Using a PC and software to network, control and monitor multiple process ovens, you can improve processes and increase quality within your plant. Finding a software package to suit your needs is easy when you know what features are available.

Central recipe management reduces the chance for ovens to sit idle.

If you have ever tried to program complex recipes into multiple ovens, you know how time consuming and frustrating it can be. Temperature controllers have come a long way, but they still can be difficult to use because of the limited number of buttons and their inability to display more than one line of information at a time. Nowhere else in the process is there a higher chance for error and frustration.

If you currently manage several recipes on multiple process ovens, networking software may be a wise investment. Intuitive, easy-to-use software programs that are simple to install and require no special programming do exist. By looking for five simple yet important software features, you can find a package that is right for your company.

1. Ease of Use. First and foremost, any software you purchase should be easy to set up and use. Networking process ovens is not rocket science; therefore, you should not require a rocket scientist to program it. Windows-based programs offer simple prompts that walk users through most setup and installation steps. Once the CD is inserted, users simply point and click to set up most system parameters.

Unlike simple process controllers, the software you choose should allow you to give ovens and recipes meaningful names rather than numeric identifiers. This step greatly reduces the chance for operator error.

2. Password Security. To protect the integrity of data once it has been entered, many users find it helpful and reassuring to have a password security system on the network. The software package you choose should offer a multilevel system, which could look something like this:

Level 1 (operator level): Allows users to check oven status as well as start, stop and hold controller operation.

Level 2 (manufacturing supervisor level): Users have access to the above functions, plus the ability to change controller modes, select profiles and change operating setpoints.

Level 3 (process engineer level): Users have access to the previous functions, plus the ability to edit and write recipes and configure datalog settings.

Level 4 (system administrator level): In addition to the previous functions, users are able to change communication settings, add and delete controllers from the network and change passwords.

3. Ability to Control and Monitor Multiple Ovens. The software you choose should be able to monitor multiple ovens. Key to this function is the ability to view the status of all ovens on one screen at the same time.

With this feature, a supervisor can closely monitor the network to see which ovens are available and which are just about finished running a process. Armed with this information, the supervisor can pick the best oven for the job and keep the product moving through the plant. This increases throughput but not cost because a greater amount of product travels through the same number of ovens.

There also should be a link from the network status screen to more detailed screens so the supervisor can get additional information about an oven on the network. More detailed run time windows should include data such as the oven's operating setpoint, actual temperature, profile status, high-limit information, controller status, operator identification and lot data for tracking purposes.

With recipe profiles stored on a central computer, the required recipe can be downloaded quickly to a ready oven.

4. Recipe Creation and Management. Unlike standard temperature controllers, which can manage only six or eight recipes, the software you choose should be able to store and manage a limitless number of recipes. In addition, it should allow you to give recipes meaningful names. Rather than referring to Recipe #2 on oven #7, you could call it Post Cure 200C-04200B on Process Oven 5. There becomes no question as to which recipe is running on what oven.

Creating and entering recipes also should be a quick, simple process. Look for a software package that allows you to enter recipes in an easy-to-use spreadsheet format. Users can simply point and click to choose the cell in which they want to type recipe information. Once entered, users should be able to double check the recipe's accuracy by viewing the entire profile on one screen. This also allows for quick and easy editing of recipes in the future (figure 1).

Once recipes have been created, they should be stored in a central location to ease retrieval. That way, engineers need not take up valuable production time sitting in front of an oven pushing buttons to enter new profiles, change parameters or make other adjustments. Instead, this information can be downloaded from a PC to the controller. Engineers also should be able to download one recipe to multiple ovens as needed or upload recipes from the controller to the PC.

Central recipe management also reduces the chance for ovens to sit idle. In unnetworked plants, a particular oven may be available, but none of the eight recipes stored in its memory are for the product waiting to be processed. With recipe profiles stored on a central computer, the required recipe can be downloaded quickly to the ready oven.

Figure 1. Detailed information about each oven should be accessible from the network status screen.

5. Data Storage and Management. A traditional method of logging data is to use a circular or strip paper chart recorder. The chart recorder uses a pen to trace the temperature on a piece of paper. If lot information must be associated with the temperature record, the operator can use a pen to write the lot number, date or any other critical information on the paper chart. Typically, this system is highly susceptible to operator error or negligence.

Look for a software package that offers datalogging and tracking capabilities. Rather than tracing a pen across paper, the software writes the value to a file on the PC or network. The frequency by which this data is recorded should be established by the engineer and is dependent on the process. Your engineer also should be able to choose the exact data to save for your process.

For short processes, it might make sense to record the information every two to three minutes. For longer processes, it may be best to record the temperature only when the process is going through a setpoint change or a deviation from normal occurs. A software package that stores the data in ASCII format allows you to import the information into spreadsheet software for graphing and analysis. Because the data is stored in one location, record-keeping is neater and easier. Round or strip chart paper is not standard size and does not fit neatly into standard file folders. If you currently scan these records into the computer, automatic datalogging eliminates that step.

Choosing software with these abilities can mean reduced costs, improved processes and higher quality for your company.

4 Reasons to Network

Choosing the right software can make all the difference in the world. By taking the time to find software that offers ease of use, password security, the ability to control and monitor multiple ovens, recipe creation and management, and data storage and management features, you will be able to:
  • Increase throughput and reduce bottlenecks by more effectively controlling and monitoring multiple ovens and multiple recipes.
  • Save time and reduce frustrations because all information is stored in and can be monitored from a central location on the network.
  • Reduce the chance for operator error in controlling and monitoring ovens as well as in data tracking and storage.
  • Simplify recordkeeping with electronic data storage.