When asked about his background, Mr Pathak speaks fondly of his childhood. “As a child I was always very inquisitive – not always the best student in the class but I was always very curious and loved to get my hands onto technology. After graduation I worked for NRC Limited which exposed me to a lot of Taylor and Honeywell pneumatic instrumentation along with other analogue electronic instruments. At that time the world was marching on with PLC, DCS and so on – in fact some even believed there was nothing more to be learnt at NRC about modern instrumentation! However I knew the engineers in many modern plants were sitting in centralised control rooms not getting exposure of handling. Their exposure to handling was limited to replacing add-on cards.”
It was at NRC where Mr Pathak got up close with technology: pneumatic recorders, PID controllers and other decentralised instrumentation, control loops, process valves, transmitters and sensors could all be touched, felt, learnt and rectified at component level. NRC was a big chemical process industry with different plants right from boiler to effluent treatment. “I used to report to A. S. Bhalode, an Assistant Superintendent who was passionate for new designs and developments. From him I acquired the knowledge and skills for component level repairs of analogue electronic instruments.”
“In the 1990s we had developed a programmable 8-channel digital electronic timer using memory chips but no microprocessor or microcontroller to read-write this memory. He bought me the largest available breadboard to develop this design. We inserted all 56 discrete digital ICs, making connections to so many pins by single stranded telephone wires that we made it functional. We started right from a block diagram, found suitable ICs, and developed a circuit diagram and hand-made PCB layout too – using graph paper, tracing paper, glued tracks, IC Pads to make an entire PCB Layout. This job helped me harness my skills in pneumatics, analogue and digital electronics, instrumentation control loops.”
Mr Pathak later started his own business, opening him up to more learning opportunities. “It exposed me to all organisational levels: management, shop-floor workers, purchase and accounts departments, vendors, banking , bidding tenders, managing my own product development team all helped me develop a sharper vision. The journey has been immensely satisfying.“
Fast forward to 2016 and Mr Pathak has become the recipient of the ISA technology award. How did this come about? “A large-scale flavour and fragrance company in India had a new plant for automatic blending which had hit some problems. My analysis there identified the culprit to be the installed on-off valves for coarse and fine dispensing. I designed a new valve which tested very well, even under harsh media. It would have reduced the number of valves needed by half. Sadly, it was never manufactured for installation. But the concept was born and I was determined to pursue it.”
Some months later Mr Pathak received a grant for individual innovators from the Indian Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). Shortly afterward he developed a software package for batch automation. He now has a technology showcase near Mumbai, which has around 10 valves, a specially developed digital controller, high precision scales, bar code scanners, and printer all integrated together. Mr Pathak has high hopes for the future: “It is patented technology that could have a substantial impact on industrial automation. I am looking to establish a manufacturing venture based on it and scale this globally.”
Watch out for an upcoming technical article on this valve in our February issue.