Transformational Automation Systems Highlighted at ARC Forum

By Deepthi Venkatesh


At ARC’s recent India Forum in Bangalore, executives from leading end user organizations shared their perspective on innovative Transformational Automation Systemsnew approaches and technologies that address Transformational Automation Systems, such as integrated connectivity, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things.  In just two noteworthy examples, B.R. Mehta, Senior Vice President, Reliance Industries, and R. Sarangapani, Additional General Manager, NTPC, emphasized the paradigm shift in technology and the need to remain connected and mobile at all times, along with the associated challenges and benefits, with an emphasis on the need for secure connectivity.

The speakers presented some of the upgrade approaches end users employ to “stay ahead of the game” in a world of constantly changing technologies. Case studies provided deeper insights into future trends. According to the speakers, the imperative to stay connected has accelerated the need to deploy smart, cyber-secure solutions.

Industry in Transition

B.R Mehta, Senior Vice President, Reliance Industries presented his views on the changing trends in the industry and the technologies which he believes will be the next big things. After discussing this world-class company’s history, vision, and goals, he touched upon some of the most important topics that foster innovation including cybersecurity, Internet of Things, 3D printing, solar energy, and more.

Emerging Trends

Transformational Automation SystemsThe recent evolution has led to many challenges in the industry including some major issues in business and technology. Mr. Mehta explained how the old structure/processes in the industry are now being replaced by the new trends. To substantiate this statement, he cited the shift from trying to maximize throughput to agile manufacturing. The current emphasis is on profitability rather than efficiency, process timing is replaced by decision timing, and individualization by collaboration. He also highlighted the importance of collaboration in today’s industry and some of the associated challenges.

“The technology challenges include cybersecurity in the open systems and the change of long life expectancy to continuously current,” he said. He spoke about how many process plants are updated every six months or every year to ensure they are up to date. He further elaborated on the evolution of control rooms to flexible operations and how, with proper security, it is now possible to get the complete view and operate on the plant from a mobile device.

Current Scenario

Mr. Mehta summarized the current scenario in India as follows:

  • Disparate systems are changing to federated systems and innovation to standardization. Most plants are not completely automated and still have islands of automation
  • Lead time for project executions are long and there is a lack of local ecosystem as most of the equipment is imported
  • The country has a lack of trained manpower in the plants and also lacks a research orientation
  • Lack of government support for local and small companies
  • Large costs of infrastructure and security are the main issues in small companies, while larger companies are trying to provide secure, free flowing information; while minimizing threats to plants

Looking Ahead

Mr. Mehta highlighted the technology trends that will be the focus in the near future. He listed 10 such trends: uninterrupted connectivity, Internet of things, cloud, digitalization, universal biometric identity, advanced oil & gas exploration and recovery, renewable energy resources, advanced energy storage, automation of knowledge work, and next-generation genomics. He further described how these will impact the growth of power in India and what improvements we may see by 2025. He ended his talk with a brief discussion on the future scenario of how the next-generation digital systems will work in future plants.  

Transformational Automation SystemsTransformational Changes in Automation Systems

R. Sarangapani, Additional General Manager, NTPC (India’s largest power utility), started his talk with an introduction about the company and a brief overview of the services it offers. He also described briefly the automation systems at NTPC, which led to a discussion on innovations in automation systems.

Building on the basic criteria of availability, efficiency, reliability, and efficiency, new initiatives and innovations are taking automation into a different orbit. The main differentiator is the widespread connectivity that provides integration among systems. He also spoke of how virtualization is used to manage security.

Enhanced Connectivity with Unified HMI

Mr. Sarangapani explained how unified HMI works and helps enhance connectivity, and provided an instance of how it helped NTPC. Enhanced connectivity supports connected enterprise, connected services, connected products, connected workers, and a connected supply chain.  With NTPC’s unified HMI, all points in one of its DCSs can be operated from any other DCS’s HMI through Modbus links. According to Mr. Sarangapani, this is particularly useful in a large plant that can often have multiple DCSs installed.

Case Study - Mouda II

In a pilot project at NTPC’s Mouda II power plant, DCSs from two different suppliers were installed to control a 650 MW turbine generator and provide balance of plant control.  Siemens, BHEL, and NTPC worked together to create unified HMI for both DCSs that would not introduce increased latency in response times or impact the redundancy of the links.  Encouraged by the success of this project, NTPC has specified that the future projects should have unified HMIs.


Mr. Sarangapani also spoke about cybersecurity and touched upon recent cyberattacks. He explained that there are four types of cybersecurity violation: casual or coincidental violation, intentional violation using simple means, intentional violation using sophisticated means, and extended resources. He went on to discuss NTPC’s DCS cybersecurity initiatives, which include secured network architecture, security policies and procedures, and security audits.  He stressed that innovations must consider cybersecurity.

Virtualization – The Answer to Lifecycle Management Issues

According to Mr. Sarangapani, the major issues in DCS lifecycle management include underutilized computing resources. The traditional DCS architecture comprises computer hardware, an operating system managing the hardware, and an application system on top of that.   In contrast, in a virtual architecture, a hypervisor does the work of multiple computers by running multiple instances of operating systems and applications in one computer.  This provides better utilization of the available resources to help extend useful system life.

Transformational Automation SystemsThe Power of Data Analytics

The layer between automation system and enterprise system is getting thinner, said Mr. Sarangapani. Data from the Cloud coming through a centralized monitoring center provides data to run analytics and drill down and identify issues to provide control room operators with early warning of impending problems. He also described advanced pattern recognition for analytics that can predict a problem well before the DCS would recognize it. 

He concluded the session by mentioning that Internet of Things, cloud computing, mobile apps, and service-oriented apps (SOA) will be the main focus areas in the future.


These well-attended sessions emphasized the importance of transitioning from the traditional processes to the new ones. They also highlighted the importance of Internet of Things and cloud as being the next big trends in the industry and the need to adopt these breakthrough technologies to enhance business performance and gain a competitive edge.

Virtualization was also highlighted as the need of the hour to help reduce the carbon footprint and extend the lifecycle of computing hardware/software.  The sessions also emphasized the need for effective cybersecurity to help ensure that the open systems are secure, while being accessible.



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Keywords: Unified HMI, Reliance, NTPC, Cyber Technology, Internet of Things, Cloud, Connectivity, ARC India Forum, ARC Advisory Group.

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