Using Technology to Maximise and Streamline Thermal Processing

It is essential to have precise control over the thermal processing operations for the production of high-quality products. This not only streamlines the process, but also helps achieve reproducible results and time and cost savings.

Advanced controls technology provides the operational flexibility needed to simplify the measurement and analysis of equipment and processes. It also delivers accurate, reproducible control through automation and minimization of several manual processes in the production process.

Assessment of Process and Production Needs

It is necessary to evaluate the process and production requirements prior to upgrading an existing furnace or procuring a new system. There are a wide variety of thermal processing instruments available on the market. Therefore, it's very important to invest in the right furnace or upgrades.

There are six class types of vacuum furnace systems available. Class One must meet the most rigorous furnace specifications with the least range in temperature uniformity: ± 5°F (3°C). The severity of specifications decreases for other classes. Class Six has the least restricted furnace specifications with a broad range in temperature uniformity: ± 50°F (± 28°C).

It's important to understand the process requirements and invest in new furnaces or upgrades accordingly.

Advanced Controls Technology

Advanced controls technology instrumentation, monitoring systems, software and data storage (Figure 1) allows businesses to achieve the ideal performance from their heat treatment equipment.

Advanced controls technology mounted in an industrial control enclosure.

Figure 1. Advanced controls technology mounted in an industrial control enclosure.

Instrumentation

Improving the instrumentation of a furnace involves installing advanced technology that improves measurement abilities, thus contributing to the smooth and cost-effective operation and maintenance of the equipment. Installing a hygrometer (dew point analyzer) upgrade allows users to monitor the moisture content in the process gas. Ipsen’s hygrometer upgrade offers users the option to operate and monitor under various conditions (Figure 2). The hygrometer is placed in an enclosure near the furnace backfill inlet to ascertain the receipt of accurate samples.

Ipsen’s hygrometer upgrade provides the flexibility to operate and monitor under many conditions.

Figure 2. Ipsen’s hygrometer upgrade provides the flexibility to operate and monitor under many conditions.

Vacuum gauges provide users with measurements of the vacuum and partial pressure levels throughout the heat treatment cycle. The integration of vacuum gauges into the furnace is a simple process, and the gauges have a modular design that allows for future expansion.

Specifications in some industries mandate that users monitor vacuum levels. Therefore, it's important that end users gain an accurate representation of the vacuum levels prior to starting a heat cycle or the partial pressure range during the heat cycle. Choosing the appropriate gauge is vital to meeting these industry specifications.

Data acquisition and reporting have become an integral part of modern controls systems. Digital data recorders (Figure 3) acquire and store the results and provide on-the-fly reports. Compared to old analog paper recorders, digital data recorders are easy to operate, allowing end users to track their results so they can optimize their process and quality throughput.

 Ipsen’s digital data recorder provides the end user with the flexibility and scalability of recording the most critical data.

Figure 3. Ipsen’s digital data recorder provides the end user with the flexibility and scalability of recording the most critical data.

Upgrading the furnace with a digital data recorder and appropriate software allows data storage to be collected on an industrial computer or sent to a specified network location via an Ethernet connection. This capability provides the customer with the required backup for critical data storage and, typically, helps them meet most industry specifications.

Software Controls Upgrades

Software upgrades, or controls upgrades, are typically combined with instrument modifications in order to achieve better measurement and functionality. These whole system upgrades generally include PLC, recipe development, in-process recipe editing, cabinet-mounted industrial monitors and computers, real-time and historical data trending and/or process-cycle reporting and storage capabilities.

Software controls upgrades automate manual operations, thus minimizing the effects of human error. For instance, if you are running partial pressure and vacuum processes in the same furnace with different load configurations, switching from one to the other makes it difficult to monitor and refine your production processes. The new software allows users to save settings for future reference.

The new software also allows users to track 32 user-selectable data points. Users can automatically log data to populate the trend screens, alarm history and user login information.

Screenshot of real-time software trend.

Figure 4. Screenshot of real-time software trend.

Required redundancy can be achieved when this software controls upgrade is paired with a digital data recorder. This can also help avoid data lose.

Supervisory Controls and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems

Upgrading to include a SCADA system allows users to view furnace data and operational settings for a number of furnaces simultaneously on a single display. All of the data is transmitted through an Ethernet connection to the SCADA system, allowing the customer to collect and report the results in one central location. This capability enables more efficient reporting.

Network Connectivity

Upgrading to network connectivity (Figure 5) enables remote monitoring and configuration of the heat treatment equipment to meet specific requirements. This upgrade allows users to review the data required for their heat treatment process in real time; it also incorporates remote diagnostic capabilities, firewall capabilities and email notifications of alarms.

 Ipsen’s network connectivity upgrade has been developed to allow users the ability to monitor their furnace investment with ease.

Figure 5. Ipsen’s network connectivity upgrade has been developed to allow users the ability to monitor their furnace investment with ease.

Conclusion

Understanding the process and production requirements is the first step in the optimization of thermal processing equipment. The next step is the selection of an appropriate furnace to fulfill those requirements. Finally, being informed is essential for making an educated decision about state-of-the-art controls systems for the efficient measurement, operation and analysis of the furnace. This provides the capability to fine-tune the process and satisfy the prerequisites of any applicable industry specifications.

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This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Ipsen.

For more information on this source, please visit Ipsen.

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