Autoclave technology is advancing all the time. While that’s great for your operations, helping you to unlock new efficiencies and feats of production, it can make keeping up with the pace of change a never-ending challenge.
When comparing one autoclave to another, what does that new feature or functionality mean? Perhaps your autoclaves have recently been serviced and you’re going through the engineer’s report — can you confidently say you’re following all the findings? And more generally, how well do you know the machines on which all your production hinges?
To help you wrap your head around questions like these, we spoke with our engineering heads to create this glossary-style article providing answers to a range of autoclave terms.
From introductory questions like ‘what is an industrial autoclave’ to explanations for lesser-known acronyms such as SCR drives and AMCS, read on to learn more about autoclave terminology and how it might apply to your own heat treatment operations.
1. What is an industrial autoclave?
An industrial autoclave is a heated pressure vessel with a quick opening door that uses heat and high pressure to process and cure materials. At times, they also incorporate a vacuum into the process.
The function of an autoclave changes with the industry. For example, in hospitals and laboratories, smaller autoclaves are typically used to sterilise equipment. In industrial settings like the aerospace industry, much larger, more technically advanced industrial autoclaves are used to cure the composite parts of aircraft. The quick-opening door allows for easy access to the main vessel, which makes it easy to move the product in and out.
Although the end use of the autoclave changes, the theory behind the functioning of the machine remains the same. As a result, industrial autoclaves have applications across many industries. Several types of autoclaves are actually manufactured, such as rubber bonding/vulcanising autoclaves, composite autoclaves, and many more.
2. What are the key systems that make up an autoclave?
Autoclaves are complex machines consisting of several key mechanical, process control, and instrumentation systems. Typically, these systems include the following:
The main shell and door
Air circulating system
Faults in any one of these systems can reduce efficiencies, cause the autoclave to fall out of compliance or lead to downtime while the machine is serviced and recalibrated, so you’ll want to make sure anyone working on your autoclaves is properly certified.
3. What are an autoclave’s general operating parameters?
General operating parameters broadly describe the temperature, pressure and other operating specifications needed by a machine in order to function properly.
The autoclave operating parameters such as temperature and pressure are based on the resin systems used, but generally speaking, the epoxy resins require temperatures within 200°C and pressures of 7 bar(g).
4. What does ASME stand for?
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is a global organisation promoting the art, science and practice of multidisciplinary engineering and allied sciences.
On its mission to advance technical knowledge and promote a safer world, the ASME has developed a range of safety codes and standards adhered to by manufacturers worldwide.
As per the ASME pressure vessel code, it’s mandatory for pressure vessels with quick closing doors to have a positive door-lock safety device, for example. This prevents door operation when the shell is pressurised. Because of this standard, modern autoclaves have foolproof door-lock devices, keeping your machines ASME-compliant and your operators safe by making it almost impossible to operate the door when the shell is under pressure.
On a related note, find out more about our own commitment to health and safety.
5. What is an autoclave’s SCR drive?
Autoclaves are heated either electrically, by indirect gas firing (circulating externally heated or cooled thermal fluid), or by steam.
Of these three methods, electrical heating enables the most precise control of autoclave ambient temperature, is cleaner, and is more amenable to advanced computer controls. To achieve this, modern autoclaves use silicon-controlled rectifier (or semiconductor controlled rectifier) drives. Without getting too technical, SCRs are unidirectional devices (i.e. they can only conduct current in one direction) and can usually only be triggered by a positive current. This gives qualities best suited to machines and equipment where the control of high power and/or high voltage is required.
In the autoclave heating example above, these applications can provide operators with very fine control of the heating system, with the precise heating capacity being based on the charge and the resin system requirements of the cure cycle.
6. What is OEE?
OEE refers to overall equipment effectiveness, the universal standard by which manufacturing productivity is measured. A machine operating high-quality, industry-compliant parts at maximum efficiency with no downtime would be described as running at 100% OEE. Using it, operators can measure the effectiveness of their autoclave processes, benchmark performance over time, and even identify where losses are occurring.
Tools such as AMCS (see ‘What is AMCS?’, below) give you the means to optimise autoclave performance across your site by tracking availability, productivity and total performance in real-time and displaying the information in an easily accessible dashboard.
7. What is a LAN?
In situations where multiple autoclaves are present at a single site, the present trend is to interconnect these systems through Local Area Networks (LANs), so that the overall efficiency of the network/group of autoclaves is enhanced and the utilisation of the autoclaves is optimised.
Remote support connections such as those made possible by our Remote Monitoring System can also be configured to run on your LAN access, if desired, allowing us to connect remotely to your autoclaves and provide real-time diagnostics support, wherever you are, without needing to travel to your site. This can really help to reduce your downtime and keep your operations running in the event of a breakdown or other emergency.
8. What is AMCS?
The Autoclave Management and Control System (AMCS) has been developed by VFE to provide our customers with an innovative, cutting-edge solution they can depend on to monitor and operate all their autoclaves across a site using a single platform.
This level of management and control delivers significant benefits, particularly at scale. With AMCS in place, you can improve energy savings, minimise the risk of human error in the process, increase and better monitor OEE, meet the latest industry standards, and even predict any faults before they occur in production, helping to future-proof your operations.
Autoclave specialists, here to help
As autoclave technology advances, there’s more and more pressure on operators and site managers alike to advance with it. But in the rush to stay on top of production and remain compliant, not everyone has the time or the resources to keep up to date with all the latest innovations, updates and terminology. If that sounds familiar, VFE is here to help.
From customised ServiceCare arrangements, streamlining your supplier network and maintenance processes into one tidy contact, to personalised training sessions delivered by our certified engineers at our purpose-built training centre, we’re never more than a call away.
And in the event that performance is down and your autoclaves need servicing, we can be on-site within 24 hours (or on a plane as quickly, in the case of overseas installations) to inspect, optimise and, if need be, recalibrate your machines for optimal performance.
To talk to us more about any of the points we’ve discussed in this article, click the image below and get in touch today.