Process instrumentation is a collective term for the sensors that are used to measure, indicate, and record physical quantities. As the foundation for process control, these instruments are routinely modified and developed to improve their accuracy, capability, reliability, and cost.
Process instrumentation technology has come a long way since its early stages of development. However, before discussing the present state and future outlook for the industry, let’s examine the history of process instrumentation first.
Early History – The First Industrial Revolution
As machinery started replacing manual processes, the need for process control emerged simultaneously. The steam engine governor is one of the earliest examples of a closed-loop control system that used instrumentation.
Invented by James Watt in 1788, the system consisted of two rotating balls that would measure engine speed through centrifugal force. When coupled with the steam control valve, it provided a straightforward mechanism for regulating flow.
The next element of process control was focused on measurement that could be visualized and recorded. Mechanical instruments, such as bimetallic strips for temperature, were then developed to meet this need.
Early Development – The Second Industrial Revolution
The distinction between the first two industrial revolutions is often unclear. However, a defining feature of the second industrial revolution is mass production that started in the steel industry and then moved into the petroleum and chemical sectors in the early 1900s.
During the second phase, process instrumentation tools were still largely mechanical. Developments were mostly focused on improving the design of these instruments.
Present Day – The Electrical Revolution
With the explosion of electronic systems in the 1960s, instrumentation rapidly moved from mechanical devices to electrical primary sensors. The establishment of SI units further pushed this change, as accuracy and precision became paramount. Instead of gauge readouts, information from sensors could now be collected on a paper chart recorder.
As sensor design and signal processing improved, manufacturers were able to produce process equipment that offered better resolution, precision, linearity, accuracy, and hysteresis.
Future Outlook – Digital Revolution
The future of the industry is now dependent on digitization. Today’s computers have powerful processors that can store and analyze massive amounts of data simultaneously. Combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, users will be able to place adequate sensors at optimum locations that offer highly accurate readings.
Additionally, AI tools will be able to predict faults before they occur. As a result, plant operators will be able to minimize the cost of unplanned downtime and increase worker safety.
As a renowned distributor of high-quality process instrumentation in Canada and the United States, Contact Instruments is dedicated to research and development that ensures our clients get the best products possible.
Our wide selection of process control equipment includes electronic gauges, standpipe gauges, drilling mud pumps, and clipper weight indicator systems. Contact us today to find out which process instrumentation tools best meet your custom needs.