Similar to other industries, the mid-1980s brought major advancements to kiln control technology. Manual kilns and kiln sitters gave way to programmable digital kiln controllers. Kiln operators no longer had to manually adjust their kilns for each segment of their kiln firing schedule. Instead, they could use programmable kiln controllers to input their entire firing program in advance, and the controller would carry out the program automatically!
Also known as electronic or automatic kiln controllers, programmable digital kiln controllers are computerized controllers that automatically cycle the relays to a kiln’s heating elements on and off in accordance to predefined ramp rates, setpoints and hold times.
Compared to manual controllers, programmable kiln controllers significantly streamline the firing process, reducing the possibility of user error and ensuring consistently repeatable firing conditions.
Programmable Digital Kiln Controller Input Methods
When it comes to programmable digital kiln controllers, there are two primary input methods: keys and touchscreen.
Early programmable kiln controllers all used keys, or analog buttons, in order to program the controller. Many kiln controllers today still use this input method. Common configurations are 3-key controllers and 12-key controllers, but some kiln controllers use as many as 24 keys!
However, regardless of how many keys a controller has, this control method presents several inconveniences:
- Keys must be pressed multiple times to increase setpoints, cycle through preprogrammed schedules, or control other inputs.
- Key-based controllers often have small, hard-to-read screens that make it impossible to see all the relevant information about a firing schedule.
- These controllers have multi-layered menus that can be extremely difficult to navigate.
Good luck using these controllers without constantly having to consult the user manual and press a LOT of buttons!
In 2015, SDS Industries revolutionized the kiln control industry, by replacing keys and alarm-clock-like screens with intuitive, responsive touchscreen controls and an easy-to-read graphical UI. The TAP Controller, and later the TAP II Controller, allows kiln operators to quickly and easily program their kiln with just a few presses of their finger on the controller or their via their smartphone with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App.
When it comes to programmable digital controllers, touchscreen controls present several major advantages:
- Intuitive, user-friendly menus that are designed for complete navigation with minimal finger presses.
- Alpha-numeric, full text displays of kiln firing schedules to make it easy for operators to access, edit, and execute the right firing schedule.
- The ability to create a theoretically unlimited number of kiln firing schedules, each containing a theoretically unlimited number of steps, so users don’t have to relegate schedules to their firing notebook when they run out of storage.
- Integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App to allow users to create, modify, and execute kiln firing schedules from their mobile device when their kiln controller is connected to Wi-Fi.
Additionally, TAP Digital Kiln Controllers include PID-driven precision, advanced diagnostics, complete firing logs, and preventative maintenance alerts, and more, to ensure that the controller and kiln maintain optimum performance.
Types of Kilns that Use Programmable Kiln Controllers
Today, programmable digital kilns controllers are the standard for industrial kilns and have become increasingly common for hobby and studio kilns. Many programmable kiln controllers include preset firing schedules for glasswork, ceramics, glazes, and heat treat, greatly reducing the learning curve for new artists while still offering veteran artists the ability to completely customize their firing schedules.
Retrofitting Your Kiln with a Programmable Controller
Whether your kiln came equipped with a manual controller or you’re using an outdated programmable controller, retrofitting your kiln with a modern programmable digital kiln controller is easy through the use of standalone controllers or conversion kits. Standalone controllers are a plug-and-play solution for upgrading your manual kiln to automatic controls, while conversion kits enable you to upgrade an existing automatic controller with no (or minimal) modification to your kiln.
Check out our step-by-step guide for installing programmable digital kiln controller standalones and conversion kits!
How to Use a Programmable Digital Kiln Controller
The specifics of how to program your kiln using a digital kiln controller largely depends on the type of controller you’re using. However, generally, upon powering on your kiln you will use the input method on the controller to either select a saved or preset schedule or create your own (you can do this before or after loading your wares). If you’re new to kiln firing, make sure to familiarize yourself with kiln safety guidelines prior to executing your firing schedule.
Once you have selected your firing schedule, press ‘Start’ and your programmable digital controller will automatically execute your firing schedule to completion. Easy as that! While it may be tempting to trust everything to your programmable kiln controller, for safety reasons you should never leave your kiln unattended during firing. While programmable controllers are extremely reliable compared to relying on a kiln sitter, there is always the possibility of relay failure or other technical mishaps (for additional safety, we recommend using an additional limit controller as an added layer of relay redundancy to force safety shutoff if the kiln exceeds certain temperature thresholds).
Programming a TAP II Digital Kiln Controller
While we can’t provide a How-To for using every programmable kiln controller on the market, below we’ll be looking at how to program a TAP II Kiln Controller (the UI for the original TAP Controller is extremely similar):
Step 1: Starting from the ‘Home Screen’
Below is a picture of the home screen on a TAP II Kiln Controller:
To access kiln firing schedules, or create a new one, press ‘Start’ on the right side of the screen.
Step 2: Using the ‘Schedule Selector’ Screen
On the ‘Schedule Selector’ screen, you have the ability to access all of your saved or preset kiln firing schedules by scrolling through the menu on the left side of the screen. To execute an existing schedule, select the schedule from this screen, then press ‘Start’!
If you need to edit a schedule, clicking the ‘Edit Icon’ beside the schedule title allows you to edit that firing schedule. Or, to create a new schedule, click ‘New’ on the right side of the screen.
Step 3: Edit and Add Steps to Your Firing Schedule
Clicking the ‘Edit Icon’ will bring you to the ‘Edit Schedule’ screen:
On this screen, you have the ability to add new steps and edit the Schedule Name, Ramp Rate, Setpoint, and Hold Time for each step. Additionally, you have the ability to set alerts to notify you when your kiln has reached its setpoint or hold time for each specific step. When you’re finished editing your firing schedule, click ‘Save.’
Step 4: Execute Your New Firing Schedule
When you click ‘Save,’ the controller will bring you back to the ‘Schedule Selector’ screen. Select your desired schedule and then press ‘Start.’
From there, your TAP II Controller will automatically execute your new firing schedule. From the ‘Execute’ screen, you’ll be able to monitor exactly where your kiln is in terms of your firing schedule, as well as skip steps, access firing logs, or abort your firing.
Please Note – Most programmable digital kiln controllers are not nearly that easy-to-use or intuitive. A huge part of our focus at SDS Industries is to make using a programmable kiln controller as simple, precise, and straightforward as possible!
Explore Programmable Kiln Controllers by SDS Industries
The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries are the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use programmable digital kiln controllers on the market today. With responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive graphical UI, and integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, TAP Kiln Controllers can pair with any relay-controlled kiln or oven.
We invite you to explore our selection of programmable kiln controllers, standalones, and conversion kits on our online store. You can also purchase TAP Digital Controllers or TAP Controlled Kilns and Heat Treat Ovens through one of the following distributors:
- Hot Shot Oven & Kiln
- Mobile Glassblowing Studios, LLC
- Jen-Ken Kilns
- Kiln Frog
- Sheffield Pottery
- Delphi Glass