In scientific terms, instrumentation is defined as the art and science of measurement and control of process variables within a production, or manufacturing area. The science has further opened up the realm of instrumentation engineering.
The discipline of instrumentation engineering branched out of the streams of electrical and electronic engineering some time in the early part of 1970s. “It is a multi-disciplinary stream and covers subjects from various branches such as chemical, mechanical, electrical, electronics and computers,” says Prof. A. Bhujanga Rao, from the department of Instrumentation Engineering, Andhra University.
The professor adds that instrumentation engineering is a specialised branch of electrical and electronic engineering and it deals with measurement, control and automation of processes.
Almost all process and manufacturing industry such as steel, oil, petrochemical, power and defence production will have a separate instrumentation department, which is manned and managed by instrumentation engineers. “Automation is the buzz word in process industry, and automation is the core job of instrumentation engineers. Hence, the demand for instrumentation will always be there,” says the professor.
The growth in the avionics, aeronautical and space science sectors has also increased the scope for instrumentation engineers. Instrumentation engineers can also fit in both software and hardware sectors.
Apart from covering core subjects such as system dynamics, industrial instrumentation and process control, analytical and bio-medical instrumentation and robotics, the students deal with software and hardware topics such as microprocessor and micro controller based instrumentation, VLSI and embedded system designs, computer architecture and organisation and computer control of processes. Computer languages such as ‘C’ and Fortran are also part of the curriculum. This makes an instrumentation engineer fit for both the hardware and the software industry. Moreover, since instrumentation engineers are presumed to be good in physics, the logical ability is expected to be on the higher side, which is a basic quality needed to excel in the software industry.
The demand is so high that every student finds at least two jobs waiting in the wings, by the time he or she completes her course, says Dr. Bhujanga Rao.
Nature of work of an instrumentation engineer ranges from designing, developing, installing, managing equipments that are used to monitor and control machinery and processes.
“Though there is a demand for instrumentation engineers from the software sector, we prefer the core area, as that is where we can showcase our creativity and knowledge,” says Srinivas a third-year student.
The shift towards core sector is not only due to the opportunity to showcase ones creative talent and knowledge, but also because of the long term stability and quick growth. Bio-medical is another area that is fast catching up and there is huge requirement for instrumentation professionals.
Instrumentation engineering that made its way as an exclusive engineering discipline in the early part of 1970s was earlier known as M.Sc. Tech Instrumentation in many of the colleges. It was then a three-year PG course. Even today, it is referred to by different names by various colleges. While some call it as B. Tech- electronics and instrumentation, a few name it as B. Tech – control and instrumentation. Whatever, be the name, the curriculum is the same.