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Everything You Need to Know About Controlling Your Kiln

A comparison of different kiln control methods.
Picture of Scott Shannon

Scott Shannon

Kiln Controls: Exploring Different Kiln Control Methods

Kiln controls are the interface you use to program the temperature of your kiln. There are a wide variety of kiln control methods, so how do you know which one is right for you? Well, that depends on the type of kiln you’re using and the types of kiln firing schedules you frequently use.

For instance, for heat treating knives you may only need a single setpoint controller, whereas for executing firing schedules for glass or ceramics you may need a programmable digital kiln controller that’s capable of automatically executing multiple segments with different setpoints and ramp rates.

Today, we’ll be exploring the different options for kiln controls, as well as different categories of kiln controllers.

What Is a Kiln Controller?

Before getting into different kiln control methods, it’s important to understand the role of a kiln controller. A kiln controller is a device that manages the temperature and tempo of a kiln according to user inputs. Kiln controllers work by cycling the relays to a kiln’s heating elements to adjust the temperature of the kiln. Thermocouples connect the controller to the interior of the kiln to allow the controller to monitor kiln temperature and adjust power to the kiln accordingly.

The TAP Kiln Controller provides users with simple, precise kiln controls on a touchscreen UI.
The TAP Kiln Controller provides users with simple, precise kiln controls via an easy-to-use touchscreen.
 

Types of Kiln Controls

When it comes to kiln controls, there are different categories of kiln controllers. However, please note that these categories are broad. A single kiln controller may fall into more than one category. For instance, the TAP Kiln Controller by SDS Industries is an automatic controller, a process controller, a multi-setpoint controller, a multi-zone controller, and provides users with remote kiln control through the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app.

Manual Controllers vs Automatic Controllers

When it comes to kiln control methods for controlling temperature to an electric kiln, the biggest distinction is between manual controllers and automatic controllers. With manual controllers, kiln operators must adjust kiln controls by hand, in real-time throughout the firing process using analog control knobs, dials, and switches. While kiln sitters can be used to ensure the kiln eventually shuts off once it reaches a pre-defined temperature, manual kiln controllers require constant user oversight and input in order to make any adjustments to a firing schedule.

Automatic kiln controllers (also known as digital kiln controllers), on the other hand, are capable of executing kiln controls for an entire firing schedule without user input. With automatic controllers, users preprogram their entire firing schedule into the controller in advance. Once they press ‘Start,’ the controller automatically adjusts kiln temperature, ramp rates, and hold times until the firing schedule reaches completion. Automatic kiln controllers significantly streamline the firing process. Their added convenience and precision make them the preferred kiln control method for many artists and industrial kiln operators.

Limit Controllers vs Process Controllers

Another difference to consider when it comes to kiln controls is the difference between limit controllers and process controllers. Limit controllers, also known as high limit controllers or safety limiters, 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.

Process controllers, on the other hand, monitor temperature throughout the firing process, automatically adjusting output to ensure that the kiln stays within a preset range. Process controllers are used to execute firing schedules with added precision.

Multi-Setpoint Controllers vs Single Setpoint Controllers

Another distinction between kiln control methods is whether a controller is multi-setpoint or single setpoint. A multi-setpoint controller is capable of automatically reaching multiple setpoints (pre-defined temperatures) in succession according to a firing schedule. By comparison, single setpoint controllers are only capable of bringing the kiln to a single setpoint over the course of a firing program.

Multi-Zone Controllers vs Single Zone Controllers

Kiln controls also vary according to whether they are able to deliver uniform temperature throughout different areas – or zones – of the kiln. A multi-zone controller is capable of independently heating multiple zones of the kiln to maintain uniformity throughout the firing chamber. Multi-zone kilns and ovens are usually very large and can see significant temperature differences from one section to another. Single zone controllers can heat the entire kiln to a single temperature.

The TAP II Controller is a cutting-edge single zone kiln controller.
The TAP II Controller is a cutting-edge single zone kiln controller.
 

Touchscreen Controllers vs Key-Based Controllers

Another distinction between kiln control methods is how users interface with the controller. Up until fairly recently, automatic kiln controllers could only be programmed using keys (or analog buttons). Due to a limited number of keys, this kiln control method requires users to press each button multiple times and navigate complex, multi-layered menus.

In 2015, SDS Industries revolutionized the kiln control industry by introducing touchscreen kiln controls. Touchscreen kiln controllers brought users added convenience, precision, and ease-of-use, allowing them to easily adjust settings and completely program their kiln with minimal finger presses. Additionally, the touchscreen allowed for a larger display, making controller navigation significantly easier, with alpha-numeric, full text displays of kiln firing schedule names to make it easy for operators to access, edit, and execute the right firing schedule.

Remote Kiln Controls

Another major advancement in kiln control came in 2016 with the release of the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app. Whereas earlier kiln control methods required users to be physically present by their controller in order to input kiln controls, the TAP Kiln Controllers allowed users to monitor and make adjustments to their kiln remotely from their smartphone or tablet. The TAP Kiln Control Mobile app allows users to:

  • Monitor their kiln remotely with real-time updates.
  • Remote start, skip firing steps, or abort firings.
  • Receive real-time firing updates via push notifications.
  • Create and modify schedules.
  • Update kiln settings.
  • And more!
The TAP Kiln Control Mobile App provides remote kiln controls from your smartphone or tablet.
The TAP Kiln Control Mobile app provides remote kiln controls from your smartphone or tablet.
 

Explore Kiln Controls by SDS Industries

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use kiln controls 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:

Shop TAP Kiln Control Methods by SDS Industries.

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