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Advancements in Furnace Controllers Improve Operating and Maintence Procedures

Heat Treat Department Captures Critical Controller Data

When locating replacement parts for Barber-Colman furnace controllers became a problem eight to ten years ago, an East Coast mill roll manufacturing shop began switching to controllers manufactured by Eurotherm USA. Currently, Eurotherm controllers operate approximately 65% of their ovens and furnaces. Their newest furnaces are all equipped with Eurotherm controllers. Replacing the old controllers has been a slow process because each request must go through a capital approval process.

When compared to Barber-Colman controllers, Eurotherm controllers are faster, more accurate and capable of holding more cycles, and they can interact with a laptop computer. The iTools software program included with each Eurotherm controller allows the user to copy the configurations and tuning parameters stored inside the unit. An area manager states “Until now, we have never taken advantage of the downloading capabilities of these controllers.”

A team of maintenance employees and a systems administration technician will load the data on the company’s computer network. The ultimate objective of the project is to copy every Eurotherm controller’s configurations and parameters, transfer the data to laptop computer and store in on the network.

Joe DiPietro, Technical Services Manager with CIC Pittsburgh, the company that supplied, installed, and programmed their newest furnaces, has been extremely helpful in the early stages of the project. Recently, he trained the team noted above on how to perform the data transfer procedures. With his assistance, the maintenance team recently downloaded all the controller configurations into a laptop. The manager noted, “We need to have a file for each individual furnace.”

To transfer the data from the controller to the laptop, the maintenance department can either remove the controller form the panel and take it to their office where it is plugged into the laptop, or they can take the laptop to the furnace and hook it up there. In both cases, the furnace will need to be out of operation unless a spare controller is used.

By copying configurations and tuning parameters, this company will benefit in many ways. If a Eurotherm controller should fail or develop problems, productivity will not be severely disrupted. One maintenance employee explains, “Before we had to remove the controller and send it to an outside supplier. They would repair it and reprogram it.” The manager added, “Service turnaround time was unacceptably long. Now we can download the configurations and tuning parameters form our laptop into the replacement controller. Another maintenance employee quickly remarked, “This will really minimize downtime!”

Laptop to Controller Data Transfers

If the configurations and tuning parameters need to be changed, using the controller to do this is a difficult process. A maintenance worker explained, “You can do it right in front of the controller with the button on the unit. But it will take you four to five hours if you don’t make a mistake. If you make a mistake, you have to go back and start over.” The systems administrator noted, “It is a lot easier to make the manipulations to the controller first on the laptop versus doing it manually on a very small display at the controller.”

A foreman explained how easy it is to transfer data from the laptop to the controller. “If we get a new controller, all maintenance has to do is hook it up to the laptop and download the operating parameters/brains into the controller with on push of a button.” Cycle ramp and soak profiles can also be stored and downloaded or transferred.

When asked about the timetable for the program, the manager commented, “Our objective will be to do a couple of data transfers each week. We have around fourteen to sixteen ovens to do. This does not count the mold ovens which also use Eurotherm controllers. We are at the very beginning of this project.” This will start once training is complete.
 
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