the prospective young engineers?

The need for specialised acumen in handling the technical end of industrial projects is growing exponentially. The young engineers should gather as much hands-on experience as they can and should not be daunted by the challenges of the arduous field environment.

With regards to application and improvement of industrial automation, what do you envisage in the future?

The growing trend is to link computer networks and software to control points, and then on to the industrial devices that need to be controlled. The combination of computers and networks together with wireless solutions has proved to be the way forward for industrial automation.