Demanding applications such as heat-treating can be complex, so furnace control systems must do more than regulate temperature. For example, a 10-bar, quench-furnace system provided by Ipsen, Rockford, Ill., also must control speed, pressure, flow direction and other variables throughout the quenching process because they directly affect load distortion in die-casting operations. These parameters change from product to product, so furnace controls need to allow users to develop and test batch recipes too.
Users of Ipsen's industrial vacuum and atmosphere furnaces use its CompuVac control system to look into their thermal-processing applications in the aerospace, commercial heat treating, medical, energy and automotive fields. However, users still need more help.
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"Local controls provide a window into the furnace's process with standard features, including an integrated touchscreen for monitoring workloads, displays for programming, running, real-time and historical monitoring, almost unlimited recipe creation, modification and storage, and alarm displays, batch reports, quality control audits and record archiving," says Larry Moore, electrical and software engineering manager at Ipsen. The company designs and builds industrial vacuum furnaces, atmosphere furnaces and supervisory control systems, while its aftermarket support team helps users around the world solve problems, plan furnace controls upgrades, replace hot zones and secure parts, maintenance and field services.
"Though CompuVac makes it easy to create and run custom heat-treating profiles and batches, users often have questions or need support from our engineers," Moore explains. "Ipsen's aftermarket support team is prepared to offer technical advice and help diagnose problems, and remote access to both control systems helps our technical personnel see what the system is doing. In the past, we relied on an Ethernet modem, which required an analog phone connection at both the customer and Ipsen's locations. Phone modems are notoriously slow, and in some cases, providing the analog phone connection at the customer site proved difficult or impossible. We clearly needed a better remote access solution."
Saving Miles and Time
Luckily, the expansion, diversification and growing sophistication of remote machine support makes it more practical for builders, integrators and other service professionals to access users' equipment and production lines from a distance, and then monitor, maintain, troubleshoot, repair and upgrade them without being physically onsite. Instead of dealing with clunky, old-style, dial-in modems, or even jumping through hoops to get permission to access users' internal virtual private networks (VPNs) or other networks, the latest remote-access components let outside experts work on safe versions of a machine's operating software and data, which are served up to cloud-based services that don't require users and their IT departments to allow access to their internal networks.
"We encourage customers to install ports into their systems to allow remote access for monitoring and troubleshooting," says Jon Ertle, vice president of sales at Criterion Manufacturing Solutions in Comstock Park, Mich. The company manufactures CNC routers and CMM-style gauging machines and delivers custom production, automation and gauging equipment. "In the beginning, the best way was to dial in," Ertle continued. "Later, due to security concerns with the Internet and early VPNs, we usually phoned ahead to request access, but it could take days or a week for some IT departments to grant it. Most recently, we've been able to use VPN routers, such as eWon's Cosy 141, which plug onto our customer's machine, establish a secure, SSL-based VPN tunnel, and can call our headquarters when they have a problem."