As a manufacturer of capital equipment, it is common to be part of a multiple-bid process. When researching to buy a new industrial oven, processors often obtain several quotes for the same project — sometimes with different specifications and price points. For processors, this creates a difficult situation: Their oven expertise is usually general in nature, making quote or bid comparison difficult. When encountering these situations, a method for comparison is important. This article will provide a core method for evaluation to assist you in making the best purchase decision possible.

Naturally, most customers begin with price for the initial comparison. It is common to have a variety of price points, but it is often difficult to understand why the prices may vary widely. Here are a few reasons:

  • Based on each company’s library of designs, one may have quoted a relatively standard oven while another may have quoted a custom solution.
  • Companies are not targeting the same process targets and goals.
  • Natural design and price variations across the industry.

For the same process, oven designs can be different from company to company. Some manufacturers utilize a more custom approach and design for each application. Others may focus on standardized designs and make limited design adjustments. Additionally, oven manufacturers typically will use past designs as much as possible to limit design costs. Depending on where process needs fall and available designs at each manufacturer, a significant price difference can occur.

Another discrepancy we see when helping a processor understand multiple bids is the focus on process targets or goals. Not all oven companies ask the same questions. Largely, this is a result of the approach of the particular manufacturer. One oven company may be trying to match a process to a previously designed oven. Another company may be building in extra throughput potential. A third may be targeting current process needs with a little room for variance. This situation can lead to three different price points and oven specifications.

Customizing Your Industrial Oven

There are many options available when seeking a customized oven solution.

Heat sources include natural gas, propane, butane and electricity. They can be used to provide infrared heating, hot-air convection, and combination infrared and hot-air convection.

Common options/modifications include oven opening height, belt height, belt type, product interface device, additional airflow, eye stop sensors, belt fixtures, indexing, post cooler, robotics interface, heat curtains, high/low alarm sensors, custom infeed/exit feed length, fume hoods, emergency stops, automatic shutdown features, digital belt speed control, spreaders, lock-out controls and belt direction reversal.

Also to be considered is that while there are similarities in oven designs, no two companies use the same design, engineering and manufacturing process. Even within an oven manufacturer’s own oven design library, there is a range in cost to manufacture different oven designs. Two ovens with a similar footprint can be significantly different in price. With that in mind, it is easy to see how oven solutions can appear similar yet carry different costs to manufacture.

These factors considered, it still should raise a red flag if the price on bids or quotes appears too different. For example, if one oven supplier is quoting a $40,000 solution while another is quoting a $120,000 solution, there is a strong chance they are not focused on the same target goal, or an important piece of information has not been factored in consistently on the proposed designs.

Oven Bid Evaluation Process

For processors, the big question is: “How do I most appropriately compare oven bids and designs?”

First, start with a checklist to determine design appropriateness. Second, follow with a comparison of certain telling specifications.

A good starting point for a checklist is to gauge whether each oven manufacturer:

  • Gained detailed information, including throughput needs, process times, detailed part information and footprint limitations.
  • Worked to understand the nature of the process and ultimate ROI needs. ROI usually is measured as a function of increased throughput, higher quality rate, reduced labor or energy costs, or a smaller footprint, but processors can define their own criteria as well.
  • Quoted an oven that is within the core competency of its abilities to manufacturer.

If the answer to any of these considerations is “no” or even “somewhat,” it would be difficult for an oven manufacturer to offer a solution that protects both the process needs and budgetary considerations.

Second, certain core specifications should be discussed with each oven manufacturer. The goal is to gain an understanding of how the oven specifications were determined and to evaluate appropriateness for the application. The items noted below are a starting point for a core list. Other specifications may be important, depending on design needs.

Heat Source. Industrial ovens can utilize various heat sources. Primarily, heat sources will be gas or electric. Generally speaking, gas ovens may be more complex to manufacture than electric ovens due to the required components and safety standards; at the same, depending on your local natural gas rates, they may be less expensive to operate.

Within each energy source type, gas and electric, there are multiple methods of generating convection and infrared heat. Understanding and comparing the specific nature of each heat source will provide a quality comparison tool for costing and process fit.

BTU/kW Ratings. It is common for quotes and bids to carry significantly different BTU and kilowatt ratings. Some ovens can be designed for much greater heating capacity than the current process requires. Depending on the process information gained or due diligence in the process evaluation, too little (or too much) BTU/kW could be recommended. If you find a significant difference in these ratings between bids and quotes, it will be important to understand how each company came to their recommendation. Equipment costs and design needs can be impacted significantly by BTU/kW ratings as well as process confidence.

Power Requirements. The power requirements of the proposed oven will reflect:

  • The BTU/kW rating of the proposed design.
  • How well the oven chamber is insulated.
  • How efficiently the heat source converts energy to heat.

As such, the varying power requirements are a good indicator of either fundamental differences in design concept or process targets.

Estimated Energy Consumption During Operation. In most cases, an oven will use more power reaching temperature than holding temperature, so it is important to understand estimated energy consumption during operation. Often, this is an overlooked but important evaluation point.

Each oven manufacturer should be able to provide a figure for estimated energy consumption during normal operation (consumption once an oven reaches and holds temperature). This is important because two ovens could have different maximum BTU/kW ratings but use similar energy during production operations.

Estimated Throughput. An excellent control for design appropriateness is estimated throughput. Even with effective due diligence, oven manufacturers cannot guarantee certain results; however, they should be able to provide an estimate. Such estimates serve as a springboard to discussing differences in length; efficiency in bringing product to temperature; and any extra capacity accounted for in design.

Critical in this evaluation is the formula for determining oven size. Length and width are a direct function of throughput required; time required inside an oven chamber; and belt-loading layout. Any significant differences in oven size or estimated throughput should be discussed in detail with each oven manufacturer.

Test Data. In many cases, testing by an oven manufacturer is not possible. If this can be achieved, however, it will provide strong validation of a particular oven manufacturer’s recommended oven design.

For example, using testing, some manufacturers can measure the capabilities of the heating concepts and design more accurately to meet process goals and expectations. The result is confidence in design and an ability to design an oven that is well suited to meeting process and budget needs. Without testing, oven companies may overbuild an oven, increasing cost and heating capacity. The extent to which a company will overbuild varies from application to application and company to company.

Controls. A portion of oven design that often carries an underestimated cost is the control system. Control systems can quickly add complexity, programming and engineering time. This is especially true if requested control systems are outside of the norm for an oven manufacturer. Additionally, price points of controls and associated components vary widely from oven manufacturer to oven manufacturer, depending upon types and brands used.

As a result, this can be a difficult set of specifications to navigate. The best recommendation is to tell each oven manufacturer what basic controls and monitoring are required and ask them to provide solutions in line with their core methods and components.

Comparing oven bids and quotes can be difficult. The best oven manufacturers will work as a solution partner and help you understand the specifications and how they obtained them, so you can make the best purchase decision. A quality comparison process is to first compare pricing, followed by understanding the due diligence process and then comparing specific specifications.