Control systems are a central part of industry. To maximise uptime and keep production running, particularly at scale, operators are dependent on computerised control systems capable of automating the heat treatment process across their site(s).
Most site managers will recognise the benefits inherent in such a system, yet communicating this across business levels to secure buy-in and investment can be challenging.
How exactly does a furnace management and control system (FMCS) function and what operational benefits can manufacturers unlock by upgrading their systems?
What is a furnace management and control system?
A FMCS can be thought of as a set of mechanical or electronic devices that regulates other devices or systems by way of control loops.
As its name suggests, a FMCS is designed for use in vacuum furnaces (heating/brazing/melting/casting), diffusion bonders, vacuum drying ovens and atmospheric/air furnaces, although control systems for other machine types are also available.
A furnace control loops generally consist of a sensor, a controller and a final control element.
The sensor reads the process variable or a related measurement
The controller receives the signal from the sensor and then forwards it to instrumentation, to remote terminal units and to final control elements
In the final control element, the process variable is adjusted to be kept constant at what is known as a set point
Upgrading to this system confers a range of benefits beyond the obvious furnace control applications. Not least of which, it integrates a site’s furnaces with other third-party devices or systems, opening up an array of possibilities in terms of efficiencies and cost savings.
The operational benefits of a furnace management and control system
In our experience delivering FMCS for customers throughout the UK, manufacturers benefit most from upgrading their systems when:
Their current system has reached the end of its life and/or no longer functions
An upgrade would result in significant energy savings
The software/hardware is being discontinued and will become unsupported in the future
To reduce or eliminate where possible, human error in their process
To meet the latest industry standard and compliance
Machine KPI/performance monitoring
To better monitor the health and condition of their assets and predict any faults before they occur
To comply with updated or enhanced quality and traceability requirements
The wider benefits of a FMCS upgrade go hand-in-hand with these conditions. Where systems have reached the end of their life, an upgrade is essential for the continued running of the plant, while systems close to expiring have a much higher failure risk. In both cases, a control system upgrade sits firmly in the realms of business continuity.
Operators looking to reduce risk, specifically the risk of human error, will recognise the benefits of upgrading to a more computerised system with greater automation capabilities.
On a similar note, operations can fall into non-compliance when systems become faulty or simply outdated. Upgrading the furnace management and control system could be a necessary step to remain operating within the remits of new or existing regulations.
Cost savings across the heat treatment process can also be significant. Reduced energy costs as the result of less energy wastage and greater efficiencies throughout the process can enable operators to reduce operational costs at scale in line with commercial targets.
The benefits of an integrated system cannot be overstated when reviewed in the context of monitoring and reporting. The ability to share and access data across machines or remotely (when used in conjunction with a remote monitoring system) increase the accuracy and the visibility of core performance metrics and support operating teams with proving the return generated as a result of an upgraded system.
How confident are you in your furnace management and control?
In the fast-paced manufacturing environment, the urgency to upgrade the FMCS can be buried beneath more pressing daily challenges like hitting personal KPIs and production targets. However, if the upgrade is left until the existing system fails completely (operationally or from a compliance perspective), production stands to be significantly disrupted compared to if the system had been implemented in good time.
How can site managers recognise when they should plan for an upgrade? There are a few red flags to keep in mind:
When software versions are no longer supported or will not run on currently supported versions of the Windows operating system, it is time to upgrade. The risk is too high for virus and cybersecurity issues when an older, more vulnerable system is connected to a modern-day network.
Another indicator is when hardware is no longer being manufactured and spare parts are difficult or impossible to find. When a manufacturer finds themselves purchasing used parts from ah-hoc sources or poorly regulated suppliers, for example, it is definitely time to start budgeting for an upgrade. The risk of a minor failure taking down the whole facility while they search for spare parts is too high.
VFE’s Furnace Management and Control System
Drawing from over 30 years’ experience in vacuum furnace operation, our software architects and control engineers have developed a world-leading FMCS that, when implemented, upgrades operations by unlocking all of the benefits described above.
The system consists of both hardware and software and works by networking a site’s vacuum furnaces with a central control point, facilitating superior monitoring, reporting and management of all a site’s furnace operations from a single point.
By integrating the vacuum furnaces with external data sources, operators will find they have visibility over more accurate performance data, which can be used to further optimise production going forward. The up-to-date system is more secure than older, legacy systems, reducing security risk and minimising failure risks accordingly.
Furthermore, any business that upgrades its equipment to the latest version of FMCS will receive fast and dedicated technical support for the new system from VFE’s world-class customer care and training team, including fault finding, training and software updates.
Control systems are a central part of industry. With the VFE FMCS in place, they can become a central part of your production, too, providing all the management and control capabilities your team needs to keep your output high and your business running.
To enquire more about our FMCS and how your production could benefit, click the image below to get in touch.