Control systems are a central part of industry. Businesses depend on them to enable complex processes to be carried out efficiently, compliantly and at scale. VFE’s Autoclave Management and Control System (AMCS) is one example of such a control system, written and developed in-house with the sole purpose of enabling our customers to better manage and control their composite processing equipment.
There are many reasons why a manufacturer might consider investing in an AMCS:
- Their existing system might have reached (or be nearing) its end of life, making it vital that a replacement system is found and implemented soon
- It could be that their current software/hardware is being discontinued and will become unsupportable in the near future. A substitute would be urgently required
- The decision might be based on business directives, such as the decision to increase energy savings or reduce cases of human error across the manufacturing process
- It might also be necessary to meet the latest industry standards or to comply with updated/enhanced quality and traceability requirements
In each case, VFE’s AMCS can confer tangible business benefits to the customer. But what are those benefits and how does the system support them? Read on to discover seven advantages to upgrading your composite manufacturing operations to AMCS.
7 advantages to using AMCS
1. Powerful cure profile options
VFE’s Autoclave Management and Control System uses a sophisticated software interface to set up each cure profile with part information and sensor designations, enabling operators to program and run the necessary cures in full compliance with their specifications.
The programmable logic controller (PLC) then executes the selected cure profile correctly regardless of the personal computer (PC)/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)/human-machine interface (HMI) status, minimising the risk of errors and giving operators the confidence that the process is being carried out accurately and to spec.
2. Modern, supported control hardware
The AMCS is a highly robust and industrially proven piece of hardware. The PLC utilised by the system has a proven track record of reliability in critical environments and a minimum 10-year expected hardware life, backed by dedicated technical support from our team of expert engineers including fault finding, training and software updates.
3. Safety systems compliant with current standards
Safety systems, controlled through appropriate safety integrity level (SIL) rated controllers, ensure PUWER compliance for upgraded systems (and machinery directive compliance for new systems).
The systems benefit from fully independent over temperature and pressure safety controllers with managed emergency stop functions to CE, PUWER & UKCA Compliance. To keep up with changes to the latest industry standards, developments in technology and to meet safety practices, we are constantly evolving the systems, meaning AMCS customers can expect regular software updates to ensure system safety is of the highest standard.
4. Control algorithms optimising processing speed and energy efficiency
Due to the powerful nature of the PLC processor, we have been able to take advantage of its proven PID control logic and overlay it with our ‘Dynamic Thermal Head – Ratio Control’ algorithm. Allied with our intelligent fan speed control, this allows our customers’ engineers to optimise both the cure duration and energy efficiency of their composite manufacturing operations without compromising accuracy.
- The PLC rapidly scans all part thermocouples in use, calculating those critical for control
- Our control algorithm determines the best air temperature setpoint (within the current profile’s constraints) needed to heat the part as demanded
- PID controller optimises the power required in each heating zone
- Output demand is communicated digitally to each thyristor (power controller) or burner system with actual kW consumption continually monitored
- Once all parts are within tolerance, air circulation power is continually adjusted for maximum energy efficiency while maintaining control
5. Detailed traceability of every part cured
It is essential that businesses can prove compliance with updated or enhanced quality and traceability requirements. The AMCS enables this in several ways, firstly by giving operators the ability to set cycle profiles to require electronic sign-off before production. History files include the profile as used for that cycle to ensure that later edits do not affect audit traceability. The system allows composite customers to manage their production to aerospace standards with greater efficiencies while producing quality assurance (QA) reports validating every step of the cure process.
6. Robust data security
For most systems, the data recording of the AMCS software with internal PLC backup provides a more than sufficient security level. For more critical applications, additional options can be considered.
The system is configurable with a ‘hot standby’ PC that continually records and follows the duty PC. In the event of duty PC failure, it will seamlessly continue the cure to completion. An optional HMI is able to mimic the critical functions of the AMCS software during running cures (pause, abort, view trend charts and numerical data). This dedicated network device also records a more comprehensive set of backup data than the PLC alone.
Where required, a graphical chart recorder can also be fitted in place of (or in addition to) an HMI to provide backup data recording, but without facilitating machine interaction.
7. Server system for multi-machine sites
Sites with multiple AMCS installations will benefit particularly well from the AMCS Server facility. This facilitates the system’s centralised control capabilities, from the central creation, management and assignment of cure profiles across all machines to user management for all systems. Furthermore, it acts as a backup repository for all every machine database and is capable of serving historical data to network users without loading the machine PC.
It has been designed to integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and production databases as standard, providing operators with part data, cure references and the ability to export data files to part production records as required.
Designed and developed by experts in composite manufacturing
VFE has drawn from over twenty years’ experience in this particular area of manufacturing to innovate our market-leading AMCS. In-depth knowledge of the industry and our understanding of our customers’ needs has enabled us to design and develop a technology solution that meets their operational requirements, in this case, a dedicated autoclave management and control system that provides ‘single-pane-of-glass’ visibility and control over site-wide autoclave performance.
The result is a market-leading solution that integrates easily into a site’s existing production management software. Simple to use and fully compliant with AMS2750F and NADCAP, it is already being used extensively across the aviation and motorsport industries to deliver the operational benefits described above.
Even within the composite manufacturing space, we understand that every customers’ needs are different. Because AMCS has been created by VFE from the ground up, we have been able to create a modular solution that we can adapt to each site or production line, so however your production management is challenged, we can put the control back in your hands.