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Shopping for Kiln Controllers: Should I Purchase a Digital Controller, a Conversion Kit, or a Standalone?

Header image for a guide for shopping for kiln controllers

If you’re shopping for kiln controllers, you’ve come to the right place! Buying a new (or your first!) kiln controller can be an intimidating prospect. There are a lot of different kiln control methods and types of electric kiln controllers – as well as a wide variety of different kiln controller manufactures.

Hopefully, by now you’ve done enough research that you have decided to go with the precision and ease-of-use of TAP and the robust remote kiln control and temperature capabilities of the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app! But even still, there are different configurations of TAP Controllers – so how do you decide which one is right for your kiln or heat treat oven build?

Kiln Controller Categories: Digital Controllers, Conversion Kits, and Standalones

If you’ve browsed our online store, you might have noticed that we sell TAP Kiln Controllers in three different formats:

We understand that this can be a little confusing for new customers, so below we’ll be explaining the primary use-cases for each format to help you decide which one is right for you! Additionally, if you’re shopping for kiln controllers, we strongly encourage you to check out the new FAQ section of our website. The tabs labeled TAP Products and Shopping for Kilns are designed to help new and existing customers easily decide which type of TAP Controller is right for them, as well as find places where they can buy new kilns with TAP pre-installed!

Digital Kiln Controllers

The section of our online store labeled Digital Kiln Controllers are generally best suited for new kiln or oven builds, or for users who are comfortable with DIY kiln controller installation. The TAP Kiln Controllers in this category only include the controller itself, a wiring harness, and any other selected options (as well as a faceplate for the TAP and TAP II Controllers). However, controllers in this category aren’t designed for plug-and-play installation. It’ll be up to you to splice wires, purchase thermocouples, and make modifications to your kiln to house the controller.

If you’re less comfortable with DIY kiln controller installation, we strongly encourage you to purchase a TAP Conversion Kit if your kiln is automatic or a TAP Standalone Kiln Controller if you’re using a manual kiln. We’ll be explaining those two categories more in-depth below. But if you are interested in DIY kiln controller installation, we’ve uploaded wiring diagrams for all of our controllers to our website!

A TAP II Kiln Controller configured for DIY installation or for new kiln and oven builds.

TAP Conversion Kits

TAP Conversion Kits are for users who are looking for a simple solution to upgrade their current automatic kiln controller. TAP Conversion Kits include everything you need for a plug-and-play kiln controller upgrade – without having to splice wires or make significant modifications to your kiln. Usually, the only thing you’ll need is a screwdriver, although occasionally drilling new holes for the faceplate may be necessary.

We offer a variety of conversion kits specifically designed to replace 3-key, 12-key, and smart controllers by other manufacturers such as Bartlett, Orton, Paragon, and more. Just go to this shop page, select the category for your current automatic controller, and then find the controller you currently have from the dropdown.

Kiln controller conversion kits are a convenient option for replacing your current automatic controller.

Standalone Kiln Controllers

Finally, we get to Standalone Kiln Controllers, which are designed for seamlessly upgrading a manual kiln to the advanced features of TAP. Say goodbye to your kiln sitter and enjoy intuitive touchscreen controls, the ability to save and automatically execute an infinite number of firing schedules, and the peace of mind and flexibility of being able to remotely monitor and control your kiln!

Standalone kiln controllers include the necessary transformer, electrical receptacle, relays, and thermocouples for simple installation without having to modify your kiln. Occasionally, it may be necessary to drill a small hole through your kiln brick to insert the tip of the standalone unit’s thermocouple into the interior of your kiln (or you can enlist the help of a kiln technician to install your standalone).

Additionally, TAP Standalone Kiln Controllers are available in both tabletop and wall mount configurations to easily accommodate almost any studio workspace!

When shopping for kiln controllers, look for a standalone controller to upgrade a manual kiln.

Shopping for Kiln Controllers: Is TAP The Right Choice for You?

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the different categories of TAP Kiln Controllers on our online store. Now, the next question is: Is TAP the right choice for your kiln control needs? We can’t answer that question for you, but we can tell you what separates TAP from other kiln control options. TAP Kiln Controllers allow artists to:

  • Operate your kiln with an easy-to-use, precise, user-friendly touchscreen interface.
  • Precisely manage temperatures for single-zone kilns, ovens, or furnaces – including remote control!
  • Throw away your firing notebook with the ability to create, edit, label, and save an unlimited number of firing schedules and steps.
  • Easily check the status of your kilns with easy-to-read indicators, simple graphs of your schedules and current firings, and push notifications to your mobile devices.
  • Save time and enjoy the convenience of being able to fully control and monitor your projects remotely via the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app.
  • Enjoy peace of mind with preventative maintenance alerts, automatic software updates, advanced diagnostics, safety shutoff, and an industry-leading warranty.

Shopping for Kiln Controllers on KilnControl.com

If you’re in the market for a new kiln controller, we encourage you to checkout our online store! The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide artists 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 offer TAP and TAP II as digital 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 programmable temperature controllers.

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Standalone Kiln Controllers: Wall Mount Kiln Controllers and Tabletop Kiln Controllers

TAP Standalone Wall Mount Kiln Controller allow you to upgrade from manual to automatic kiln controls.

For newer artists, figuring out what type of kiln controller you need for your kiln or oven build can be an intimidating prospect. Do you need a conversion kit? A standalone kiln controller? A tabletop kiln controller? Don’t worry, below is a simple cheat sheet for understanding kiln controller categories:

  • Digital Controllers: For new kilns or oven build or competent DIYers. Digital controllers include the controller, the faceplate, and a wiring harness pigtail.
  • Conversion Kits: For upgrading automatic kiln controllers that are already installed on your kiln or oven. Conversion kits include the controller, the conversion box, a wiring harness adapter, and mounting hardware to facilitate seamless installation.
  • Standalone Kiln Controllers: For easily upgrading manual kilns to automatic controllers. Standalone kiln controllers include the controller, standalone controller housing, a power cord, and a thermocouple for plug-and-play installation.

Configurations of Standalone Kiln Controllers

For easily upgrading a manual kiln, a standalone kiln controller is the go-to choice. With standalone kiln controllers you can completely transform your kiln firing experience – from having to constantly monitor and manually adjust the temperature of your kiln to automatically executing your firing schedules with a precise, easy-to-use touchscreen controller that offer features like remote kiln control and temperature monitoring.

SDS Industries offers TAP Standalone Controllers in two different configurations: wall mount kiln controllers and tabletop kiln controllers.

The Difference Between Wall Mount Kiln Controllers and Tabletop Kiln Controllers

From a feature and functionality standpoint, TAP Wall Mount Kiln Controllers and TAP Tabletop Kiln Controllers are exactly the same. In either configuration, you have the option to choose between a TAP or a TAP II, both of which give artists the most precise, easy-to-use kiln control experience available.

Tabletop kiln controllers make upgrading your manual kiln extremely easy.

TAP Standalone Controllers give artists the ability to:

  • Seamlessly upgrade their manual kiln to the most advanced digital kiln controller on the market.
  • Easily manage and execute your firing schedules with an intuitive touchscreen and logical menus that allow you to immediately begin programming and operating your kiln.
  • Enjoy the ability to create, save, edit, and name an unlimited number of firing schedules – each with an infinite number of custom steps – so that you never have to recreate a schedule again!
  • Find the schedule you need when you need it with full alpha-numeric text displays.
  • Save time and maximize peace of mind with remote kiln control and real-time monitoring through the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app.
  • Ensure maximum consistency and stay fully informed with PID-driven precision, advanced diagnostics, error reports, graphical firing logs, push notification alerts, and more!

The only real difference is which setup fits your workspace or studio better.

Pros and Cons Wall Mount Kiln Controllers

For smaller workspaces, or ones where flat surface space is at a premium, a wall mount kiln controller allows for a compact, semi-permanent installation. With wall mount kiln controllers, there is minimal risk that the controller gets damaged by gravity or other environmental exposure. Additionally, it’s easy to mount the controller close to the kiln for clean installs in terms of having the wiring to the power outlet and to the thermocouple out of the way.

However, a wall mount kiln controller does require more work in terms of installation – and will require a surface that you can mount the controller to.

Wall mount kiln controllers allow for a clean, semi-permanent installation for your kiln controller upgrade.

Pros and Cons of Tabletop Kiln Controllers

While standalone kiln controllers are designed for easy installation, installing tabletop kiln controllers is as simple as it gets. All you need is a flat surface in proximity to the kiln to set down the controller! However, there is the risk that you accidentally knock over your controller, or the controller gets damaged by setting down another item on its tabletop.

Additionally, tabletop kiln controllers may require modifications to your workspace for a clean installation depending on where the tabletop is in relation to your kiln.

Explore TAP Standalone Kiln Controllers

Whether you’re looking for a wall mount kiln controller or a tabletop kiln controller, SDS Industries has got you covered! The TAP and TAP II Controllers are available as standalone kiln controllers in both configurations! With responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive graphical UI, and integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app, TAP Standalone controllers make the perfect upgrade to your manual kiln or heat treat 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:

CTA for TAP Kiln Controller Shop Pages

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Setpoint Controllers: Single Setpoint vs Multi-Setpoint Controllers

Multi-setpoint controllers are capable of executing schedules with multiple steps, while single setpoint controllers can only automatically execute schedules with a single setpoint.

During a firing schedule, a setpoint is the pre-set firing temperature the kiln must reach in order to successfully complete each step. A setpoint controller measures the kiln’s temperature and cycles the relays to ensure the kiln reaches the desired temperature.

Setpoint controllers, also known as process controllers, are programmable digital devices that automatically execute firing schedules. All the user has to do is enter the desired setpoint(s), and the controller takes care of the rest!

What Is the Difference Between a Single Setpoint and a Multi-Setpoint Controller

When it comes to kiln firing schedules, there are varying degrees of complexity. For firing glass or ceramics, the kiln often has to reach multiple setpoints over multiple steps. However, most heat treat processes – such as those used for making knives, jewelry, or firing metal clay – only involve a single setpoint.

A multi-setpoint controller is capable of executing complex schedules with multiple setpoints. For instance, the TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries can accommodate schedules with an infinite number of steps! However, that level of robustness might be a little excessive for users who only work in heat treat, which is where single setpoint controllers come into play.

The TAP II is capable of executing schedules with an unlimited number of setpoints.
The TAP II Kiln Controller is capable of automatically executing schedules with an unlimited number of setpoints.

 

Single setpoint controllers are greatly simplified and only require the user to enter the single setpoint they need for each individual heat treat process.

Single Setpoint Heat Treat Processes

While a multi-setpoint controller is capable of executing schedules with a single setpoint, below are metal heat treat processes that only require a single setpoint:

  • Normalizing: The metal is heated to an extremely high temperature for a defined period of time and then air-cooled. Normalizing relieves internal stress and ensures uniformity, resulting in harder, stronger metals.
  • Hardening: The metal is heated until it forms an even solution and then allowed to cool to increase its hardness.
  • Case Hardening: Only the outside of the metal is hardened, creating a durable outer layer while ensuring the metal retains flexibility and doesn’t become brittle.
  • Quench Hardening: After heating, the metal is cooled rapidly by dipping it into an oil, polymer, or water, resulting in very hard, very brittle metal.
  • Tempering: After hardening, the metal is heated to a lower temperature to reduce excessive hardness and relieve internal stress. Tempering makes metals less brittle.
  • Annealing: The metal is heated beyond the upper critical temperature and then slowly cooled to soften it and increase its workability. Annealing increases ductility and toughness, while relieving stress, making the metal more resistant to fractures. While annealing can be completed with a single setpoint controller, it will be necessary to use sand or insulated blankets to make sure the metal doesn’t cool down too quickly outside of the oven. However, a multi-setpoint controller can be used to slowly anneal metal within the oven.

Introducing TAP&Go: The Most Easy-to-Use, Streamlined Single Setpoint Controller

In the past, single setpoint controllers were far less featured than their multi-setpoint counterparts. This forced heat treat artists to choose between advanced multi-setpoint controllers that required paying for functionality they didn’t need, or simplistic single setpoint controllers that lacked precision, ease-of-use, or required constant monitoring to know when the oven had reached the right setpoint.

SDS Industries has set out to change that with our soon-to-be released TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller! Designed specifically for heat treat artists, knifemakers, or users who don’t need to execute complex firings, TAP&Go takes the precision and ease-of-use of TAP and simplifies it into the most advanced single setpoint controller on the market.

The TAP&Go is a simplified single setpoint controller designed specifically for heat treat.
The TAP&Go is a simplified single setpoint controller designed specifically for heat treat.

 

With TAP&Go, heat treats artists have the ability to:

  • Easily enter the temperature you want the kiln or oven to heat to – from the 2.4” touchscreen or the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app – and let the controller do the work.
  • Enjoy complete remote monitoring and control through the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app with a premium subscription.
  • Use TAP&Go’s built-in WiFi and Bluetooth to automatically pair with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app.
  • Prevent eye strain with light and dark modes and large, full-text displays.

Explore Single Setpoint and Multi-Setpoint Controllers by SDS Industries

Whether you’re looking for a single setpoint or multi-setpoint controller, TAP has you covered! The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use multi-setpoint 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.

The soon-to-be-released TAP&Go takes the design principles of TAP but streamlines everything into a single setpoint controller so that heat treat artists only have to pay for the functionality they need!

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:

Explore our line of TAP Electric Kiln Temperature Controllers.

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Complete Guide to Kiln Firing Temperatures

A definitive guide for understanding kiln firing temperatures.

Whether you work in pottery, glass, or heat treat, kiln firing temperatures play a critical role in achieving your desired result. Reaching the correct kiln firing temperature during each stage of your firing schedule is the difference between successfully completing a project…or creating a total mess!

Why Are Kiln Firing Temperatures Important?

Changes in temperature affect the physical properties of a medium. Heat alters a medium’s molecular structure, potentially affecting its hardness, brittleness, malleability, color, water resistance, and more.

Every kiln firing and heat treat process involves exposing material to heat to transform its physical qualities to give it a desired set of characteristics. Whether that’s transforming green clay to bisque, tempering a blade, or casting glass to fit a mold!

Different materials undergo specific physical (and chemical) changes at specific temperatures – so kiln firing temperatures are super important and vary according to medium and technique.

Kiln Firing Schedules

However, kiln firing temperature isn’t the only factor affecting outcome. The relationship between changes in temperature over time is super important. That’s why kiln firing schedules define the following:

  • Step #: The order in which the different kiln firing temperatures occur.
  • Ramp Rate: The speed at which changes in temperature occur (measured in degrees per hour).
  • Setpoint: The desired temperature the kiln reaches during each step (measured in degrees).
  • Hold Time: The length of time (defined in days, hours, or minutes) the kiln stays at a specific kiln firing temperature before advancing to the next step.

Kiln firing schedules vary greatly in kiln firing temperatures, as well as complexity. For instance, normalizing steel for a handmade knife might only involve a single setpoint over a specific hold time. Whereas, bisque firing pottery might involve five different setpoints, each with a specific ramp rate.

In addition to increases in firing temperature, decreases in temperature are equally important. Often, heating up an object and then cooling it down too rapidly jeopardizes its structural integrity, leading to cracks and brittleness.

Kiln firing 1095 steel to 1600° F relieves internal stress and ensures uniformity, making it stronger and harder.
Normalizing 1095 steel to 1600° F relieves internal stress and ensures uniformity, making it stronger and harder.

 

Categorizing Kiln Firing Temperatures

There are multiple ways to categorize kiln firing temperatures – whether by temperature range, material, process, or cone temperature. Artists in different media generally have different ways of categorizing kiln temperature:

  • Heat Treat: By and large, heat treat artists categorize kiln firing temperatures according to process (hardening, normalizing, tempering, etc.) and material. There are very few “one-size-fits all,” standardized ranges or schedules – specificity is key.
  • Kilnformed Glass: Glass artists categorize temperature according to technique (slumping, casting, fusing, annealing, etc.) and glass “coefficient of expansion” (how fast glass expands based on changes in temperature). Glass thickness is equally important, but that has more to do with changes in hold times or ramp rates as opposed to temperature.
  • Pottery and Ceramics: For pottery and ceramics, kiln firing temperatures are still largely categorized based on cone firing temperatures and ranges – which we’ll be covering more in-depth below! Each ceramic material is rated for a cone that corresponds with a specific temperature, allowing for a more standardized scale.
For a full fuse kiln firing for 90 COE glass, the kiln must reach a setpoint of 1490° F.
For a full fuse kiln firing for 90 COE glass, the kiln must reach a setpoint of 1490° F.
 

 

 Understanding Cone Firing Temperatures

 

Unlike heat treat and glasswork, which require a greater level of specificity, potters deal in pre-defined temperature ranges – which correspond with pyrometric cones. Before the advent of modern programmable digital kiln controllers, kiln temperature control relied on manual kilns and the use of pyrometric cones and kiln sitters to measure when the proper kiln firing temperatures were reached.

Pyrometric cones melt at specified temperatures, providing a range for measuring (and categorizing) kiln firing temperatures. So, for instance Cone 06 for “low fire” clay softens and bends at 1832° F (1000° C), while Cone 14 for “high fire” porcelain softens and bends at 2552° F (1400° C).

Today, digital kiln controllers and digital pyrometers have largely made pyrometric cones obsolete. But cone numbers are still widely referenced for categorizing kiln firing temperatures. While cone firing charts are predominantly used in pottery, they are still sometimes referenced for heat treat and glasswork.

Click the button below for an in-depth cone temperature chart – which notes firing temperatures for each cone and describes the changes clay undergoes at each temperature:

 

Kiln Firing Temperature Ranges in Pottery

As you can see on the cone temperature chart, there are also temperature ranges that are used to categorize kiln firing temperatures for clay. The ranges below also correspond with three different categories of clay: earthenware, stoneware, and ceramics:

  • Low-Fire Clays: Cone 06 – Cone 1: Low-fire clays, also referred to as earthenware, are fired at temperatures ranging between 1828° F to 2079°F.
  • Mid-Fire Clays: Cone 4 – Cone 6: Mid-fire clays, which can be earthenware or stoneware, are fired at temperatures between 2142° F to 2232° F.
  • High-Fire Clays: Cone 10 – Cone 14: High fire clays, which can be used for stoneware or porcelain, are fired at temperatures between 2345° F to 2552° F.
Cone 04 clay, which is a common “low-fire” clay, fires at a kiln firing temperature of 1945° F.
Cone 04 clay, which is a common “low-fire” clay, fires at a kiln firing temperature of 1945° F.

For an in-depth explanation of the different types of clay, check out “Kiln Firing Chart for Pottery and Ceramics [Infographic].”

How to Ensure Your Kiln Reaches the Correct Kiln Firing Temperatures

Now that you understand the importance of kiln firing temperatures, how do you ensure your kiln reaches the correct temperature? That’s where kiln controllers come into play! There are three general phases when it comes to using a kiln controller to manage firing temperatures:

  • Input: First, the user has to enter what temperatures the kiln needs to reach, usually through creating a firing schedule or selecting a pre-set schedule.
  • Execution: Next, the temperature controller automatically executes the schedule, ensuring the kiln reaches the correct kiln firing temperatures over the correct timeframe.
  • Measurement: Throughout the execution phase, it’s important that either the controller itself (or an independent pyrometer) is able to precisely record kiln firing temperature based on input from the thermocouple.

Different kiln control methods handle these three phases more or less effectively. For instance, some temperature controllers are able to precisely execute schedules but are so difficult to use from a User Experience (UX) standpoint that it’s hard to know if you input the correct kiln firing temperatures to begin with! Others allow for too much variability in response times or temperature overshoot, meaning the kiln might not reach the precise temperatures you need during execution. And most kiln controllers require the user to be physically present at the kiln at all times to monitor its temperature.

The TAP Kiln Controllers by SDS Industries were designed to solve all these problems – with a touchscreen and intuitive menus to help artists input the correct kiln firing temperatures, as well as PID control algorithms to ensure maximum precision in the execution phase. Furthermore, all of the products in the TAP Ecosystem include integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app – allowing for artists to remotely control and monitor their projects from their smartphone or tablet!

Explore Temperature Controllers by SDS Industries

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use 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 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 the most advanced programmable digital kiln controllers for sale.
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Understanding and Preventing Kiln Relay Failure

Learn all about kiln relays and how to prevent kiln relay failure.

Three words no artist wants to hear: kiln relay failure. At best, kiln relay failure can be an annoyance that disrupts your project mid-schedule. At worst, kiln relay failure can pose a threat to the safety of your household and your property. However, the good news is that with foresight, proper maintenance, and the right equipment, kiln relay failure can mostly be avoided.

Over the course of this article, we’ll be discussing:

  • How kiln relays work.
  • Why (and how) relays fail.
  • How to choose a kiln relay that minimizes the chance of failure.
  • How to easily track preventative maintenance to know when to replace relays.
  • Kiln safety equipment to invest in to mitigate damage in case of relay failure.

How Kiln Relays Work

To understand why kiln relays fail, first, it’s important to understand how they work. In simple terms, kiln relays are a switch. Based on input from the kiln controller, relays cycle on and off – closing and opening the circuit to the kiln’s element.

When a relay closes, electric current flows to the kiln’s elements, increasing kiln temperature. When a relay opens, no current flows to the element, and the kiln cools down. Relays open and close at variable rates, allowing the kiln to reach precise firing temperatures.

Types of Kiln Relays

Different types of kilns relays have different types of mechanisms that allow them to cycle on and off. In modern kilns the most common types of relays are mechanical relays and solid-state relays. However, some older kilns still use mercury relays – so we’ll be explaining all three mechanisms:

  • Mechanical Relays: Mechanical relays have the most moving parts. Mechanical relays use an electromagnetic switch that physically moves each time the relay cycles on and off. That’s why you can hear them click each time they cycle when the kiln is operational!
  • Mercury Relays: Mercury relays work through gravity and displacement. Mercury relays use a metal weight in a tube of mercury. Gravity causes the metal weight to fall, displacing the mercury until it closes the circuit. A coil at the top of the tube electromagnetically lifts the weight when it receives current, causing the mercury to recess and open the circuit.
  • Solid-State Relays (SSRs): Solid-state relays use semiconductors and electronic parts to turn the circuit on and off based on signals from the controller. They do not rely on any moving parts to open or close the circuit.

Why Relays Fails

Kiln relay failure largely comes down to failure of their switch mechanism. As you might expect, mechanical relays have the most moving parts and are subject to normal wear and tear. They will fail eventually, it’s just a matter of when.

Mercury relays only have a single moving part and aren’t subject to the same contact erosion in high current applications. They’re extremely reliable, lasting for millions of cycles.

Solid-state relays have no moving parts. As such, they are supremely reliable and aren’t subject to any wear and tear. Their only Achilles heel is heat. Solid-state relays must be appropriately cooled via heat sink to maintain proper performance and prevent melting.

Kiln relay failure can occur in one of two positions. A relay can get stuck open, in which case your kiln will fail to heat up. While this is inconvenient and can put your project on hold, it’s far preferable to when a relay gets stuck closed! When kiln relays get stuck in the closed position, the kiln heats up indefinitely, posing significant risk to your household and property.

However, there are safety precautions you can take to circumvent any potential damage, which we’ll be discussing later in the article.

Choosing the Right Type of Kiln Relay

As you can see from the descriptions above, mechanical relays are far more likely to result in kiln relay failure. Mercury relays, while reliable, use the highly toxic liquid metal, mercury, to perform switching. As such, they’re largely obsolete and are even outlawed in states such as California.

That means that, realistically, your best option to prevent kiln relay failure is to purchase a solid-state relay. Not only are SSRs superior in lifespan and environmental concerns, but they cycle on and off significantly faster than other types of relays, resulting in superior performance and precision.

Most new kilns have the option for solid-state relays. While TAP Kiln Controllers are compatible with all three types of relays, we strongly encourage our customers to invest in a solid-state relay. The upside far outweighs the cost. If you’ve got an older kiln with mechanical or mercury relays, consider swapping them out for solid-state the next time they need replacement!

Additionally, whether you’re shopping for mechanical relays or solid-state relays we suggest purchasing from reliable, reputable manufacturers.

Preventative Maintenance

In addition to selecting the right type of relay, preventative maintenance is key to preventing kiln relay failure – especially if you’re using a mechanical relay.

As far as preventative maintenance for solid-state relays, really the biggest consideration is making sure that they are rated properly for the application and that you install the relay correctly with a heat sink to prevent the relay from overheating. Beyond that, we encourage you to store your kiln inside to avoid exposing electrical components to the elements and pay attention to your controller’s error notifications (assuming you’re using an advanced controller such as TAP that provides real-time diagnostics, as well as detailed error and firing logs).

Mechanical relays require much more proactive preventative maintenance. Mechanical relays have a finite lifespan that’s impacted by how often you use your kiln and the types of kiln firing schedules you use. However, you can find an estimated life expectancy for the number of cycles your mechanical relay is rated for from your kiln manufacturer or the relay manufacturer’s product sheet.

With advanced controllers from temperature controller manufacturers like SDS Industries, you can input life expectancy for your relay(s), elements, and thermocouples. The controller will then track the usage of these components and send you preventative maintenance alerts. This helps you replace your kiln relay before it fails.

The TAP Kiln Controller tracks kiln relay usage to provide preventative maintenance alerts to help users replace relays before kiln relay failure occurs.
The TAP Kiln Controller tracks kiln relay usage to provide preventative maintenance alerts to help users replace relays before kiln relay failure occurs.

 

Kiln Safety Equipment

Investing in the right type of kiln relay and being diligent about preventative maintenance significantly reduces your chances of facing kiln relay failure. But there will always be a non-zero chance that your relay fails, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

We strongly encourage our customers to invest in kiln safety equipment that keeps you safe in case of kiln relay failure. This equipment includes:

  • A reliable fire extinguisher to keep nearby your kiln to mitigate any damage in the case that your relay gets stuck closed.
  • An advanced kiln controller that provides precise inputs to your kiln relay and monitors your kiln for discrepancies to provide you with real-time error alerts.
  • A kiln control mobile app that provides real-time temperature monitoring and push notification alerts and alarms to your smartphone, so that you can spot any warning signs in real-time and respond appropriately.
  • A safety limit controller (such as the soon-to-be released TAP Monitor!) that can be wired to a safety relay to provide max temp safety shutoff even if your primary kiln relay fails.

 

Explore Kiln Control Solutions by SDS Industries

The TAP Ecosystem includes a host of solutions to enhance kiln safety and help you prevent (or safely respond to) kiln relay failure. In addition to being the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use programmable digital kiln controllers on the market today, the TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide advanced diagnostics, preventative maintenance alerts, and remote real-time kiln monitoring and error alerts via TAP Kiln Control Mobile App. These features help you prevent and proactively address any potential failures in your kiln or oven build.

Additionally, our soon-to-be released TAP Monitor Digital Pyrometer & Limit Controller can be added to any kiln or oven build, regardless of your current kiln control method, to provide safety redundancy and real-time remote kiln monitoring.

We invite you to explore our selection of programmable kiln controllers, pyrometers, 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 programmable temperature controllers.

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How Safety Limit Controllers Help with Kiln Safety

Safety limit controllers enhance kiln safety by automatically shutting off your kiln if it exceeds a certain temperature.

Kilns get hot! When it comes to kiln safety, using a safety limit controller helps ensure that a kiln automatically shuts off if it exceeds a pre-defined temperature.

Safety Limit Controllers and Safety Redundancy

While advanced process controllers like TAP and TAP II have max temperature safety shutoff, you’re still entrusting the safety of yourself, your household, and your property to a single layer of safety measures.

With proper maintenance, high quality programmable kiln controllers, kiln relays, and thermocouples are extremely reliable. However, they do fail from time to time.

Watch SDS Industries’ President Scott Shannon explain the pros and cons of different types of relays.

Adding a safety limit controller (like TAP Monitor) to your kiln or oven build, adds a layer of safety redundancy. Wiring a safety limit controller to a redundant safety relay ensures that your kiln safely shuts off even if your primary controller or relay fails.

Benefits of Remote Temperature Monitoring

In addition to acting as a safety limit controller, TAP Monitor is also a pyrometric device that adds precise remote temperature monitoring to your kiln or oven build – even if you’re using a manual kiln or an automatic controller from a less advanced temperature controller manufacturer.

With the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, you can monitor kiln temperature, receive push notifications alerts and alarms, and view real-time firing graphs – even if you have to step away from your project.

This is not only extremely convenient, but it adds an additional layer of kiln safety, keeping you immediately informed of any discrepancies in your firing schedule.

Do I Need a Safety Limit Controller?

Safety limit controllers are much more common in industrial kiln and industrial control system (ICS) applications. Most at home and studio kiln and oven builds don’t include a safety limit controller. And this is usually fine most of the time (especially if you use solid state relays and your primary kiln controller includes max temp safety shutoff).

However, like most safety devices, when you need a safety limit controller, you really need one. A small investment in a safety limit controller potentially protects your property, your health, and will save you massive amounts of money in a worst-case scenario.

If you’re still using a manual kiln or an outdated automatic kiln controller (which includes most kiln controllers currently on the market), we strongly encourage you to invest in a safety limit controller that adds max temperature safety shutoff, precise pyrometric monitoring, and remote kiln monitoring.

Adding TAP Monitor Safety Limit Controller & Pyrometer to Your Kiln or Oven Build

SDS Industries, known for creating the most advanced, easy-to-use automatic kiln controllers, is releasing a safety limit controller and digital pyrometer. TAP Monitor, which is releasing in several months, is already available for pre-order.

TAP Monitor is available as a set of DIY components that can be wired directly to a safety relay (starting at $97.50) to act as a combination safety limit controller and digital pyrometer, or as a plug-and-play standalone remote pyrometer that includes a type K thermocouple and a 2.4” capacitive touchscreen (available for $265).

TAP Monitor is an advanced digital pyrometer that brings precise temperature measuring and remote monitoring to any kiln or heat treat oven.

Both configurations improve kiln safety, but they’re also an affordable way to modernize kiln builds that don’t include precise, remote temperature monitoring. TAP Monitor provides a host of benefits (regardless of the type of kiln control method you currently use):

  • Protect yourself and your family by wiring TAP Monitor to a safety relay to provide redundant safety shutoff.
  • Have peace of mind by knowing the exact temperature of your kiln, oven, or forge every step of the way (via TAP Kiln Control Mobile).
  • Save time and effort by knowing the state of your kiln no matter where you are.
  • Ensure more consistent outcomes and enjoy added convenience by upgrading your existing automatically or manually controlled kiln to include precise, real-time digital temperature readings.


Explore Kiln Control Solutions by SDS Industries

In addition to the TAP Monitor Safety Limit Controller, the TAP Ecosystem includes a variety of programmable kiln controllers that give artists complete control of their kilns. The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users 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, pyrometers, 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:

CTA for TAP Kiln Controller Shop Pages

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The Difference Between a Limit Controller and a Process Controller

Learn more about the difference between limit controllers and process controllers.

When it comes to kiln temperature controllers, there are two broad categories: process controllers and limit controllers. So, what’s the difference?

Process Controllers vs Limit Controllers: Function & Use Cases

If you use an at home kiln or a studio kiln, chances are you’re more familiar with a process controller. Process controllers, also known as programmable digital controllers, automatically adjust kiln temperature to execute kiln firing schedules with very little user involvement.

Limit controllers, on the other hand, are currently more commonly used with ICS control systems, industrial kilns, and manual kilns. Also known as high limit or safety limit controllers, limit controllers monitor kiln temperature and ensure that the kiln automatically shuts off if the kiln exceeds a specified temperature.

Process controllers execute process; limit controllers enforce limits. Process controllers are a primary kiln control method. Limit controllers, while not usually suitable to be the primary control method, are an important part of kiln safety and can protect you, your equipment, and your property in the case of relay or system failure.

The TAP II Kiln Controller is an example of a process controller that allows users to automatically execute full firing schedules.
The TAP II Kiln Controller is an example of a process controller that allows kiln operators to automatically execute full firing schedules.

 

If I Already Have a Process Controller Why Would I Need a Limit Controller?

If you’re reading this article and you already have a process controller, you might be asking: Why would I need a limit controller?

The answer? Safety.

Even though advanced kiln controllers, such as TAP and TAP II, provide max temperature safety shutoff in case of relay failure, redundancy is the key to safety. Safety limit controllers such as TAP Monitor add an additional layer of safety. When installed and wired to a redundant safety relay, TAP Monitor will automatically shut off your kiln if it exceeds a specified temperature – even if your primary relay fails.

Benefits of TAP Monitor Limit Controller

TAP Monitor is an advanced, user-friendly kiln limit controller and pyrometric device that can be paired with any manual or automatic kiln controller to provide safety shutoff and remote temperature monitoring.

Available as a plug-and-play standalone pyrometer limit controller or as a set of configurable components for DIY installs and oven builds, TAP Monitor gives ceramicists, potters, glass artists, and bladesmiths the ability to:

  • Wire TAP Monitor to a safety relay to provide redundant safety shutoff.
  • Precisely monitor the temperature of their kiln, oven, or forge via the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App.
  • View digital pyrometric readouts from any manually controlled kiln, including remote readouts via TAP Kiln Control Mobile when TAP Monitor is connected to a local network.
  • Easily add precise, real-time digital temperature readings to their manual kiln or oven.
  • Pair TAP Monitor with their existing automatically or manually controlled kiln for remote monitoring.

The TAP Monitor is a limit controller that adds remote temperature monitoring and safety shutoff for kilns.

Explore Kiln Control Solutions by SDS Industries 

In addition to the TAP Monitor Limit Controller, the TAP Ecosystem includes a variety of programmable kiln controllers that give artists complete control of their kilns. The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users 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, pyrometers, 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 programmable temperature controllers.

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How to Easily Track Your Electric Kiln Firing Cost

Tracking electric kiln firing costs on a kiln firing cost calculator

Did you know that you can easily program your TAP Controller to track your electric kiln firing cost? And with the latest update to the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, we’ve made the kiln firing cost calculator function free for all users!

Why is this important?

There are several benefits to being able to accurately track your electric kiln firing cost. If you sell (or plan on selling) your work, knowing kiln costs for each firing schedule, along with materials and labor costs, allows you to accurately price your work. Additionally, knowing your electric kiln firing cost allows you to accurately track cost growth as utility rates rise.

But even if you don’t sell your work, the kiln firing cost calculator function can help you gain insight into whether your kiln is operating as effectively as it did when it was new, helping you stay ahead of possible kiln maintenance needs. Plus, with how easy it is to program cost settings on your TAP Controller, it’s just cool information to know!

How to Use the Kiln Firing Cost Calculator on Your TAP Controller

Setting up your TAP Controller to track your electric kiln firing cost is super easy. For the original TAP Controller, you can input cost settings right from your controller screen or via the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App. For the TAP II Controller, as well as the other kiln controllers in the TAP Ecosystem, you will set up your kiln firing costs via the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, so you can skip ahead to the next section for instructions!

Steps for Programming Kiln Cost Settings on the Controller UI

TAP Kiln Controllers have a kiln firing cost calculator for tracking your electric kiln firing cost.

  1. From the Home Screen, go to Menu > Settings > Cost.
  2. Enter your kiln’s power rating in watts in the field for ‘Kiln Power.’ If you’re unsure of your kiln’s power rating, you can usually find it on the kiln’s data plate or in your kiln’s user manual. If your kiln’s power rating is in kilowatts, just multiply that number by 1000 to convert the power rating into watts. So, for instance, if your kiln was rated for 2.16 kW, you’d multiply that by 1000, and enter 2160 in the field for ‘Kiln Power.’
  3. Enter your utility provider’s cost per kilowatt hour in the ‘Cost per kWh’ field. You can find this information on your latest electric bill or on the website for your electric utility provider. In the example below, we’ve highlighted the Cost Per kWh (so, for this example, you would enter $0.041 under ‘Cost per kWh): Once you’ve input this information, your TAP Controller will automatically calculate your electric kiln firing cost – so you can ditch the pencil, notebooks, timers, and calculators!

Example of Electric Service Details

How to Setup Electric Kiln Firing Cost Tracking on the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App

You can also program cost settings for the TAP or TAP II Controller (as well as our upcoming kiln temp controller options) on the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App – and track your electric kiln firing costs on the go!

  1. In the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, select your kiln from the Summary Screen.
  2. Press Settings on the bottom center of your screen.
  3. Scroll down to Cost. Here you will find the field to input ‘Cost per kWh’ and ‘Kiln Power’ (refer to Steps 2 & 3 from the previous section):

Tracking electric kiln firing costs on a kiln firing cost calculator

You can download the latest version of the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App, which makes this feature free for all TAP users on the App Store (for iOS) or the Google Play Store (for Android).

As you know, electric kiln firing costs aren’t the only cost of owning (and maintaining a kiln). For additional information about the cost of kiln ownership – from purchase and installation to maintenance costs – check out our definitive guide on kiln costs!

Explore Programmable Digital Kiln Controllers by SDS Industries

When it comes to providing features that make life easier for artists, electric kiln firing cost tracking is just scratching the surface!

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users 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:

Download the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App for remote kiln control from your smartphone or tablet.

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ICS Controllers for Industrial Control Systems

Overview of ICS Controllers for industrial Control Systems

Beyond industrial kilns, ovens, and furnaces, electric temperature controllers are used in a wide variety of industrial processes and applications. Commonly referred to as ICS controllers, electric temperature controllers are used to monitor and regulate temperatures in manufacturing or storage processes where consistent outcomes rely on precise temperature control.

Unfamiliar with the acronym? Don’t worry! Below, we’ll be exploring industrial control systems (ICS) and the role and applications of ICS controllers.

What is an Industrial Control System?

Industrial control systems (ICS) refer to the equipment and software that are used to monitor, regulate, and control the behavior of machinery in automated industrial processes. An industrial control system provides physical or digital means through which humans can interface with machinery, providing inputs (or setpoints) to tell the machinery when and how to act.

Industrial processes that utilize industrial control systems include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Factory Automation
  • Chemical Processing and Storage
  • Heat and Cooling Systems
  • Oil and Gas Processing
  • Water and Sewage Treatment
  • Telecommunications
  • Food Processing
  • Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals

Important ICS-Related Terminology

Before exploring the role of ICS controllers, there are a few terms that are important to understand:

  • Localized Control System: In localized control systems, inputs are directly entered into each individual machine via a machine-mounted control panel. In a localized control system, machinery doesn’t communicate with each other, and there is no overall view or centralized process control.
  • Centralized Control System: More sophisticated industrial control systems use sensors and electronic signals to consolidate control of all machines to a centralized control room.
  • Distributed Control System (DSC): Distributed control systems are computerized control systems that use a series of sensors and automatic controllers distributed throughout a factory. In a DSC, controllers automatically regulate the behavior of individual machines but are also connected to a centralized network so that an operator can monitor and adjust the overall process. DSCs are more efficient, consistent, and cost effective than localized or centralized control systems.
  • Process Variables (PVs): Process variables are the actual measured values of a particular part of an industrial process that is being controlled or measured. So, for example, when it comes to temperature control the process variable would be the current temperature of an industrial kiln or oven, as opposed to the desired temperature (or setpoint).
  • Setpoints (SPs): A setpoint is the desired or target value for a process variable. In terms of temperature control, the setpoint would be the desired temperature of a kiln or oven according to its firing schedule.
  • Final Control Elements (FCEs): Final control elements are the mechanical devices that physically change a process in response to setpoints within an industrial control system. These include elements, valves, and dampers.
  • Control Loops: A control loop consists of the process sensor, controller, and final control elements – basically all of the components needed to adjust process variables to match desired setpoints.
  • Human Machine Interface (HMI): A human machine interface is the user interface or dashboard from where an operator can control a machine, system, or device.
  • Discrete Controllers: Discrete controllers consist of a single control loop to directly view and interface with a single machine.
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs): Programmable logic controllers are digital controllers that receive data through inputs (such as thermocouples) and uses the internal logic that’s been programmed into it to adjust outputs to matched desired setpoints. TAP Kiln Controllers are examples of programmable logic controllers.
  • SCADA Systems: SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. SCADA systems consist of all hardware and software that are used to control, monitor, and gather data from industrial devices and processes – both remotely and on-site.

Understanding the Role of ICS Controllers

An ICS controller is a device where operators can input setpoints for an industrial control system. The ICS controller receives data from input sensors and adjusts outputs to the final control elements in order for the industrial control system to reach its desired setpoints.

ICS controllers play an important role in ensuring that industrial processes are executed effectively and consistently.

The TAP ICS Controller is an advanced controller for industrial control systems that rely on precise temperature inputs and outputs.
The TAP Controller by SDS Industries includes an advanced feature set for use in industrial control systems.

ICS Controllers for Temperature Control

While there are different types of ICS controllers for managing different process variables throughout an ICS, for the sake of this article we’ll be focusing on ICS controllers for temperature control. Many industrial systems rely on heating, cooling, or maintaining precise temperatures to alter or preserve the physical properties of material.

Industrial kilns, ovens, furnaces, and temperature-controlled drums, freezers, and storage units all rely on ICS kiln controllers to regulate temperature.

ICS controllers can be manual or automatic. Manual ICS controllers rely on constant user input through analog dials and switches to regulate power to final control elements. Automatic ICS controllers, on the other hand, are programmed to reach various setpoints over specific time periods and automatically adjust the final control elements to achieve the desired temperature.

Benefits and Features of TAP ICS Controllers

SDS Industries’ TAP Digital Controllers include a variety of features that make them ideal for industrial control systems, including:

  • PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) control algorithms to ensure maximum accuracy between temperature input and output.
  • The ability to create, store, edit and automatically execute an infinite number of firing profiles with an infinite number of steps.
  • The ability to remotely monitor commercial kilns and edit and execute firing processes through the TAP Kiln Control Mobile App.
  • Advanced diagnostics and preventative maintenance alerts to ensure peak performance for industrial thermal processes.
  • High quality components for maximum precision and durability.
  • Wi-Fi capability to seamlessly integrate TAP Controllers to a distributed control system.
The TAP Kiln Control Mobile App allows operators to remotely monitor and make adjustments to temperature control elements in industrial control systems.
The TAP Kiln Control Mobile App allows operators to remotely monitor and make adjustments to temperature control elements.

Explore ICS Controllers by SDS Industries

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries are the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use ICS 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 industrial kiln, oven, or furnace to allow you to easily manage control system setpoints.

We invite you to explore our selection of programmable ICS 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 ICS Temperature Controllers for Sale.