When it comes to controlling the temperature of an electric kiln, there’s a wide variety of electric kiln temperature controller options. Below are 14 types of kiln temperature controllers – from old school analog kiln sitters to advanced digital kiln controllers for complex firing processes.
Types of Electric Kiln Temperature Controllers
1. Manual Kiln Temperature Controllers
When kilns became electric in the early 20th century, every electric kiln had manual controls. With manual kiln temperature controllers, users set the temperature of their kiln through a combination of analog dials and switches. However, manual kiln controllers cannot adjust the temperature of the kiln or advance through a firing schedule without direct user input.
This means that manual kiln temperature controllers require constant hands-on management and aren’t suited for executing complex firing schedules that require high degrees of precision. However, since they’re inexpensive and have a minimal learning curve for managing user inputs (using a manual kiln controller is a lot like using a kitchen oven), manual kiln controllers are still widely used today.
2. Kiln Sitters
The first major innovation to electric kiln temperature controllers was the invention of the kiln sitter in the 1950s. Used with manual kiln temperature controllers, the kiln sitter was the original limit controller. Limit controllers add kiln safety by ensuring a kiln shuts off when a certain temperature threshold is met. Kiln sitters accomplish this for manual kilns through primitive technology. A sitter cone, inserted in the kiln sitter, melts at a certain temperature causing the kiln to power off.
3. Automatic or Digital Kiln Temperature Controllers
In the mid-1980s, the automatic kiln controller was invented. Automatic kiln controllers significantly streamline the firing process by managing the temperature of an electric kiln without user input. Also known as digital controllers, automatic kiln controllers allow users to program their device to reach the right temperatures at the right times without their direct oversight.
Automatic kiln controllers are far more precise than manual kiln controllers and leave less room for user error, making them more suitable for more complex firing schedules like those used for glasswork or some types of ceramic firings.
The first automatic kiln temperature controllers used analog inputs and had extremely complicated menus and user interfaces! However, over the last several decades automatic kiln temperature controllers have evolved massively. Today’s most advanced automatic kiln controllers are extremely easy to use and include responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive UI, full control and extensive diagnostics, real-time monitoring and data, Wi-Fi connectivity, and mobile app integration.
4. 3-Key Kiln Temperature Controllers
For early automatic kiln controllers, users had analog buttons (or keys) to navigate menus and set the temperature of their electric kilns. A 3-key kiln temperature controller has three keys which the operator uses to program the kiln. As you can imagine, this can get extremely complicated! However, 3-key kiln controllers are still sold by certain manufacturers.
5. 12-Key Kiln Temperature Controllers
A 12-key kiln temperature controller includes additional keys, which makes programming an electric kiln slightly more convenient. However, compared to other more advanced electric kiln temperature controllers, 12-key controllers are still complicated to use and don’t present the best user experience.
(Note: If you’re still using a 3-key or 12-key controller, conversion kits allow you to easily replace them with more advanced digital touchscreen kiln controllers.)
6. Touchscreen Kiln Temperature Controllers
In 2015, SDS Industries released the TAP Kiln Controller which was the first commercially available electric kiln temperature controller to use a touchscreen user interface. Touchscreen kiln controllers make programming and monitoring temperature for an electric kiln much more intuitive and user friendly than 3-key and 12-key controllers.
With touchscreen kiln temperature controllers, navigating menus and creating firing schedules can be accomplished with just a few finger presses, and a larger screen and graphical UI allows users to see more details about their firing schedule and view detailed firing charts and diagnostics.
7. Multi-zone Kiln Temperature Controllers
Electric kilns come in two general configurations: single-zone and multi-zone kilns. Electric kilns are heated by resistive metal elements, much like those seen in a toaster oven. For single-zone kilns, all of the kiln’s elements respond to input from a single thermocouple. For multi-zone kilns, multiple thermocouples are used to sense temperature in different sections of the kiln and adjust power to the elements accordingly.
Multi-zone electric kiln temperature controllers, such as the TAP Kiln Controller, include multiple thermocouple inputs to set specific temperatures for different sections of the kiln, allowing users to obtain consistent firing results in a single large kiln.
8. Single-zone Kiln Temperature Controllers
Single-zone electric kiln temperature controllers, on the other hand, only have a single thermocouple, which is used to control all of the elements of a kiln and achieve a single temperature. Currently, the TAP II Kiln Controller is the most advanced and easy-to-use temperature controller for single-zone electric kilns and ovens on the market today.
9. Internet Kiln Controllers
Internet kiln controllers, or Wi-Fi kiln controllers, utilize a Wi-Fi signal to allow users to control and monitor their kiln from their mobile device or tablet. Internet kiln controllers give users far more flexibility and freedom when it comes to operating their electric kilns, allowing them to remotely create, modify, and execute firing schedules, monitor their kiln with real-time updates and push notifications, and skip steps and abort firings.
All of the TAP Kiln Controllers by SDS Industries have Wi-Fi capability and pair with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App to give users almost complete remote control of their electric kiln.
10. Single Setpoint Kiln Temperature Controllers
Single setpoint kiln controllers are a simplified electric kiln temperature controller option that allows users to program their kiln to reach a single setpoint (or temperature) for an indefinite hold. Not all firing schedules require multiple setpoints or specific ramp rates (the speed at which a kiln heats up). Single setpoint electric kiln temperature controllers are ideal for users who are making blades, knives, or doing other heat treat processes, or for glassblowers and flameworkers who are using pick up ovens.
11. Limit Controllers
Limit controllers, also known as high limit controllers or safety limiters, are redundant temperature monitoring devices that allow users to pre-program their electric kiln to automatically shut off if the kiln exceeds a specified temperature. While limit controllers usually aren’t suited to be the primary control method on an electric kiln, they are an important part of kiln safety and can protect you, your equipment, and your property in the case of relay or system failure.
12. Process Controllers
A process controller is an automatic electric kiln temperature controller that employs a closed-loop digital feedback system to control and regulate the temperature of industrial control applications more precisely. Process controllers use a mathematical formula to calculate the difference between the input temperature and the current temperature of the application. The process controller then adjusts the output to compensate for the detected changes in the system, ensuring that the current temperature is as close to the expected temperature as possible.
TAP Kiln Controllers utilize PID (“Proportional Integral Derivative”) control algorithms to ensure precise schedule following with the fastest response with minimal overshoot and limited steady-state error.
13. ICS Kiln Controllers
ICS stands for Industrial Control System. An ICS kiln controller is a type of process controller that is rated for industrial applications. Industrial kilns are large and high-powered and require extremely high degrees of precision and consistency, usually accomplished by a control algorithm.
14. Standalone Automatic Kiln Controllers
How do you convert a manual electric kiln to automatic controls? A standalone automatic kiln controller is a plug-and-play solution to upgrade a manual kiln to digital controls. All you have to do is run the thermocouple attached to the standalone kiln controller to the interior of your kiln and plug your electric kiln into the standalone unit. This enables a standalone automatic kiln controller to bypass your manual control system, enabling you to enjoy all the benefits of an advanced digital touchscreen controller.
Enjoy the Most Advanced, User-Friendly Electric Kiln Temperature Controllers
The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries are the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use electric kiln temperature 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 electric kiln temperature 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